Report thy neighbor: snowy sidewalks - WKOW 27: Madison, WI Breaking News, Weather and Sports

Report thy neighbor: snowy sidewalks


MADISON (WKOW) -- Once the leaves fall, the snow is sure to follow.  Winter weather, however, won't stop avid walker Barb Adam, who lives on Madison's northeast side.

"I'd just like to have to walk safely without the fear of breaking bones," said Adam.  Adam said after last winter's record 104 inch snowfall in Madison, she slipped frequently, though her fellow walking buddies were injured worse.

Miles away on the near east side, Michael Barrett and his elderly mother Peggy also view a clean sidewalk as a safety issue.

"Most of my trips are by walking," said Barrett.  He also said his mom does all her errands by foot.  He worries about the possibility of her falling and breaking a hip.  Barrett cites a statistic on the website for the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons that says about a quarter of patients over the age of 50 with hip fractures die within a year from complications.

"It's always kind of irked me that I get out there and shovel walks and other people don't."

So during last winter in Madison, Barrett and Adam started jotting down addresses of properties with unshoveled sidewalks and turning them in on the city's Report-a-Problem website.

Chief Madison building inspector George Hank told us 2,375 resident complaints came into the city last year.  Of those, more than 1,445 (61-percent) actually resulted in tickets.  By comparison, inspectors only wrote 436 tickets during their routine inspection of highly walked areas like downtown.

"It's a safety issue," said Hank.  He added, "It's important to keep sidewalks clear and in a safe condition."

The strategies of the residents are simple. "I always have a pen with me and write down the numbers of the house," said Barrett.

Barrett reported 19 people who live in his mom's neighborhood last winter. He said he only started to write up homeowners if a sidewalk is covered with snow or ice for more than four days.  Madison's ordinance said property owners must clear the entire sidewalk by noon the day after the snow stops falling.

Barb Adam wrote up 31 of her neighbors.  "Last winter, I'm thinking the city made a lot of money from me," she somewhat jokes.

Typically people use the Madison's Report-a-Problem website because there's a degree of anonymity.  That irked westside resident Chris Brady back in March.  He initially was ticketed for not scraping about a six-inch slip of ice from an otherwise cleaned sidewalk.

"They did not tell me who complained," Brady said on March 6.  "They told me it is the result of a complaint, but they would not tell me who it was, even though they knew."

While brady's ticket was eventually dismissed, ultimately city inspectors have to validate the complaints. Therefore, the people getting tickets don't know who tattled. Unless you do what we did, and file an Open Record Request.

A man on Fell Road wrote the city: "I want to remain ANONYMOUS as I must live next to this person"

The most submissions by one person came from Brian Spindel, an East Dayton Street man who filed 44 complaints, 42 of those on the same day.

From reviewing the records, about ten other people last winter also reported a dozen of more people in their neighborhoods to the city.

"I cringe when I see those multiple complaints come through, but if it is a violation, the sidewalk should have been cleared," said Hank.

"It does create a certain amount of tension between neighbors," said Madison mayor Dave Cieslewicz, "and if people would just communicate with neighbors directly, I think that would be ideal."

The mayor's idea sounded noble.  Adam told us she tried to do the neighborly thing once last year, and it didn't work.  "In fact, there was a lady that I talked to last year who's notorious, and I said 'Hey, do you know there's a city ordinance you're supposed to be shoveling this?' And she just 'Oh yeah.'  She just laughed it off, and it was just like no big deal."

"I think the website made it very easy to (report)," said Barrett.

Both Barrett and Adam don't mind being outed. "I think the message needs to get out that everyone deserves a safe neighborhood," he said.

"I'm not doing anything wrong," said Adam.  "It's like the people who are going to be upset about it are the people who aren't doing what they're supposed to be doing."

They just hope they won't have to write a flurry of complaints this winter.

Chief building inspector George Hank said the city needs this complaint-based system because there's not enough manpower otherwise.  Only high trafficked areas like downtown are routinely walked by inspectors after each snowfall.

That means if you live elsewhere in the city, you could get away with a snow-covered sidewalk if no one complains.  If you live where there are one of these pro-active residents, you have to be on top of your game.


CLICK HERE to email story ideas to Carl Agnelly.

Powered by Frankly