Sidewalks in Alta

LETTER TO THE EDITOR

Sometime during the week of Sept 15, I had the 2019 FALL NEWSLETTER from the town of Alta deposited on my front porch. The letter informed me on ‘How To Stay Informed!!’: AltaTec channel 3, nope, don’t have cable TV, Facebook, nope, don’t Facebook, Rolling sign near Alta Community Building, (now I had seen a rolling sign in the middle of main street on occasion and know about the scrolling sign along the highway, so this has me a bit confused) Storm Lake Pilot Tribune, OK, I subscribe (and also to the Storm Lake Times). A bold print warning at the bottom of this section told me “IT IS YOUR RESPONSIBILITY TO STAY INFORMED!!” with not one, but two exclamation points, again.  WOW!!

The sections below the fold warned me, again in bold print: “DURING A SNOW EVENT, IT IS THE ABUTTING PROPERTY OWNER’S RESPONSIBILITY TO CLEAR THE SIDEWALK OF SNOW AND ICE, WITHIN 48 HOURS.  IF YOU ARE NOT CAPABLE OF THIS, PLEASE MAKE OTHER ARRANGEMENTS.  PLEASE KEEP OUR SIDEWALKS SAFE!!” There are those two exclamation points again. To the right of this warning, we are told to “WATCH FOR THE MAYOR TO PROCLAIM THE SNOW BAN PARKING IN EFFECT AT THE NOV. 4 COUNCIL MEETING. AT THAT TIME, NO PARKING IS ALLOWED OVER NIGHT ON STREETS, UNTIL THE BAN HAS BEEN LIFTED.  VIOLATORS WILL BE TICKETED.” Whew, at least no exclamation points and only few words in bold, but all in capital letters again. 

Let’s go back to those “abutting” property owner culprits (with sidewalks, not to be confused with abutting property like to a neighbor) and make sure they “PLEASE KEEP OUR SIDEWALKS SAFE!!,” yes with two exclamation points. Only 30% of the town of Alta with sidewalks has the complete and total responsibility and cost of keeping 100% of the sidewalks safe.  Those 70% without sidewalks do not have to worry about the 48-hour warning, the threat of a ticket, or having the city clear your sidewalk and sending you a bill.  The 70% non-sidewalk residents can park anywhere they want in their driveway because they do not have to be concerned cleaning a sidewalk or parking on a sidewalk to KEEP IT SAFE. They can park anywhere they want from their garage to the street, heck, they don’t even have to clean their driveway if they don’t want to.  They can just put their SUV into FWD and blast off to work in the morning while the 30% with sidewalks need to KEEP OUR SIDEWALKS SAFE by getting up early, starting their $800 snow blower that the other 70% don’t need, and spending an hour cleaning the sidewalk. And we are warned, in all caps/bold print again “IF YOU ARE NOT CAPABLE OF THIS, (cleaning your sidewalk) PLEASE MAKE OTHER ARRANGEMENTS” which translates to “pay someone to clean it for you”, another monetary expense that only the 30% have to incur. Then, once the 30% get their sidewalk clean, they now have to figure out how to get their car parked past the sidewalk or face another ticket... oh wait, they park across the sidewalk anyway, winter or summer so why are they only going to get a ticket in the winter? So, we 30% get to clean the sidewalks to keep them safe... and yet people still must walk in the street because there are very few places in town that make walking on connected sidewalks is possible.  Kids have no way to walk to school for lack of connected sidewalks.  Anyone that wants to walk anywhere in town will eventually be forced into the street, to share a walking lane with motorized traffic. School age children should not be forced to walk in the street, or stand in the street, waiting to get on a school bus like they do outside my window each morning.  The school bus is routed in such a way that there are no sidewalks on the loading side of the street. I am certain our neighborhood pickup point is not unique in this regard. Additionally, we have ‘Kids at Play’ warning signs along residential streets in town because there are no sidewalks along those streets for the kids to skate, bike ride, or walk.  They are forced into the street.

I find this all somewhat amusing since none of the city council members, nor the mayor, have sidewalks “ABUTTING” their property, so it might be difficult for them to realize the results of this ordinance. The 30% number, you might question?  Easy enough to figure.  The town of Alta has 16 miles of streets (from good authority) it maintains and removes snow.  If you have a sidewalk on each side of the street, you should have 32 miles of sidewalk. But the town of Alta has less than 10 miles of sidewalk, measured using Google Earth Pro.  Do the math, that’s 30% in round numbers. People are forced to walk in the street where they share the road with drivers distracted on their cell phones or speeding because they can, and the lack of enforcement of either. Forced to walk in the street, school kids else take their chances that someone does not hit them with a 4,000-pound piece of iron, which has happened to a young girl in Alta, our nephew in Omaha, and will continue to happen unless we fix the problem. By the way: I’ve attached that Google Earth map, the red lines show sidewalks. Pretty easy to see where people are forced to walk in the street.

There is another cost item.  I talked to a mail carrier, those trusted souls that bring the mail right to your house if that is where your box is.  I asked my carrier, who has a route consisting of both sidewalk and non-sidewalk areas in his daily walk, what he does in the winter when the snow is deep, and he can’t cut across the yard in the non-sidewalk areas.  Walk around, into the street and up each driveway, was all he could do.  The extra time adds to his route is 1 additional hour each day. A cost in wages that someone must pay.

I called my insurance guy and asked if I was covered if someone fell on the sidewalk “abutting” my property. Of course, he replied. Then I asked him if someone fell in the street because there were no sidewalks, would the city be liable? He didn’t think so, the street walker would be on their own, and hopefully have their own insurance to cover any injury. I left it at that, thinking my next call would be to one of my attorney friends to get his opinion. I wondered who he would say is liable?

What’s the solution: Easy. Everyone puts in sidewalk “abutting” their property. I can see the revolt now. Don’t like that idea, then let the 30% can take out their sidewalk instead of having to spend money repairing and cleaning them. Not a smart solution.  Sidewalks have not been required in developments or residential additions in the town of Alta since the 1950s. Here’s news for you, it is no longer the 50s.  People do not want to get into their car and drive a block to the neighbor, which was the falsehood perpetuated by the auto industry during that time of “why walk when you can drive.” This is now, 70 years later and people want to walk for enjoyment, exercise, walking their dog, push the kids in strollers, youngster on bikes with training wheels who are just learning to ride, the list goes on and on. The problem is not keeping snow and ice off the sidewalks to keep them safe; the problem is not enough sidewalks and trails to keep people out of the street to keep them safe.

JON HANSEN

Alta

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