Snow, Sidewalks, and Liens

Chalk this up as one thing Boston does right*. On the urban planning blogs (and others who care about such things), there’s discussion about the next to shovel sidewalks in urban areas. Writes Commandante Atrios:

Not that I support it, but I get that in places where few people walk, sidewalk clearing isn’t a priority, but here in the urban hellhole, everybody walks. I don’t mean that nobody drives, or takes the bus, but for the most part people aren’t being dumped doorfront out of their vehicles. Even people who drive everywhere end up walking for a bit.

People and businesses are responsible for clearing their sidewalks. Even if 80% of people are “good neighbors,” that leaves quite a few stretches of icy sidewalk. In theory there’s a fine for noncompliance, but it’s rarely levied. And with plenty of abandoned buildings and vacant lots, that fine isn’t too likely to reach the owner.

Boston, as I’ve discussed before, is very fortunate to have a Green Ticket Law that not only fines delinquent property owners, but also issues liens on their property (this makes it hard to sell, refinance, or use the property for collateral). Combine that with Citizens Connect, a phone app that makes it very easy to report problems (broken streetlights, unshoveled sidewalks, etc.), and you have a reasonably effective way to make people shovel their sidewalks–I’ve used this to good effect.

The issue has less to do with a culture of walking–though Boston is good about these things (at least some neighborhoods; car-focused ones not so much)–and more to do with actual enforcement mechanisms. In Boston, it’s just really hard to weasel out of paying your fines if you don’t shovel the sidewalk. Of course, this only works if you use the system…. (and whining about it on Twitter doesn’t matter. File a formal complaint).

*As hard as this may be for many Bostonians to believe, compared to some places I’ve lived, Boston does things with relatively high competency. Relatively.

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