Bangor resident Adam Boody tiptoed over mounds of snow blocking various sections of sidewalk along Franklin Street three days after the last of a couple winter storms dumped some two feet of snow over the city in February.
“That was miserable. This is ridiculous,” said Boody after trudging through an unshoveled section of the sidewalk. He had seen sections of the downtown uncleared following snowstorms in the past, but not to the extent that it was that day. Several other residents walking along Hammond Street near its intersection with Main Street and on Center Street in front of City Hall shared similar complaints.
“Usually within a couple of days after a snowstorm they’ve got it. I was kind of surprised when I turned down here to see all this mess,” Boody said.
Had downtown business owners complied with a local law requiring they clear the sidewalk abutting their property within six hours following a snowstorm or else face a fine, Boody’s trek through the busy district would have been much easier.
The ordinance is designed to allow downtown shoppers and residents to safely maneuver through the business district much sooner than the days it might take for public crews to clear the walkways following large snow storms.
But it is unclear when the last time, if ever, that law was enforced.
Property owners, businesses or tenants located on sections of more than 30 streets within the downtown area have six hours to remove snow or ice from their adjacent sidewalk — or by 1 p.m. the next day if the storm stops after 6 p.m. — or else face a $100 fine. Under the ordinance, the city also has the authority to have public works crews clear the uncleared sidewalks and later charge property owners for the labor.
Bangor’s snow shoveling laws have been in place since at least 1964, the BDN found through a Freedom of Access Act request. The laws have been amended several times over the years, including to increase penalties.
Bangor Police Sgt. Jim Buckley said recently that the department has not issued any fines or violations for the ordinance since at least 2000. City Manager Cathy Conlow said in an email that code enforcement officials have called or written to downtown property owners telling them to clean up their sidewalks, but she could not determine whether any city department has ticketed any scofflaws since at least 2000 either. She said finding that data would require “a substantial amount of research” due to a lack of electronic record keeping by the city.
Even if the city hasn’t issued any tickets, City Council Chairman Joe Baldacci said Monday that downtown businesses typically comply with the ordinance voluntarily.
“The ordinance is very important because it clears up major traffic areas for people to shop and work and businesses to stay open,” Baldacci said. “As long as it’s complied with on a voluntary basis. If we see problems then we inform the landlords and make sure they are on it… In this regard, we really haven’t run into any major roadblocks.”
It could take a couple of days for public works crews to clear downtown Bangor sidewalks of snow and ice after some big storms like the nor’easter hitting Maine Tuesday, said Department of Public Works Director Dana Wardwell.
If followed by property owners, however, Bangor’s ordinance would allow residents to pass through the business district’s sidewalks sooner, Wardwell said.
But historically that hasn’t always been the case and the city needs to do a better job enforcing the ordinance to ensure compliance, said Kierie Piccininni, an organizer of the bicycle and pedestrian group Walk-n-Roll Bangor.
“The objective of a short window like six hours is to keep snow at a relatively similar level across downtown. Yet the policy’s effectiveness is questionable and I don’t think that has to do with the policy itself,” Piccininni said. “There’s a disconnect in how property owners and tenants tend to [abide by the snow shoveling ordinance] or understand it. Those problems need to be sussed out and solutions identified.”
The Downtown Bangor Partnership, a nonprofit organization made up of residents, city officials, community organizations and business owners, has discussed issues surrounding a lack of compliance with the law at board meetings, according to its Chairman Joshua Gass. He said the partnership has been reaching out to property owners and reminding them to clear the sidewalks, but he didn’t think ticketing scofflaws was the best solution to promoting compliance.
“We feel that it is obviously in everyone’s best interest to have clear sidewalks to promote activity in the downtown. I am not sure ticketing is the solution,” Gass said. “We want an atmosphere in the Downtown District that is welcoming and supportive to businesses and the public. Our focus has been more on awareness in the hopes this helps encourage sidewalk clean up.”
Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that State and Main streets intersect. Hammond Street crosses Main Street and becomes State Street at the Kenduskeag Stream.