Icy walks take toll on pedestrians


During the recent freeze, Susan Yamada was driving her car from her apartment on Third Avenue to her job at the medical clinic at First Avenue, two blocks away.

Yamada would sooner walk, but the sidewalks were too icy, she said.

“It’s awful that right downtown it’s not shoveled or sanded,” Yamada said in an interview. “From a pedestrian standpoint, it’s pretty scary. Can you imagine little old ladies getting out of their cars?”

Little old ladies aren’t the only residents challenged. Kyle Gray, branch manager for the Haines bank, received six stitches after cutting his head falling on an icy patch of sidewalk Jan. 3. Gray, who is in his late twenties, was walking from the bank to his apartment, a distance of about 100 feet along Main Street.

“I pretty much hit head first. That weekend there was a sheet of ice over everything,” Gray said. “There was one patch of ice on the sidewalk that wasn’t sanded. My foot found it.”

Ice covered many walks downtown last week, including sections of Main Street along vacant properties and closed businesses. In recent winters it’s become common for residents to walk in paved, sanded roadways rather than brave icy walks.

Resident Heather Lende is a member of the Haines Borough’s Planning Commission and Downtown Revitalization Committee. She’s among residents concerned about winter maintenance of footpaths, a topic the committee expressed concern about last summer.

Walks left icy or unshoveled are a decades-long problem, Lende said. Although some businesses do a good job, others make no effort.

“It’s not that hard. We’re a winter city. Every other city does it. You can walk around in downtown Juneau and Sitka, but you can’t walk around on our fancy, new sidewalks,” Lende said.

Without winter maintenance, the sidewalks around town aren’t much use, she said. “We put all these new sidewalks in which are apparently only for visitors who come in the summer. If our roads were maintained to that level, it’d be a fright,” Lende said.

Borough public works director Ralph Borders said last week’s slippery conditions resulted from cold, windy weather that polished ice and blew away sand that had been applied for traction, including on sidewalks. “It’s like putting down ball bearings. You better wear grippers in that kind of weather.”

Borders said Haines Borough plows use their wing blades to clear sidewalks on their streets, just as State of Alaska plows clear walks along state roads, including Main Street. But he said plows can’t get down to cement surfaces, which would cause damage.

“You can’t get that last inch, and once it rains and freezes overnight” walks become slick, he said.

The former City of Haines required adjacent landowners to shovel sidewalks for decades, but the city council repealed the law about 15 years ago, saying it was unenforceable. A substitute measure to apply the shoveling requirement only to specific downtown streets failed by a 4-2 vote in 2000.

Planning commissioner Lende said the shoveling ordinance should be revisited.

“It may even be an opportunity for local nonprofits to help citizens and businesses who prefer not to – or who can’t – clear sidewalks,” she said, suggesting that Venturer Scouts, school athletic teams or other groups could provide the service.

Lende also suggested an “adopt a sidewalk” program for areas not in front of homes and businesses, such as ones along the waterfront and near the school.


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