WINCHESTER - The Select Board, with the assistance of the Traffic and Transportation Advisory Committee (TTAC), is working on a sidewalk policy to, as TTAC co-chair Roger Wilson described, start enforcing snow removal bylaws already on the books, develop a standard to make town-cleaned sidewalks passable and attractive and start/enhance MBTA bus stop treatments (the MBTA issued standards for the first time).
The draft policy has four headers: Notice of Enforcement of Town Bylaws Pertaining to Snow Removal and Vegetation Control, Achievement of actually usable sidewalks on all sidewalks cleared by the town, Clearing of Train and Bus Stops, and Filling in gaps in the course of any repavement.
The first header deals with enforcement of bylaws already in place, which don’t allow residents to pile snow on sidewalks, park on sidewalks or block sidewalks. It also forces commercial property owners to clear sidewalks “within five hours” of them being covered with snow or face a “fine of not more than $10.”
(Town Manager Lisa Wong suggested the amount of the fine could increase as $10 may not be sufficient. She noted a department head said, “if I only have to pay $10 not to clear my sidewalks, sounds like a good deal to me.”)
Within the enforcement section, the policy also directs the Town Manager to enclose “with all tax bills or separately mail semi-annually, starting with the next quarterly billing, notice of applicable bylaws urging all parties to cooperate in the town-wide effort to improve walking conditions and reduce the perceived need to drive to destinations.”
Wong said that may be expensive, as it costs the town $10,000 to mail out Town Meeting material for each session (spring and fall). Select Board Chair Mariano Goluboff suggested maybe attaching the notice to the water & sewer bill while Select Board member Amy Shapiro proposed using robocall to have the police chief alert everyone to the policy and direct them to the town’s website for more information.
Under the enforcement header, it also asks the Select Board to instruct the Building Department to attach notice of applicable bylaws to all building permits; however, Wong said that could be time consuming. She had no issues with three other suggestions: having the police department enforce the bylaws and penalties, having the DPW warn property owners of any problems so either property owners or the DPW (on the owners’ dime) could fix the problems and having the Town Manager contact any snow or law service companies to inform them of applicable bylaws.
With respect to the category of achievement of actually usable sidewalks, the policy includes the Tri-Community Bikeway and asks the Town Manager to instruct the DPW to develop protocols for snow clearing of town-cleared walkways. This way, the town can achieve the following goals:
• Having bare pavement “for a width of at least 32-inches”
• Clearing snowbanks from roadway crossings
• Not exempting narrow passages that would require hand shoveling or narrow equipment
When it comes to clearing train and bus stops, the policy states that snowbanks at curbs near ramps and bus stops up to 50 feet must be cleared within 48 hours and periodically during events. DPW Director Jay Gill said his team clears sidewalks even days after a snowstorm has ended.
Overall, the town has 60 miles of sidewalks and it takes up to 48 hours to plow 6-7 inches of snow.
One issue, as noted by Select Board member Michael Bettencourt, involves potential extra costs associated with the policy. He thought it might add more work to Gill’s crew.
“Policies are aspirational,” he said, “but keep costs in mind.”
Wilson called the proposal a rebalance, not additive.
“If you’re going to encourage walking, people have to be able to walk,” he stressed.
Of course, as Wong asked, “is the reason this isn’t getting done a lack of policy? Probably not.”
She said the town still needs to figure out why and this policy will be a “minimum standard of where we want to be.”
“What are the problems and how do we solve them?” the Town Manager wondered.
She then recommended the board wait to adopt the policy until as she returns with more information. She also suggested bringing any new information to TTAC, but Wilson said his committee doesn’t need to discuss the matter any further.