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All of a sudden, sidewalk-shoveling time is here

All of a sudden, sidewalk-shoveling time is here

Capital Region could see snowfall accumulations Tuesday
All of a sudden, sidewalk-shoveling time is here
Luca Isopo shovels snow in December 2016.
Photographer: PETER R. BARBER

SCHENECTADY COUNTY — Sooner or later it was going to come.

The region had its first measurable snowfall on Saturday and there's more snow on the way.

The Capital Region could see snowfall accumulations Tuesday ranging from 4 to 6 inches in the Schenectady-Albany area to as much as 10 inches in northern Saratoga County, National Weather Service meteorologist Ray O'Keefe said Sunday.

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Expected snowfall between 1 a.m. and 7 p.m. Tuesday. (Courtesy NWS Albany)

Snowfall is expected to begin after midnight Tuesday, continuing into Tuesay morning's rush hour and through much of the day. The snow is forecast to begin tapering off Tuesday night as temperatures drop heading into Wednesday, with wind chills down to near zero, O'Keefe said. 

With that winter weather in mind, anyone who owns property with a sidewalk needs to be ready to rev up the snowblower or have the shovel handy, because cities like Schenectady and Albany — if they plan to follow the letter of their laws — are ready to crack down on those who don't.

The general rule across the region is that sidewalks must be cleared within 24 hours after a snow or ice storm ends. Uncleared sidewalks can force pedestrians off the sidewalks and into the streets, which will already be narrowed because of snowbanks left by plows.

In the real world, a lot of people don't give the matter much thought until just before the first snowstorm -- if not until after. But it's already on the minds of public officials, who recognize that uncleared sidewalks are a problem every winter.

The city of Schenectady requires that property owners clear sidewalks within 24 hours after a storm ends, and its code includes a provision for the city to clear the walk when necessary, and then seek compensation from the property owner, either by billing them or by adding the cost to the property tax bill. The cost can exceed $100.

"We turn it over to code enforcement," Schenectady City Councilman Vince Riggi said. "They don't drive around looking for uncleared sidewalks, but they respond to complaints. It isn't just school kids and mail delivery that are effected."

If a person is elderly or otherwise can't shovel or arrange for shoveling, the city will have a Schenectady Neighborhood Assistance Program crew respond. SNAP crews are city employees who work for the Department of General Services.

Riggi said the SNAP crews are also responsible for clearing the sidewalks in front of residential properties the city owns through foreclosure or condemnation, of which there are at least 200 scattered through the city, most of them in poorer neighborhoods.

"It is a problem," Riggi said. "Sometimes you get two or three snows in one week's time, and that's a lot."

In the downtown area, business or property owners are responsible for clearing their own sections of sidewalk, but the Downtown Schenectady Improvement Corp. has a crew that comes around after the streets are plowed to clear mounded snow intersections and crosswalks.

An annual grant from the Schenectady Metroplex Development — for $175,000, this year — pays for the DSIC's outdoor crew, which works year-round. Crews work seven days a week, and scheduling can be adjusted based on the timing of any given storm.

Even though clearing snow is up to each business, the improvement corporation has few problems keeping downtown accessible.

"Obviously the vast majority of properties are very responsible and they know they have to have the sidewalks cleared for their customers," said Jim Salengo, the DSIC's executive director.

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The Albany City Council just toughened the city's sidwalk law, declaring that starting this winter, there will no longer be a 24-hour grace period if the city's Department of General Services sends the property owner a violation notice. If sidewalks aren't cleared within a day of the storm's end, the city can clear the sidewalk and send the property owner a bill — and perhaps require them to pay a fine.

For those who can't maintain their own sidewalks, Albany officials will work with the United Way of the Greater Capital Region and the 211 phone program to connect senior citizens or people who disabilities with volunteer organizations that can help.

While cities impose sidewalk-cleaning mandates on residents, policies vary in the suburbs, where there are far fewer neighborhood sidewalks.

In Glenville, Town Supervisor Chris Koetzle said there is no shoveling equirement on residents, since there aren't sidewalks in residential areas; what sidewalks exist in private apartment complexes are the management's responsibility. The town clears the sidewalks in the Town Center, where sidewalks were installed two years ago in an effort to make the Route 50 commercial corridor more walkable.

"There's nothing residents have to maintain currently in any of the neighborhoods," Koetzle said.

In Niskayuna, the town code says property owners are responsible for clearing the sidewalk of ice and snow, but doesn't set any deadline for the work to be completed or set fines. The code warns, however, that the owner will bear legal responsibility if anyone is hurt due to an uncleared walk.

In Rotterdam, on the other hand, the town highway department clears the snow off sidewalks, and residents bear no responsibility.

"We have snowblowers, and after the main street plowing is done we will go around and do the sidewalks, usually within 48 hours," said town Highway Superintendent Larry Lamora.

Most of Rotterdam's sidewalks are in commercial areas, he said, with relatively few located along residential streets.


Tips for safe shoveling

If you shovel snow rather than use a snowblower, the Snow and Ice Management Association, a trade association of snow removal professionals, recommends that to prevent snow and ice from adhering to the sidewalk or street, people should clear the snow after every few inches, instead of waiting for the snow to stop falling. It's also best to tackle the job right away, before snow starts to melt and become heavier.

Also:

  • The association recommends wearing breathable layers of clothing. "Avoid wearing heavy wools, manmade materials or other materials that don’t allow perspiration to evaporate. Better choices are cotton and silk," the association says on its website.
  • Take a few minutes to stretch. Shoveling snow is a workout, so shovelers need to stretch to warm up their muscles, particularly in cold weather.
  • Push the snow rather than lifting it, since that takes less energy and puts less stress on the body.

Source: The Snow and Ice Management Association

Reach Gazette reporter Stephen Williams at 518-395-3086, [email protected] or @gazettesteve on Twitter. Gazette reporter Zachary Matson contributed to this story.

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