Greater City Providence

OK, let’s talk about the snow

Providence, 1st Snow Storm of 2007

Atwells Avenue at the Service Road, Friday morning December 14th.

In case you weren’t aware of it, it snowed last Thursday. Depending on who’s counting we got between 7 inches and a foot in Providence, substantial, but this it New England right? Maybe not. Traffic was gridlocked Thursday afternoon and into the night. Kids were trapped on buses, cars were abandoned on area highways, bread and milk were endangered species… Can I just say, what the hell happened?

Yes, the city and state were completely out-to-lunch, yes people should be fired, but seriously folks, come on. It was a little snow storm, we need the state to rescue us? What happened to us? I traveled from the East Side to Federal Hill on Thursday evening, and what I saw was a lot of selfish people, blocking intersections, ignoring red lights, driving down streets the wrong way… Traffic control regulations remain in effect when snow is falling.

Don’t get me wrong, I blame the state and city for a poor response, but we need to take some personal responsibility for ourselves here. Its been snowing in New England for thousands of years and until recently, we were able to deal with it on our own with a little help from our elected officials and civil servants.

Providence, 1st Snow Storm of 2007

Burnside Park in Downcity Providence, Friday morning December 14th.

So it was a nightmare, let’s get the questions answered, find out what went wrong, why were the kids trapped on buses into the night for example? But let’s ask ourselves some questions too. We can’t nor should we depend on the government to hold our hands all the time. Look back into the past and figure out how we used to deal with things like this, then apply that to the present and future.

The storm really wasn’t that bad. I walked to work on Friday morning and was pleasantly surprised to see how many sidewalks were clear. I live up on Federal Hill and the sidewalks are usually a mess, maybe its the new Director of the Merchants Association cracking the whip, but sidewalks were pretty good on Atwells, not perfect, but better than in previous years. Heading Downcity many sidewalks were almost dry. The Hilton did an excellent job, workers were outside The Dunk clearing the last of the snow, someone even had time to clear the walkways inside Burnside Park.

Of course, as you can see from the first photo in this post, not all the sidewalks were clear. As per usual the sidewalk at Garibaldi Park near the arch on Federal Hill was covered, Mediterraneo plowed the snow out of their valet lot on Atwells onto the sidewalk (nice, thanks!), the sidewalks on the bridges over Route 95 were covered, the parking lots in LaSalle Square (including The Old Public Safety Building Memorial Parking Lot) were cleared of snow, but the sidewalks around them were not. Where exactly do the lot operators think their customers are heading if they can’t walk out of the parking lot after dropping off their cars?

So here’s the laws regarding clearing sidewalks in the city:

All owners, occupants or persons having care of any building or lot bordering upon any street, highway or public place within the city, shall within the first four (4) hours of daylight after the end of any snowfall, or the fall or deposit of snow on the sidewalk of said building or lot from any cause whatsoever:

  1. Remove or cause to be removed all snow from a path not less than three (3) feet in width of the entire border in or on said street, highway, or public place;
  2. Remove or cause to be removed all snow from around any fire hydrant on the sidewalk in front of said building or lot;
  3. Remove or cause to be removed all snow from the opening of any catch basin in the sidewalk of said building or lot;
  4. Remove or cause to be removed all snow from pedestrian-access ramps cut into street curbs bordering said building or lot;
    Any person found guilty of violating this section shall be fined not less than twenty-five dollars ($25.00) nor more than three hundred dollars ($300.00). The enforcement of the above shall be done by the city police department.

(Ord. 1914, ch. 30, § 24; Rev. Ords. 1946, ch. 33, § 38; Ord. 1961, ch. 1422, § 1; Ord. 1994, 94-56, § 1, 12-27-94; Ord. 2003, ch. 03-37, 6-16-03).

Thanks to Aaron for digging that up.

So walking around Friday morning was within the 4 hours of daylight period, and people were already doing a somewhat good job of clearing sidewalks, better than in previous years at least. Then comes Sunday… another half a foot of snow, turning to rain, turning to ice. Uh-oh! I did go out to grab some stuff on Sunday morning when there was already about 4 inches of snow on the ground and I have to give props to the Prov Mart on Atwells Avenue, they were open (the Atwells Mini Mart across the street was dark and locked up) and their sidewalks were clear to the curb (and continue to be so). By Monday others had cleared up, some seemed to give up, clearing after one storm being enough for them I guess.

So through Monday and yesterday the whole state is pointing fingers about what went wrong and whose fault it was. Fine, play the blame game, whatever, but meanwhile the city’s sidewalks remain a mess (as do many streets, and don’t get me started about the fact that we had no trash pick up on Federal Hill last week, Councilman Lombardi is wound up enough for both of us about that one). Yesterday I saw a city truck throwing salt and sand on the one foot of snow/ice sitting on the sidewalks over Route 95. Not really very helpful guys. The sidewalks at Garibaldi Park remained uncleared, typical actually.

This morning after yesterday’s oddly horrendous commute, city workers were out in force with bob cats, moving snow and clearing the parking lanes of city streets. I saw them hard at work on Atwells on my way to work and later on College Street at North Main. Here’s the thing though. On Atwells they cleared ice and snow from the street and dropped it on the sidewalks. That foot of ice they threw salt and sand on yesterday over Route 95, yeah that has another foot of ice on top of it now. Throughout Downcity, where sidewalk snow removal was by and large pretty good (thank you Yellow Jackets) snow and ice was thrown up onto sidewalks and piled into the curb cut areas leading to crosswalks that were clear yesterday. Today was my worst walk to work since the storm.

So today I’m reading the Journal, look over those sidewalk clearing regulations again, then read this:

While it is seldom enforced, a municipal ordinance requires property owners or caretakers to shovel the snow on the sidewalks at the perimeters of their property within four hours of the conclusion of a daylight snowfall or within four hours of daybreak after a snowfall. A path at least 3 feet wide must be cleared.

The ordinance also requires property owners to clear the snow from around hydrants, from curb cuts that accommodate pedestrian ramps and from any catch basins in sidewalks.

Violation of the ordinance carries a fine ranging from $25 to $300.

About six years ago, in response to departmental buck-passing, the council added a line to the ordinance making it clear that the police are responsible for its enforcement.

Police Maj. Paul C. Fitzgerald said the police traditionally issue a violation summons only if a complaint is received. If there is a problem involving a major downtown property owner, he said, the police will alert that owner and the problem generally is taken care of.

As of 3 p.m. yesterday, no violation summonses had been issued in the aftermath of either storm, according to Fitzgerald.

Because they cannot rely on the public to comply with the snow-removal ordinance, firefighters do the hydrant-clearing themselves, Dillon said.

-From The Providence Journal

Did your brain just explode? Mine did. So there’s a law on the books that says people must clear the sidewalks abutting their property, it was amended to make it clear that the police should be issuing the citations, but the police don’t act unless called. The city is in a financial crisis yet no action has been taken to bring in these easy $25 to $300 a pop tickets. There is tens of thousands of dollars of revenue piled up on the sidewalks of Providence right now. Esserman’s ass is on the mat right now, perhaps he should tell his men to get cracking and start issuing citations. Every other city in the Northeast (except for Pawtucket) issues citations to property owners who do not comply with these laws. What is wrong with this city? How can we live civilized lives when we need climbing gear to walk to work?

Let’s step back a little further to December 10th. We’ve all long forgotten that on Sunday evening the 9th we had rain and sleet that froze overnight. We woke up Monday morning, the roads weren’t too bad, but the sidewalks were like a skating rink, lucky for me Matt spied me on his way to work and picked me up. By 2pm that day the Providence Fire Department reported to The Providence Journal that they had responded to 23 calls for people who had fallen on the ice. The injuries included two broken legs, 3 broken ankles, and 2 broken wrists. The city was a no-go zone for pedestrians because of a little rain and some cold temperatures. I wish I lived in a city where I didn’t risk a broken leg every time I left the house between November and April, but sadly I don’t.

So what am I ranting about? I don’t know really. Every year I send letters to my City Councilor and contact Neighborhood Services and every year things remain the same. The DID has helped a lot Downcity, and like I said before, I suspect the new Director of the Federal Hill Merchants Association is cracking the whip up there. But why can’t the city enforce its own laws, and why can’t the city clear its own sidewalks. Why am I every year having to walk in the street past ice choked sidewalks at Garibaldi Park and on the Route 95 overpasses?

If only it were a municipal election year.


Update: Press release from the Mayor’s Office:

PROVIDENCE – Mayor David N. Cicilline will announce a series of action steps the City is taking in response to the findings of a week-long review into the circumstances surrounding the release of Providence school children during the December 13th winter storm. The news conference will be held on Thursday, December 20 at 1 p.m. in the Mayor’s Office at Providence City Hall.

Last Friday, Mayor Cicilline directed Police Chief Dean M. Esserman and Chief of Administration John Simmons to conduct a thorough review of the events that led to Providence school children being stranded on gridlocked buses for hours. The Mayor will also announce a series of action steps the City is taking to ensure the safe transport of children home from school under any circumstances.

Jef Nickerson

Jef is Greater City Providence's co-founder, editor, and publisher. He grew up on Cape Cod and lived in Boston; Portland, Maine; and New York before settling in Providence. In addition to urbanism, Jef is interested in art, design, and ice cream. Please feel free to contact Jef if you have any question or comments about Greater City Providence.


  • Yeah, that pisses me off though. The city should pass the “bill.” Do it, and charge back the state. Last year the overpass on Atwells was cleared the last time it snowed. I thought the DID did it, but they said they had been harping on the city about it, and the city finally relented and got it done. I guess I gotta ask the DID to get on the city’s case about it again.

  • I almost broke my neck walking crossing the Washington St. overpass on Wednesday night. It is ridiculous that the main connectors to downtown are not cleared.

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