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Monday, January 24, 2011

Shoveled Sidewalks, Safety and Responsibility


     Mother Nature has reared her ugly head this winter in the form of  snow, wind, and freezing rain.  In the event of snowfall, Westfield Schools have to determine whether or not to close schools for the day or schedule a delayed opening. 
     New Jersey schools must provide 180 days of school instruction each school year; delayed openings are typically counted as a school day and the day does not have to be made up.  Making up "snow days" are often tacked on at the end of the projected school year which normally ends around the third week of June.      
     It's not uncommon for a school district to make up used snow days by reducing the number of days off during scheduled winter or spring breaks.  This could wreak havoc on vacation and travel plans for those that had planned to be out of town during those breaks.  For those that take a "staycation" (stay home) there is likely no issue.

     The decision to close schools in the past has included an early morning phone call by the Westfield Public School Superintendent to Westfield Police Headquarters.  Police Officers on the roads of Westfield 24/7 are the eyes that provide up to the minute reports on the conditions of local roadways. 
     Towns with a large number of students bused to school are subject to increased liability in the event a bus is involved in a motor vehicle accident and the weather conditions are a contributing factor.  That is why Westfield schools are often open and some neighboring town's schools are closed after a snowstorm; Westfield does not bus a lot of students to school. 
     One factor that should be considered when deciding to close school after a snow storm is the accessibility of pedestrian walkways or sidewalks by students walking to school.  How many times has a student walking to school had to walk in the street due to an unshoveled sidewalk or walkway?  It shouldn't happen at all for safety reasons.

     The Town of Westfield has an ordinance (Sec. 24-5) that specifically states, "The owner or tenant of land abutting or bordering upon the sidewalk and gutters of public streets, avenues, and highways in the town shall remove all snow and ice from any laid sidewalk of any kind in front of such land within 12 hours of daylight after the same shall fall or be formed thereon.  Where ice is frozen to the sidewalk it should be removed or covered with sand or ashes."
Go to the following link to view the town ordinance.

     The Westfield Police have been lenient in the past with regards to this town ordinance.  In some cases where a homeowner might have a reasonable excuse as to why their sidewalk wasn't cleared in compliance with this town ordinance, issuing a summons for the offense could quite possibly cost the town more in the end.
     The cost of an officer to appear in court to testify in defense of the issuance of a summons coupled with a property owner or tenant receiving the summons being found not guilty due to a reasonable explanation, will cost the taxpayer.  The taxpayer is left to foot the bill of the police officer's overtime as a result of his/her appearance in court. 
     In the past, warning notices have been handed out to homeowners or tenant's that have not complied with the ordinance.  This way a homeowner can not claim ignorance as an excuse if a summons is subsequently issued.
     Where should the line be drawn with regards to this ordinance?  Should a Town Code Violation be issued without question once the ordinance has been violated?  Should warnings continue to be issued? 

     See  related story at where property owner/tenant was issued a warning after 3 weeks had passed while access to a downtown crosswalk was blocked by snow and ice.

     The Fact of The Matter is, shoveled sidewalks not only comply with an established town ordinance, they also contribute to the safety of students walking to school and other pedestrians traversing said sidewalks or walkways.


  1. As a senior citizen it was troubling to see the mountains of snow that the town piled up blocking the sidewalks at the corner of our street which abuts town owned property.The sidewalks were blocked since the first snow storm. What a surprise to see public works clearing a path with a small tractor and plow today! Thank you Fact of The Matter. If it hadn't been for your story, I doubt the town would've bothered with clearing their snow obstruction. Thank you and keep up your good work.

  2. Over 50% of the sidewalks outside residential properties go unshoveled. Been the same for the dozen or so years I've lived here so clearly nobody gets ticketed.

  3. Check out 1266 and 1272 Summt Ave. - half a block from Jefferson school, one of them a $1m+ house and both have their sidewalks covered in snow/ice still.

    Where are the tickets? The town could use some additional funds and there are no excuses.