HELENA — When the weather gets as cold as it’s been this week, getting out and shoveling snow can be the last thing on your mind. But clearing a pathway in front of your home may just be someone’s ticket to go to work or the grocery store.
“Well, I like to talk about snow shoveling as an act of love that you give your community. People of all abilities may need to walk to where they're going, right? I think a lot of people who drive forget that, you know, that's a privilege that we have. You know, that's something that not everybody is able to do,” says Independent Living Specialist at Ability Montana, Cassie Weightman.
Ability Montana, formerly Montana Independent Living Project, works to promote independence and advocates for those who live with disabilities across 14 counties in the state.
Part of that work is keeping winter accessible to all people. This translates into advocating to keep sidewalks clear of snow and ice, even during the sub-zero temperatures we had this week.
“The accessibility of winter really is dependent on each of us doing our part. And when each of us do our part, everyone, regardless of the mode of transportation or the level of mobility that they have, will benefit,” says Weightman.
In addition to it being Helena city code, shoveling sidewalks allows everyone to access school, work, groceries, a walk with a stroller, bike, or even just visits from friends.
So, what are the rules for clearing sidewalks in the city of Helena?
Under city code, snow must be removed from sidewalks in most of the city within 24 hours after the snow stops falling. The exception is the city's commercial districts. In those areas, snow must be removed by 9:00 a.m. the next business day and by noon of the next non-business day or within 4 hours after the snow stops falling. Failing to clear sidewalks can lead to a $50 civil penalty or 30% of the city's cost to clear the sidewalk, whichever is greater.
But it’s vitally important to keep yourself safe when shoveling in these kinds of temperatures by bundling up, covering your face with something to warm and humidify the air, taking your time to not over-exert yourself, and asking for help when you need it.
Weightman also encourages folks to see who around them might also need a little help during the cold winter months.
“And then once you've done your own part can you look around and see, do I live next to someone who's aging? Do I live next to someone who has a disability?” says Weightman.