By Jessica Peterson It was around three in the morning on a Saturday during the winter of 2008 when Alex Maves was injured by the Duluth sidewalks. Maves, who was visiting friends for the weekend, was walking home from a party. He was at 23rd Avenue East and Fourth Street, where the sidewalk and the alley meet, when his front foot slipped as he encountered a patch of ice. His legs twisted in different directions and he crashed to the ground.
“I thought my jeans ripped,” Maves said. “That’s what it sounded like.”
Unfortunately, his pants were not what was damaged. The noise he heard was the sound of his right femur breaking in two places. Maves scooted on his hands and rear and he managed to pull himself to the side of the road.
Although the city of Duluth legislative code states that all persons who own, lease or occupy a lot of land which is adjacent to a public sidewalk must clear a 36 inch width path along the sidewalk within 24 hours of the end of a snowfall, many people fail to comply. It was because of this noncompliance that Maves was injured.
“I called Ryan and asked him to get a chair with wheels so I didn’t have to walk home,” Maves said.
Although Ryan Zelgart, Maves’ friend and current roommate, arrived at the scene of the incident without a chair with wheels, he did bring Maves a bag of frozen peas to use as an icepack. At the time of this incident, Maves did not have health insurance and he avoided going to the doctor until two days after the incident occurred, until he could no longer handle the pain. Not only did this experience end up costing Maves $7,000 in medical bills, but it cost him his spring break vacation as well. While his friends were skiing down the mountains in Colorado he was sitting on a couch in a hotel room, waiting for his friends to come home from the slopes.
Due to his injury Maves wishes that the sidewalks around Duluth were better maintained.
Jenny Monroe, who works for the buildings and grounds division for the city of Duluth, deals with the complaints that community members have about the sidewalks. Although she has never received a call reporting a serious injury, she has received 104 complaints thus far this winter.
“The vast majority of people that call in are hardworking and are trying to clear their sidewalks,” Monroe said.
Most of the complaints that Monroe deals with are due to the results of snowplows. They are in regard to the deep pile of snow that is unable to be removed by residents after snowplows clear the streets.
Duluth residents such as Maves and Zelgart, are not the only ones who encounter problems while walking on the sidewalks. Mail deliverer Jim Sandston finds it difficult to deliver mail when sidewalks are poorly maintained.
“That,” he said as he pointed to an area of sidewalk covered in ice. “That gets to be a problem.”
Sandston believes that the difficulties with the sidewalks have increased since the number of rental properties in Duluth has risen.
“I’d say about 75 percent are rental homes now,” Sandston said. “Most of these used to be family homes.”
Sandston says that some college students do shovel pathways to their mailboxes and it is very helpful when it comes time to deliver mail, however other tenants don’t shovel at all.
“They tell us not to deliver if it’s not safe,” Sandston said of his superiors in the workplace.
Although, Sandston says that the sidewalk problems are, in his opinion, associated with an increase in rental properties, he made sure not to place blame on the city, the landlords or the college students.
It is undocumented how the problem regarding the sidewalks has changed throughout history, but changes are being made to help ensure safer sidewalks.
According to an article published by the Duluth News Tribune, a committee called Duluth Digs: Winter Mobility for All was started this past December to help ensure a greater level of safety among the sidewalks and streets of Duluth.
Zelgart and Maves said that one of their roommates snowblows the sidewalk in front of their house after heavy snowfalls to keep their area of the sidewalk safe.
Upon entering an icy area of the sidewalk when walking with friends, Zelgart said that whoever is walking in front must yell “Ice patch, ice patch!” to avoid another leg-breaking incident such as Maves’.