Buffalo block clubs would receive city-owned snowblowers to help make neighborhoods more "walkable" in the winter under a plan being advanced by Council Member at Large Charley H. Fisher III.
The concept is winning early support from some block club leaders, who predict they could recruit enough volunteers to remove snow from sidewalks around vacant lots, at street corners and outside the homes of senior citizens and people with disabilities.
"It's an exciting idea that would be greeted enthusiastically by many block clubs," said Louise Bonner, co-president of the Board of Block Clubs of Buffalo and Erie County. "There are a lot of people out there who would be willing to help out so children don't have to climb over piles of snow."
Fisher, who chairs the Council's Snow Removal Task Force, emphasized that coordination and oversight would be critical to ensuring that the snowblowers were put to good use in communities.
For example, only active block clubs that are registered with the city would be eligible. Schedules would also be developed that would pinpoint specific snow-removal chores.
Fisher noted that many block clubs already have demonstrated their willingness to get involved in community improvement. He said a number of groups worked hand in hand with members of the Mayor's Impact Team during previous cleanups of vacant lots across the city.
"Neighborhood efforts like this become contagious," said Fisher. "And block club leaders know their streets better than anyone else in their districts."
Fisher acknowledged that a few key issues must be addressed before the concept moves beyond the idea stage, including funding and liability, but he doesn't see either concern being insurmountable.
He plans to meet with city legal experts soon. As for the costs associated with the program, Fisher estimated that the city would likely be able to buy 100 snowblowers for less than $30,000.
Other unanswered questions include who would be responsible for fuel and repairs. Options might include financing the costs through block club dues or seeking donations from businesses.
In a resolution that will be considered by the Common Council on Tuesday, Fisher is asking officials from several city departments to explore new strategies for addressing snow-clogged sidewalks. He said he originally considered sponsoring a bill to increase fines for property owners who do not clear their sidewalks.
"But that doesn't address many of the problems we're facing," he said.