Icy sidewalks an accessibility issue in the city of Athens

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ATHENS, Ohio (WOUB) — The city of Athens is one month, and more than a dozen inches of snow, into 2022.

A slew of recent inclement weather events has often made a mess for drivers in the hours that follow. 

But for anyone braving the cold by foot, untouched sidewalks throughout the city can quickly become dangerous. Athens Deputy Service-Safety Director Andrew Chiki said it’s not just a matter of sliding and falling.

“Imagine somebody that has stepped out into traffic to avoid walking through an icy sidewalk, who doesn’t see a vehicle coming because they’re stepping around vehicles that might be parked in the parking lane,” Chiki said in an interview.

Athens City ordinance mandates that residents and business owners clear ice and snow from their walkways within four hours of daylight. While Chiki said the city understands certain circumstances, he said leaving ice or snow that hasn’t melted on a sidewalk for several days can cause additional problems as pedestrians pack the snow down. 

According to Athens Development and Code Enforcement Director David Riggs, the city didn’t hand out any ice and snow removal fines for the month of January.

But not everyone can easily avoid a dicey section of a wintry walkway, Chiki added.

Ohio University ADA Coordinator Carey Busch sees neglecting to clear a sidewalk as an accessibility issue for community members with mobility challenges.

“Inclement weather is one of those things that really points out how a lot of us don’t need to be aware of or thinking about different accessibility features,” Busch said in an interview.

She recommends having accessibility in mind when shoveling or salting, which includes clearing ramps or other cuts in a curb.

“Just being aware that how you clear snow matters,” Busch said. “Sometimes, what you’re doing can actually make accessibility worse for individuals with disabilities.”

The city’s main goal is to see residents abide by the rules.

For people who rent an apartment or house, Chiki said it’s key to have a conversation with landlords — not all of them will handle shoveling and salting.

“I think there’s a lot of assumptions made between landlords and tenants, and from the city’s perspective, those agreements are between those private entities,” he said.

Chiki also recommends to keep equipment to clear sidewalks on hand through the winter season, as stores often sell out of necessary products just ahead of a winter storm, and to give extra time to shovel or salt in the morning following an overnight storm.

“Part of clearing snow and ice is being a good neighbor to people,” he said.