Published DateCONWAY — Town officials suggested Conway could remove some sidewalks in the wake of a federal court ruling that could lead to increased winter maintenance costs, but to do so runs counter to the town's own regulations.
Officials suggested the town could tear up sidewalks leading to the Pine Tree School on Mill Street rather than pay to clear them of snow all winter, which a recent federal court ruling in Texas may require.
But to remove a sidewalk, particularly one that leads to a school, runs counter to the town's subdivision regulations. "As a matter of public safety," the regulations say, "sidewalks are required in the vicinity of schools, and in the village or business district."
The suggestion, however, may not have been serious, according to town manager Earl Sires. "I think that was more of a brainstorming thing."
The town will have a balance to strike, however, between making the community more walkable and keeping the winter maintenance budget from spiraling out of control. In recent years Conway has expanded its sidewalk network, particularly in North Conway Village, with the goal of catering to pedestrians and improving walkability. Now it appears the increased miles of sidewalk could mean higher bills when the snow flies.
"It does pose a quandary," Sires said. Conway wants to be walkable, but officials have to weigh how much that costs taxpayers.
The court ruling, which came out of Texas, ties municipalities' sidewalk maintenance responsibilities with handicap accessibility. The court said towns are required to keep all the sidewalks they have clear and accessible to people with disabilities.
It probably wasn't an issue in Texas, but in New Hampshire that means even after a foot of snow falls.
That poses a challenge for Conway, which has left the sidewalks along Route 16, along the roundabout and on Mill Street unplowed.
"You know how it is around here," Sires said — it might snow, then rain, then freeze. Then it might get sunny, melt more snow and refreeze. Getting the sidewalks to walkable condition can be difficult, much less to a condition where they are navigable by wheelchair.
The ruling could create all sorts of challenges for the town, which has yet to decide how to address it.
"What is the level of service you need to provide to make sidewalks accessible?" Sires said. "That's an interesting question."
The New Hampshire Municipal Association put out an article earlier this summer that makes it clear municipalities can't ignore the ruling. "Public sidewalks are part of the local program of services available to everyone, and if they are provided, the federal Americans with Disabilities Act requires that they be made accessible to the disabled as well," the article said, written by an attorney for the New Hampshire Local Government Center.
The Conway master plan, meanwhile, says the town should consider transportation improvements like trying to "improve and extend sidewalk network beyond the village areas," and "encourage walking." It's unclear just how that will change now that every bit of expansion will have an additional cost for every inch of snow, not just for every ounce of concrete.