Slick sidewalks send students to hospital; officers salt walkways for safety

By Brittney Nadler

Within 20 minutes, one student had been knocked unconscious, two students had head injuries and another student had what appeared to be a broken arm. Upon arriving on Green Street to respond to the cause of the injuries, Sgt. Aaron Lack, of the Champaign Police Department, said he saw students falling left and right because of the slick sidewalks.

“We’ve had an unusual winter with an extreme amount of snow,” Lack said. “It was unusually cold and right (at) about 1 a.m., it became very slick on the sidewalks. If there was snow on the sidewalks, I think people would have been more careful.”

During the early morning hours of Feb. 1, Lack and officers Christopher Chambers, William Killin, Jeff Pickett and John McAllister personally spread salt on sidewalks to prevent more student injuries. 

Lack said the Public Works Department, which is responsible for snow and ice cleanup on roads, was already busy handling the streets but was trying to send someone to help with the sidewalks. It would take a while.

“Knowing that something needed to be done right away, I told them I would get my guys down there right away,” Lack said. 

He piled 600 pounds of salt into his car and headed for “the slickest spots,” including Green, Fifth and Sixth streets for the next hour. 

“They saw that there was a definite need for it,” said Champaign Lt. Jim Clark. “Quite often, we do stuff that’s above and beyond what our typical job description is in order to protect people, and that’s exactly what the officers did that night.” 

The officers began salting at about 1 a.m. on Saturday. To wait for businesses to open on Monday and clear their sidewalks would have been too dangerous, Clark said. 

Champaign Public Works Director Dennis Schmidt declared the Sidewalk Snow Removal Ordinance in effect on Feb. 6 at 12 p.m., according to a press release

The ordinance requires that businesses clear their sidewalks within 48 hours of the declaration. If they do not comply, the city sends its people out to clear them and the business owners are billed. Property owners were granted an extension until noon on Monday due to the intensity of the storm.

Makenzie Weishaar, junior in LAS, fell twice on the ice. She said she bruised her tailbone the first time and injured her hip the second time after slipping on a sloped sidewalk on Green Street. 

“I think it definitely could have been better,” Weishaar said. “There were areas where the sidewalks were completely cleared, but then there were other areas where I had to watch my footing because even in the snow, it’s still pretty slick.”

Weishaar noticed that even when sidewalks are maintained, they aren’t always completely cleared.

The ordinance states that “sidewalks must maintain a path the width of the sidewalk or 48 inches, whichever is less.” For corner properties, ramps must also be cleared so people can travel from block to block. 

“I don’t necessarily know whose job it is (to clear snow) for what areas,” Weishaar said. “If I need to cross the street, I’m still having to walk through piles of snow, and it’s not the worst, but it’s still their responsibility.” 

Lack said many people blame the police department when a storm hits and roads and sidewalks are not immediately taken care of.

“The city does not have the resources, the money or the personnel to clear all sidewalks, so that’s why the city enacted the ordinance that requires property owners to do that,” said Champaign Public Information Officer Kris Koester. “I guess it’d be nice if everyone did their part; when it snowed if everyone took the time to shovel no matter where you live.”

The procedure in Urbana is similar. After two or more inches of snow accumulate and snow operations for the city are completed, Public Works Director Bill Gray will declare the snow ordinance in effect, said Jason Arrasmith, Urbana environmental control officer. 

Following the declaration, businesses then have 24 hours to clear their sidewalks. Arrasmith inspects Urbana businesses to see if they have complied. If they haven’t, it is taken care of by the city and the business is billed.   

Mylene Haus, freshman in Engineering, has fallen three times because of the conditions. 

The first time, she fell down the stairs of an apartment building on Chalmers Street and her most recent slips occurred outside Illinois Street Residence Hall and Wohlers Hall, she said. 

“I feel like a lot of the major areas that should be salted have not been very attended to,” Haus said. “Outside of the dorms and on the Main Quad, there is a lot of ice that a lot of people have been falling and getting hurt on.”

The Neighborhood Services Department of Champaign is in charge of monitoring compliance of the ordinance. 

“We respond to complaints when a citizen calls in and complains they’re having trouble navigating the sidewalk,” said David Oliver, Champaign code compliance manager. “It has gotten much better through each year. (Businesses) have come to realize the earlier they address the situation, the easier it is to remove the snow from the sidewalk.” 

For the next blizzard, Clark has advice for students.

“Just common sense stuff — slow down, pay attention to what you’re doing,” he said. “A lot of it is personal responsibility. Be careful when you walk on the sidewalks, and put your phones away so you can concentrate on what you’re doing. And ride the bus as much as possible.”

Brittney can be reached at [email protected]