The Northeast gets a lot of snow. Lake Effect areas are particularly susceptible to massive accumulations of the white stuff. Many of these areas have serious snow removal operations in place to keep the roads as clear as possible, but it’s quite a job. In a recent Snow Plow News Weather Update, Meteorologist Rob Guarino talked about the snowstorm that hit the towns of Mexico and Parish, New York. That storm dumped 37 inches of snow in one day. Where do snowplow operators put that much snow?
A Little Winter Weather Perspective
If you live in any other part of the country it’s hard to appreciate just how wintery, winter can be. Ask a northeasterner what they think of a snowstorm in Nashville that results in 3 inches of snow. They’ll probably tell you that’s not really a snowstorm. It’s more like a sign of spring. Nashville residents might say it was a blizzard. It’s all about perspective really.
In a similar way, a person without physical disabilities won’t have quite the same perspective as someone who has physical disabilities. Stay with me here. If you’re not confined to a wheelchair, you likely won’t know what that’s like. You might have a certain amount of empathy, but you don’t really know what it’s like. You can’t really understand their challenges without having lived a day in their shoes.
New Jersey Snow Removal Bill
Earlier this month, a bill was introduced in the New Jersey State Legislature that would “prohibit snowplow operators from depositing snow in front of certain access points used by persons with disabilities”. New Jersey Bill A2361, proposed by Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle, would fine offenders $250 for the first offense and $500 for each subsequent offense.
The bill obviously has good intentions. Good intentions, though, are sometimes hard to balance with real life consequences. While the objective is understandable, local snow removal professionals are wondering how this might work. Snow plow operators are faced with brutal conditions while having to make on-the-fly decisions about how to clear roads and parking lots. There’s rarely a “good” place to put all that snow.
The main problem plow operators might face is knowing where a handicap accessible area is during a snowstorm. In the midst of white-out conditions and accumulating snow, those areas can be hard to distinguish from a regular parking space.
Iraq War Veteran Has A Unique Perspective
I talked to SGT Justin R. Anderson, USA (Ret) about the New Jersey bill. You might remember Justin. His story went viral this winter. In 2003, Justin suffered a combat injury serving in Iraq with the U.S. Army. The injury cost Justin his leg. He then converted his off-road wheelchair into a snow plow. He uses that plow to serve his neighborhood by clearing the sidewalks for schoolchildren.
If anyone has a valid opinion about snow plows and disabilities, it’s Justin. He’s faced the challenges associated with both. Besides his own endeavors, Justin also has family who is responsible for snow removal. Justin confirmed how difficult the question is. He said he could see both sides of the issue. On the one hand, you’ve got people who need to be able to get out just like anyone else. Disabled folks need to get to the market or doctor just like the rest of us and that’s complicated when it snows.
“Even an inch of snow can make it nearly impossible to get out when you’re in a wheelchair”.
Of course Justin’s off-road snowplowing wheelchair isn’t a normal wheelchair. But he knows how difficult it is nonetheless.
Justin can also see the other side and can appreciate the challenges a snow plow operator faces. Justin mentioned the issue of marking handicap accessible areas. If a space isn’t clearly marked, how can a plow operator know it’s designated “handicap accessible”? Painted lines won’t do much good in a snowstorm when it’s hard enough to know where the road is, let alone where a parking space is.
“Who will be responsible for making these areas more visible”?
Justin would expect New Jersey snow plow operators who receive a fine to charge that back to the business owner. Assuming the business owner is responsible for keeping the place clearly identified, that’s a fair expectation. Of course, clearly marking these areas for snowstorms might prove to be a challenge too; depending on what is expected, that could put quite an additional burden on business owners.
Justin also wondered about property damage that might result from trying to keep these places clear. Concrete curbs are often used to distinguish the areas, but in a snowstorm they’re virtually invisible. They’re like magnets to a snow plow. Snow plows also have the potential to break up concrete in areas that aren’t well maintained. Broken concrete or potholes in a normal parking area is one thing, but in a handicapped accessible area, they can be treacherous.
These are all questions New Jersey lawmakers will be considering when the bill is debated. Do the advantages of such a law outweigh the potential negative consequences? New Jersey might soon be answering that question. We’ll watch this as it unfolds.
SnowPlowNews appreciates Justin’s one-of-a-kind perspective on this issue. What if every wheelchair had tracks and a snow plow like Justin’s? Hmmm.
If you’d like to team up with Justin in his efforts to cover his health care expenses, please visit his gofundme page and contribute.
Brent Jarvis for SnowPlowNews