Sidewalk safety sentinel seeks swifter snow sweeping; town supervisor offers a reality check

Bill Wertman stands on the sidewalk outside his home on Troy-Schenectady Rd., where he says snow removal efforts have fallen short this winter. Photo by Rebecca IsenhartBill Wertman stands on the sidewalk outside his home on Troy-Schenectady Rd., where he says snow removal efforts have fallen short this winter. <br />Photo by Rebecca Isenhart

Flakes fly, time goes by

Bill Wertman stands on the sidewalk outside his home on Troy-Schenectady Rd., where he says snow removal efforts have fallen short this winter. Photo by Rebecca Isenhart

Bill Wertman stands on the sidewalk outside his home on Troy-Schenectady Rd., where he says snow removal efforts have fallen short this winter.
Photo by Rebecca Isenhart

By REBECCA ISENHART
Gazette Reporter

NISKAYUNA — From his home of 47 years on Troy-Schenectady Road, Bill Wertman has a front-row view of all the worst things about winter in Niskayuna.

He watches bus passengers scramble over charcoal-colored snowbanks to get to and from work at nearby Bellevue Woman’s Center. He worries about the handicapped, who would be hard-pressed to find a way to maneuver a wheelchair or a walker over the icy sidewalks. And he frets about the runners who opt to jog on the busy roadway, alongside cars and trucks, rather than scamper through sidewalk slop.

“It’s suicidal,” he said, recalling a few runners he had seen taking the same risk a few hours before.

When Wertman gets worried about his neighbors, he picks up the phone and calls Niskayuna Town Hall.

“I’m not exactly a new kid on the block,” Wertman said. “You don’t expect bare ground, but they can do a lot better than this.”

Town Supervisor Joe Landry acknowledges that the sidewalks are the town’s responsibility, but he takes issue with the assertion that highway workers are shirking their duties.

“[Clearing] all sidewalks in town takes about eight to 10 hours,” he said. “It’s a full day of work for a person to clear all the sidewalks.”

Complicating factors

That work is complicated by a number of factors. For example, the weight of the snow determines whether highway workers have to use a snowblower or a small plow. The snowblower does a neater job, but wet heavy snow jams it up.

In addition, although the town clears the sidewalks, the county and state each clear their own roads, on their own schedules. When their plows come through, they can throw a lot more snow and slush onto the sidewalk. So the town really, really prefers to let the streets get plowed first.

“We work at the whim of the DOT or the county,” Landry said. “There’s nothing worse than clearing the sidewalks and then having the DOT or the county come by and bury the sidewalks with snow from the roads.”

Wertman isn’t hearing any of it. Swiping a murky pile of slush to the side with his boot, he asked, “What would a handicapped person do on these sidewalks today?”

Landry concedes Wertman’s concerns have some merit. But he’s not budging on the assertion that the town Highway Department workers are doing all they can.

“Yes, we have snow. And are [sidewalks] accessible for wheelchairs in the wintertime? They’d be very difficult for that,” Landry said. “That’s something you’re going to run into anywhere in the Northeast. We do the best we can to keep the them clear.

“We take this very seriously,” he continued. “We have two vehicles, we have a legal responsibility to do it, and we do it.”

Roads take priority, he added, and sometimes it takes a full day after a snowstorm to get around to every inch of sidewalk in Niskayuna.

Even though the highway department leadership changed last year when the town promoted Ray Smith to the position, Landry said the town’s efforts this winter are on par with past snowy seasons, and he rejected the suggestion that the sidewalk snow campaign is suffering through inexperienced leadership.

“[Smith] was our deputy under the old superintendent for as long as I’ve been here,” Landry said. “To blame it on the new guy is . . . he’s not a new guy. We’re doing it the same way we’ve always done it. We’re using the same machines and the same people.”

But there’s no arguing with the fact that the sidewalks really are sometimes slippery, slushy, or otherwise unpleasant. Said Landry: Welcome to New York state in the dead of winter.

Two fans of winter

“I grew up in the Northeast. I love the snow,” he said. “This looks good to me.”

Here’s the obvious question: If Wertman hates the slushy sidewalks so much, why not wait for spring from a beach chair or a putting green in Florida, like so many snowbirds?

Well, it turns out, on this point, Wertman and Landry are actually in agreement. Wertman likes winter too.

“What’s wrong with this?” he said, in between the recent snowstorms, surveying the gray, semi-frozen tundra that edges Route 7.

“Granted, it’s not perfect,” he added.

And until it is, he’ll keep Town Hall on speed dial.

About the Author

Rebecca Isenhart
Rebecca Isenhart is the reporter/writer for Your Niskayuna, presented by the Daily Gazette of Schenectady.