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Snow-piled Boston sidewalks an uphill struggle

A pedestrian abandoned an icy, snow-clogged section of sidewalk to make his way down G Street in South Boston on Monday.

JESSICA RINALDI FOR THE GLOBE

A pedestrian abandoned an icy, snow-clogged section of sidewalk to make his way down G Street in South Boston on Monday.

Lisa Thomas zipped along the edge of Tremont Street in her motorized wheelchair Monday morning, trying to stay out of the traffic as she maneuvered around parked cars.

Mounds of snow and patches of ice made the sidewalk impassable.

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“The only way I can get around is in the street,” said the 41-year-old from South Boston, who was headed to pick up cash at a Western Union office. “People should do more to shovel their sidewalks, especially the ramps.”

Bundled up in a heavy black coat with faux-fur trim around the hood, Thomas said she had no choice but to risk her safety. “What else could I do?”

It’s been tough sledding on Boston’s sidewalks this winter, especially for older residents and people with disabilities.

A series of snowstorms — both swift and lingering — have so far dumped 53.5 inches of snow on Boston this winter — almost twice the average for this time of year — according to meteorologist Charlie Foley of the National Weather Service office in Taunton.

Two to four more inches are predicted to fall Tuesday. With snow piles growing, many residents and business owners have a hard time keeping pace with shoveling.

Ice and narrow pathways between drifts have made many sidewalks more treacherous than the streets.

“I find the roads are generally pretty good, “ said Una Hayes, 75, who walked on H Street in South Boston early Monday afternoon. “I feel safer than I do on the sidewalks.”

Albert Williams, 19, rode his skateboard along Massachusetts Avenue en route from the South Bay shopping center.

“It’s rough,” Williams said, pausing as some passing motorists sounded their horns. “But I haven’t hit any ice. . . . This was cheaper than paying to take the bus.”

A city ordinance requires property owners to remove snow from the sidewalk in front of their home or business.

Failure to comply with the law carries a fine of $150 to $200 for a commercial property and $50 to $150 for residences, depending on the size of the property.

Heather Watkins, vice chairwoman of the city’s Commission for Persons with Disabilities , urged people to shovel their sidewalks and curb cuts.

“I’ve been indoors for about a week now,” said Watkins, who walks with a cane.

“People using wheelchairs and canes can’t get around.”

Other advocates for the disabled say property owners must do a better job of shoveling sidewalks, chipping away at ice, and clearing ramps.

“Even when things are shoveled, often there is just a very thin path, just wide enough for people to get off the sidewalk, but not wide enough for a wheelchair to get off,” said Karen Schneiderman, senior advocacy specialist with the Boston Center for Independent Living ,

John Kelly, a former chairman of the city’s disability commission, said snow-clogged sidewalks kept him from leaving his apartment in the Fenway for 12 straight days.

“It’s part of our automobile culture,” said Kelly, 55. “We clear the streets, but not our sidewalks.”

He noted that people living with disabilities are not the only ones affected.

“I don’t see people out pushing strollers,” Kelly said. “I do see elderly people walking in the street. I see kids walking in the street.”

Still, some were willing to brave the city’s sidewalks Monday.

“I take my chances,” said John Matthews, 66, a South End resident who used a cane as he walked along Tremont Street.

Matthews said he was walking home from visiting a friend in Roxbury, where he found the sidewalks to be “not very good.”

Jenny Borden bundled up her 6-week-old son for his first winter outing along Tremont Street, on a section of sidewalk cleared down to the bricks.

“We’ve been inside a lot,” said Borden, 30, pausing as she stood with her mother and son in his stroller.

Kathy McCabe can be reached at katherine.mccabe@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @GlobeKMcCabe.
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