Sidewalks: Necessity or Amenity?

How can City Hall say that it’s preserving municipal services that “impact public health and safety” at the same time that it’s cutting the sidewalk plowing program? On the face of it, this makes absolutely no sense. Leaving snow on the sidewalks pushes pedestrians into the way of oversized vehicles that predictably kill and maim unprotected human bodies. Clearly, clearing the sidewalks has a positive impact on public health and safety.

And it makes even less sense when you know that City Hall has left its car-lane plowing program intact. So even my tiny redundant street will get plowed before the sidewalks on Geddes, even though way more people walk on those sidewalks than drive on my street.

The only way this can make sense is if City Hall doesn’t think people really need to use the sidewalks as much as they need to drive cars. If sidewalks are for recreation, maybe, a good way to ‘get your steps in,’ but not for the real business of transportation. If that’s true, then the people walking with cars on slick streets in winter are taking an unnecessary risk, and City Hall can’t take responsibility for that.

That’s probably a pretty good description of how City Hall’s leaders use sidewalks, but it doesn’t apply to the City at large. More than a quarter or all Syracuse households do not own even one single motor vehicle. Syracuse ranks 12th nationally for highest pedestrian commute share. The Syracuse urban ranks 55th nationally for per capita transit use. People use the sidewalks because they have to, and in the winter people walk in the street because City Hall pushes them there.

And so—like libraries, pools, and bike lanes—sidewalk maintenance gets treated like an ‘amenity’ because the people who control it have insulated themselves from the conditions that make that service a necessity for tens of thousands of people living in the City. That’s how City Hall can cut its plowing program and still pretend that it’s preserved all of the services that people ‘really need.’