A big snowstorm is headed for Akron Tuesday night and it probably means another tough, perilous slog to school for kids.
Despite laws requiring shoveled sidewalks, many children make their trek on ice and in snow or venture into the streets due to inaction by most residents and failure by the city to enforce shoveling.
The city admits it doesn’t do much, and the number of ignored complaints aren’t even counted.
Meanwhile, kids are falling on icy sidewalks or walking in the street — whatever they need to do to get to school.
Ninety-one percent of Akron’s approximately 22,000 students do not have transportation. Akron reported 53 pedestrian accidents involving school-age children between 2010 and 2012, the most recent data available.
Meanwhile, the city jumped right on 200 complaints from drivers Monday about residential streets still icy from last week’s snowfall. Fourteen trucks were at work on the sunny Monday afternoon.
As for the city’s sidewalks, little if anything is being done, even when the city is made aware of its own shoveling responsibilities.
Akron has a law requiring property owners to keep walks clear and residents can call 311 to issue complaints that go to Paul Burnett, public works manager.
“They come to us but, really, the shoveling of the sidewalks — we don’t do too much about that,” he said Monday.
He said he didn’t know how many complaints are received.
“It’s the property owners’ responsibility to shovel the sidewalks,” he said. “You would have to go out and enforce that with 80,000 residents.”
Keeping an eye out for kids going to school are more than 130 crossing guards supervised by police Sgt. Jeff Shaffer.
“The sad part is that I don’t think the city, the residents in the city, have done a real good job of doing the sidewalks, and that’s citywide,” Shaffer said.
Shaffer called the city last week about a particularly acute problem near Forest Hill school where plows clogged the curbs at the corner of Fouse Avenue and Damon Streets. The snow became ice kids had to step over. He called again Monday.
Suzanne Dann, the 67-year-old crossing guard at that corner, said the problem remained for her afternoon shift Monday.
“When the trucks come by, they put all that ice up there and then it turns into frozen ice and there’s no way for the kids and me to get across it,” she said. “It would take two minutes for somebody and a pickup to come out and just open those two places.”
Instead, she improvises.
“I have to stand in the street, practically, because I just can’t stand falling,” she said.
Dann also called last year with problems.
“They don’t pay any attention to me whatsoever,” she said “And both of those sections are handicapped [curb cuts allowing wheelchairs] and it’s so hard for the kids and me to climb over it.”
About two years ago, Dann fell and hit her head while helping children cross. She said it took her many calls and three meetings to have her medical bills paid.
“They finally did pay it, but they put me through Hades,” she said.
If residents are inspired to shovel after tonight’s storm, they will have an extra 24 hours. Akron schools are closed Wednesday for an in-service day.
Nobody contacted for this story could remember the last time a city resident was charged with failing to clear a sidewalk, a misdemeanor.
City spokeswoman Stephanie York cited an ordinance that says “no owner or occupant of abutting lands shall fail to keep the sidewalks, and aprons, in repair and free from snow, ice, or any nuisance.”
But action requires a complaint, if a child walking to school happens to think about that.
“We enforce our code on a complaint-driven basis only,” York said in an email last week. “With that said, people do not typically complain to the city when someone does not shovel their walk.”
There also is a concern by some owners that they might increase their liability if they shovel.
Asked about that, York said: “Under Ohio Law, a property owner is not liable for the natural accumulation of snow and ice. But, an owner may be liable for an unnatural accumulation where an artificial defective condition was created by the owner. This has been interpreted by courts on a case by case basis.”
Whether shoveling can create that “artificial defective condition” is subject to interpretation.
Shaffer said crossing guards also tell him of how private snow plows clearing parking lots sometimes make huge piles on sidewalks, forcing children to walk in the street to get to school.
When he hears about problems regarding a private company or the city, he talks to responsible parties. But if a homeowner is the problem, he takes no action.
“I haven’t been real impressed with snow removal on sidewalks,” he said.
Recent mild winters might have made people less aware of their responsibility to shovel, he said.
Shaffer is aware of people being cited for not shoveling but can’t remember when that was — maybe five years ago.
It has become common, he said, to see children walking in the street after concluding the sidewalk is more dangerous. It’s a rational choice, he said, one that he made when walking to school in Akron in the ’60s and ’70s.
When he sees walkers in the streets, he reminds them to face traffic and stay as close to the curb as possible.
But he prefers them on clear sidewalks.
“The last thing I want to see is the kids walking in the streets because the sidewalks are not passable,” he said.
Meanwhile, he will continue to recommend shoveling rather than badgering residents.
“I’ve done my best to just reinforce why to do it and I’ve had pretty good response, but I’m just one officer, one person.”
In Barberton, Service Director Elwood Palmer said the sidewalks are not a problem.
“Most of our residents do take care of their sidewalks. We don’t go around and police everything but if there is a problem, we do get a call and from there we generally send out somebody from the building department and they go out and identify it and then the resident gets the message. I can’t recall ever going there and issuing a verbal and not having someone respond.”
A call to Cuyahoga Falls service director Eric Czetli was not returned.
Dave Scott can be reached at 330-996-3577 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Scott on Twitter at Davescottofakro.