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Icy sidewalks make walking an extreme sport

Cedar Rapids has sent 234 notices to clear sidewalks since Jan. 1

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CEDAR RAPIDS — Iowa isn’t known for extreme sports, but a case could be made for walking dogs over unshoveled, icy sidewalks.

That’s the case for Lisa Paulos, 56, of Cedar Rapids, who is learning to master the skill as a volunteer dog walker at Dogs Forever, an animal rescue at 809 Rockford Road SW.

“I’ve fallen before,” Paulos said, walking an American bulldog named Lilly near the rescue Wednesday. “It’s especially bad going down hill. It gets really dicey.”

Paulos is not alone this year. The city of Cedar Rapids has mailed 234 notices since Jan. 1 telling property owners to clear their sidewalks, according to city records. By comparison, the city mailed 359 letters in all of 2015.

In a mile and half walk around the animal rescue’s neighborhood, uncleared sidewalks fronted every few lots of businesses and homes, Veterans Memorial Stadium and vacant properties. Footprints and tire tracks made for rutted, ankle twisting surfaces. Slick ice created slippery steps. And snowbanks plowed into sidewalk crossing added hurdles to the adventure.

It’s not unique to this area.

Sidewalk access points to Cedar Rapids Transit stops, such as at 42nd Street and Center Point Road, are banked with snow.

Cedar Rapids Transit is responsible for clearing bus shelter areas with a bench or overhang, but bare sidewalk ramp areas are the responsibility of the adjacent property owner.

Paulos encounters dangerous sidewalks on her walks to work downtown or on her several-times-a-week jogs. She often walks in the grass to get more “purchase,” or just on the road.

Every year she files complaints, but the same properties don’t shovel, she said. She knows if her complaints are registered if the sidewalk gets cleared in the next couple of weeks, she said.

After a city notice, property owners have 48 hours to clear sidewalks. After that, the city will begin logging complaints under nuisance policies. Complaints can be filed with the Solid Waste and Recycling Department at (319) 286-5897 or by email to SolidWaste&Recycling@cedar-rapids.org, or through the Cedar Rapids smartphone app.

The city notifies the property owner by letter, investigates in person and if deemed non-compliant issues a work order for the street department to clear the sidewalk for a fee of $159, said Sara Baughman, city utilities spokeswoman.

It can take a minimum of five days to issue the work order, and the job would be completed within several days thereafter, she said.

“We want people to be able to get around the city easily and not be inhibited by snow in their walkway,” Baughman said.

While the snow and ice-covered sidewalk are a challenge for Paulos, it’s even trickier for those with mobility challenges.

Cyndy Miller, legal director with an advocacy organization called Disabilities Rights Iowa, said sidewalks that aren’t cleared in a “reasonable” amount of time would be a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act. But the law doesn’t specify time limits, she said.

“If you are going into a business, regulation says you have to have an accessible route to the business. If there’s a lack of snow removal or icy conditions, it makes it difficult for people in wheelchairs or with walkers,” Miller said.

Kathy Couser, 65, of Cedar Rapids, who also volunteers at Dogs Forever, said she avoids walks in the winter.

“I don’t walk them,” Couser said. “I can’t afford to fall and break my neck.”

Some uncleared sidewalks fall under city jurisdiction.

The city holds the deed on Veteran’s Memorial Stadium, although it’s unclear who’s responsible for the sidewalk — the city or the tenant.

The city is also responsible for vacant properties if they’ve been acquired by the city.

The city has a database of all the properties it is responsible for maintaining and does so, Baughman said, although it is possible some get missed.

Michael Duffy, the Cedar Rapids streets superintendent, said weather events this seasons have complicated clearing snow.

His department has fielded a number of calls about roads where snow isn’t pushed all the way to the curb. Snow has bled out into turn lanes and covered some of the new bike lanes lining many of the arterial streets.

The composition of the snow and ice that fell in late December caused the snow pack to fall back into the street after being plowed, he said. Then it iced over, and when that happens it can be hard to “reclaim” the street or sidewalk, he said.

Tools beyond shovels or plows are needed to pop up the ice, he said.

“We drive around in some of our residential areas, and as it warms up we are still out there popping ice or cutting ice,” Duffy said. “It was a challenging event. It slowed us on picking up our downtown area.”

l Comments: (319) 339-3177; brian.morelli@thegazette.com

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