Autumn in the North Cemetery.

Sixty miles west of Boston, Massachusetts there is the small New England town of Sturbridge. Located at the junction of I-90 (The Mass Pike), and I-84 it has become known as the "Crossroads of New England". The town was first settled over 300 years ago, and like other small New England towns it has grown just enough over the years to be in a difficult place today. How do we embrace the future without forgetting how we got to our present? How do we attract the right kind of growth, and maintain who we are? And, what about our culture out here in Central Massachusetts?

These pages will cause one to think about how to protect what we have, our future direction, and how to move on in the very best way.

Those thoughts, and other ramblings, will hopefully inspire more thought, conversation, action, and occasionally a smile...

...seems to be working so far

Sunday, February 6, 2011

It Could Have Been Thought Out Better

Now, bear with me.  I am going to truly think out loud right now.  It's about removing snow from the sidewalks.  Take a close look at the sidewalks here in town the next time you are out and about.  Imagine what they look like to the visitors in town.  Imagine what those visitors are thinking when they see a network of plowed, unplowed sidewalks.

Great PR for Sturbridge.  We cause our own problems.

I want to put some things out there that haven't been addressed in depth before, and some that haven't been addressed at all.

The original bylaw was to force property owners to clear the sidewalks in front of their property of ice and snow.  The reason was a cost savings initiative by the town.  I never heard exactly how much money was to be saved, but since the town had the equipment already, and would be clearing some of the sidewalks,  I imagine it wouldn't be that much savings  at all.

I believe the town has gone about this entirely in the wrong way, and may have opened itself up to an enormous liability.

Like clearing the roadways for vehicular traffic, clearing the sidewalks for pedestrian traffic is a matter of safety.  Safety for those using the roads and sidewalks.  If the town only plowed the roads in front of town property and left the roadway in front of private property it would not be the smartest thing to do for obvious reasons.  Same with sidewalks.

Now, I realize that the laws regarding snow removal for the roads are a bit different than those for sidewalks, but I hope you get the bigger point.  If the town takes a DPW employee, and instructs that employee to clear a length of sidewalk in front of town owned land, such as from New Boston Road extension on Route 131 to the property line with a private landowner, and at that point they stop clearing snow from the sidewalk, what then?  Are they hoping the private landowner is going to do a meet 'n greet at the property line and the landowner will clear the rest of the sidewalk so the entire sidewalk will then be cleared for foot travel?

Is the town really thinking that this is going to happen?  Look around town.  I hasn't happened, and the snow will stay on the sidewalks until it has melted naturally, sometime in May.  What has happened is the town has cleared what they see as their sidewalks, when in fact it is all their sidewalk since the proximity to property does not make one its owner, otherwise I'd own 300 feet of Rout 148 and start charging a toll.

Now, let's take it to the next step.

Imagine a pedestrian is pushing a stroller along the cleared town sidewalk on their way to the library.  Halfway to their destination the sidewalk is blocked with unshoveled snow.  The private landowner has not cleared their portion of the sidewalk.  Yes, they could be fined by the town, but that won't clear the way now.  The pedestrian still must get to the library, and the town, through their inaction in not clearing the entire sidewalk, and assuming that a bylaw will insure a persons safety, has actually set up a dangerous situation.

The pedestrian has no clues as to why the sidewalk is not totally cleared, they may be from out of town.  All they know is that they must get to the library, and that means taking the the stroller from the safety of the sidewalk, and on to the roadway.  They begin walking on the side of the road, parallel to the unplowed sidewalks, only inches away from the passing vehicular traffic.  After a bit, they come to cleared sidewalk in front of town owned land, and if they are lucky, they will make it there.

What the town has done by initiating the clearing of the sidewalk   it has stated though that action that the sidewalk has been cleared of snow, and is fine for pedestrian traffic.  This is a "safe assumption" just like placing a door in the wall of a building is a safe assumption that it is to be used for coming and going.  The cleared sidewalk at no time gives any indication that has not been completely cleared.  Thus, it actually "leads" the pedestrian along it until it stops.  That incomplete clearing, that abrupt stopping of pedestrian traffic can only result in one of two actions.

  1. Turning around, and attempting to reach the library in the spring when the snow melts, or
  2. Continuing on toward the library along the side of the road.
Guess which one is the one most likely chosen, and then guess who is responsible for forcing that unsafe choice.

Some of the land owners in town have, and are clearing their portion of sidewalk in front of their homes and business.  Some are doing an incredible job of not only clearing the sidewalk, but removing the snow banks as well.  Some are shoveling the width of their shovel, and still others are are not doing anything at all.  I have watched pedestrians walking from cleared sidewalk, and onto the street for weeks.  

The town has set up a dangerous situation by not clearing the sidewalks, clearing entries to crosswalks, or making sure that all cleared sidewalks are consistent in width.  The minimum width of a cleared sidewalk is not being maintained, and not only does it make foot traffic difficult to traverse, but those in wheelchairs cannot navigate the walkways on their own, or by being pushed.  There is not a continuous, cleared route on any sidewalk in town, and it is forcing the towns pedestrians to take riskier routes on the roads.

Yes, the town has not gone about writing, instituting, and enforcing this snow removal bylaw in the best way.  The very reasons for its inception are vague.

That's enough "thinking out loud" for today.  Super bowl will be on in an hour.

Talk amongst yourselves.


  1. So, what IS important?Sunday, February 06, 2011

    Right on, Wally, and last I knew there was no town department who thought it was its responsibility to clear out fire hydrants. It's just amazing that looks are supposed to be so all-fired important in this town, (not in winter, I guess) yet safety, no so much. Right thinking? Um, no. After hearing Christina Aguilera sing the National Anthem tonight, I'm expecting that she may be comfortable running for office in Sturbridge.

  2. I heard that the highway department thinks it's too difficult for its workers to clean the sidewalks in Fiskdale because of the placement of the telephone poles. Solution? Make the people who who pay their wages do the work themselves.

  3. The town administrator has graciously told the DPW to assist residents in clearing the snow since we have had so much snow. They need to clear it every time. We look completely inept, and quite frankly, stupid, to those seeing us this way. I challenge the selectmen to abandon this poorly conceived bylaw, and if not, then go on record as to just why not. It will make our decisions easier come election day.

  4. I couldn't believe my eyes this morning. At 11:30 A.M. or so. as someone was driving me downtown, I saw a youngish man wearing dark glasses and using a cane trying to maneuver towards McNuks on the sidewalk in Fiskdale, in a semi-cleared spot on the sidewalk between the Blackington Block and Church Street. How he got to that spot, I don't know. What he did when he came to the next uncleared, hard-packed, mountainous mounds is anyone's guess.
    Doesn't the ultimate responsibility rest with the town?
    While you're renaming things, Mr. and Ms. Townhall, are you planning on changing the name of the Fiskdale end of Sturbridge to Forgottenville or Drop Dead Fred?


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