Residents decry snowy sidewalks

City says property owners responsible for clearing walkways

Posted: Thursday, February 02, 2006

With its steep and picturesque downtown hills, Juneau has often been characterized as a miniature San Francisco. Unlike in the City by the Bay, though, the sidewalks by Gastineau Channel often turn to ice during winter and become unrecognizable under blankets of snow.

This winter 12th Street resident Dennis Harris said he has taken it upon himself to plow a nearby sidewalk, only to have the city scoop the snow back onto the path. This is a safety issue that needs to be resolved, he said.

"The city's Public Works Department has to stop building berms on the sidewalks," Harris said. "This has resulted in some parents walking their children to school in the streets."

The city has the responsibility of clearing roads during storms, which often means pushing snow and ice onto the sidewalks. Sometimes there is little more than dirty snow covering sidewalks where thousands streamed from cruise ships just months before.

Property owners are responsible for clearing sidewalks most of the time, excluding some sections owned by the city, City Public Works Director Joe Buck said. That includes removing snow and ice, and sanding.

"Although it is a good idea to clear sidewalks, it is just a matter of the lack of money and staff," Buck said. "We have to make sure buses, ambulances, police and fire trucks can get through. We worry about sidewalks last."

Juneau Police Sgt. Ed Mercer said he doesn't remember police citing any property owners for failing to remove snow. If there is a complaint, police either contact the homeowner or the city's Community Development Department to take care of the problem.

That is a problem for employees of the Silverbow Inn & Bakery, on Second Street.

"I am constantly shoveling snow so that customers can safely come into our business," Jason Bowes said. "The majority of it results from the city's snowplow creating piles in front of our business."

Assembly member Randy Wanamaker said the city makes it a priority to clear sidewalks around the Capitol for legislators and their staffs. There is no plan to change the way the city plows the streets, he said.

"It is also a priority that businesses can function and kids can walk safely to school," Wanamaker said. "We do not, however, clear all roads, as there are just not enough personnel to do the job."

The state is responsible for a significant portion of Juneau's sidewalks, Mayor Bruce Botelho said.

"Of course pedestrian safety is important, but the question is who is responsible for this?" Botelho said. "Many sidewalk areas are actually the responsibility of the state."

Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities spokesman John Manly said the state has the responsibility to plow major arteries such as Glacier Highway and Egan Drive. This includes adjacent bike paths, he said, but not sidewalks.

Alaska Marine Lines employee Jerrod Andrews jumped down from his truck near Main Street on Wednesday.

"It is not so bad when delivering pallets in busy areas downtown, but other Juneau locations pose problems," Andrews said. "The worst spot for me is around Caribou Crossings (on South Franklin Street). There really is no sidewalk now."

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