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Good Sidewalks, Good Neighbors

by on February 26, 2019 5:00 AM


I know, this winter has been a mess. Yes, we love our soft, fluffy snow and the picturesque scenes it creates all around Happy Valley – especially at night during a full moon. We love the chance to ride our sleds, toboggans, saucers and tubes, to go skiing, and to build snow-people and forts and igloos and other creations with the masses of snow that have fallen from the sky.

What we don’t love about the snow though is when the weather gives us several inches of the soft fluffy stuff, and then immediately switches to sleet and freezing rain. We don’t like it even more when that scenario unfolds over night while many of us are asleep in bed. Because you can’t win. If you go out late at night after the snow falls and shovel it away in the hopes the rain stays away, then you wake up in the morning to an ice sheet over everything. If you wake up early in the morning to shovel in the hopes the top layer is frozen solid but that the sidewalk and driveway are dry and will remain that way after the snow is removed, then you find yourself shoveling what seems like a thousand pounds of frozen water.

Luckily for us warm-blooded folk, spring break is next week, daylight savings time starts on March 10, and the vernal equinox heralding the arrival of spring occurs on March 20. All of which can’t get here soon enough, as the current extended weather forecast only shows one day in the next 10 with a high temperature above the 30s.

In the meantime we will do what we central Pennsylvanians have done for years – stay indoors (where we hope the electricity works!) when conditions outside get too difficult. We are a happy bunch of people in Happy Valley and we’ll make the best of it. That’s what we do.

We raise money for worthwhile causes and we put up signs welcoming everyone who moves here and we get great scores for our efforts in equality. On paper we’re pretty darn good neighbors.

Except for, well, one or two or three little issues.

The first would be that topic I mentioned above – shoveling snow. Because I get out and run nearly every day, and because the university has effectively cut townies off from using its indoor running facility, it means I’m running outside in all kinds of weather. If you see what appears to be a chartreuse Michelin Man bundled head-to-toe and jogging along the streets when the weather is neither fit for man nor beast, it could very well be me. In addition my wife and I take walks most days of the week – when my attire more closely resembles the Pillsbury Dough Boy.

Both walking and running are great forms of exercise and get you outside breathing fresh air. But I like to do my walking and running on sidewalks or pathways whenever possible, not on the streets where cars are driving because, in the war of man vs. car, the car usually wins. And when it snows, sleets or rains, staying on sidewalks and pathways can be a little tough because there are a small number of folks who can’t be bothered to shovel the snow or spread a product to melt the ice.

Let’s hand out a few kudos first. The borough, the townships and the university all do outstanding jobs keeping their sidewalks clear and safe to use. Businesses, apartments and condo/townhome communities also usually do fine jobs. Which is why, when inclement weather hits, I will try to run a course that stays on as many sidewalks and paths that are owned or controlled by those entities as I can. But it’s darn near impossible to do that along an entire running route, especially when you live in a neighborhood of single-family homes.

And there’s the rub – single-family homes. Those sidewalk issues I run into – literally – are almost exclusively on the property of single-family homes. Now, friends of mine will point out that more often than not those single-family homes are occupied by renters, sometimes students, who have no interest, vested or otherwise, in keeping their sidewalks clear. And although that’s common – and a reason I think the townships should ban single-family homes from being used as rentals unless they are also owner-occupied – it’s not always the case.

While we are on the topic of sidewalks, let’s remember that nothing lasts forever, especially concrete which is poured in a climate with temperature variances of 100 degrees and ground that can be a bit unstable. Our sidewalks themselves occasionally need maintenance. They crack, rise or sink. Fixing a sidewalk so that it’s not a hazard to walk on – the primary reason for its existence in the first place – is another little issue that some property owners need to address, and it’s one that I see on my runs around the area. My wife was the casualty of just such a sidewalk – she tripped on one last year that had risen an inch at an expansion gap, tore her hamstring, was on crutches for eight weeks and still hasn’t resumed running.

A third issue would be the flora next to the sidewalks and pathways. Yes, we all love trees and bushes and shrubs and plants – they make the area look more natural and do that wonderful photosynthesis thing that creates oxygen for we humans to breathe. Except if they are growing over and across the sidewalks and pathways and blocking them, this makes it impossible for the sidewalks and pathways to perform their essential function.

The best time to check if your flora is an issue is after a rainstorm or snowstorm, because it’s possible that when the plants and trees are dry and the sun is out, everything looks great and nothing is impeding people from passing by. But after a rainstorm or snowstorm parts of the flora are now a big obstacle one must navigate under or around. There is one caveat to this issue: if the tree causing the issue is within a Township or Borough right-of-way you may need to check with your municipality before trimming.

Again, as I said, on paper we’re pretty darn good neighbors. So here’s where I implore those few among us who, for whatever reason, have one or more of the issues above on their property. We all want to be good neighbors. We all want to be able to go outside and move around on our own and use the sidewalks and pathways we are graced with here in Happy Valley. Some of us, like me, for exercise, but many more to go to and from work, or school, or to visit friends or shop or any one of a hundred different reasons. And we should be able to do that safely and without the possibility of injury. So please, be a good neighbor and take care of that part of your property that the rest of us use. We’ll all be happier.



John Hook is the president of The Hook Group, a local management consulting firm, and active in several nonprofit organizations. Previously John spent 25 years in executive, management and marketing positions with regional and national firms. John lives in Ferguson Township with his wife Jackie and their two children.
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