Ruth Bertels is almost 80, but she thanks God she doesn’t have trouble getting around. She doesn’t have trouble, that is, most of the time.

The warmer weather this week melted away evidence of dangerous obstacles for Bertels and other pedestrians: icy corners where hard-packed snow rises between the edge of the sidewalk and where the village plowed the street. The snow and ice were remnants of a Dec. 1 snowstorm.

“Those little piles can be 4 inches tall only, but they’re slippery, icy,” Bertels said. Even a walk of a few blocks down to the post office was treacherous last week with icy patches blocking the ends of sidewalks, she said, adding that she and others would walk down driveways and then in the street to avoid slippery corners.

“I think what bothered me most these past few weeks was people with canes walking down the street,” Bertels said. “My heart just goes out to them.”

Bertels isn’t the first person to point out the problem. A 1996 universal access task force report to the Village of Oak Park highlighted the issue, too.

“Because clear and unobstructed public sidewalks play such an important role in disabled persons’ movement throughout the Village, it is recommended that the Village adopt a special sense of responsibility for maintenance of this part of the Village infrastructure,” the report reads in part. “Maintenance includes … dependable snow removal which will not cause snow to accumulate at curb cuts. … “

Bertels said when it’s snowy and cold, she can call a cab, which picks her up right outside her condominium building’s door, but that others aren’t as fortunate.

“I think the village should be doing it,” Bertels said, referring to clearing corners for pedestrians. John Wielebnicki, director of Public Works in Oak Park, said the village does not have the resources allocated to clear every sidewalk in town, like Forest Park does.

“Our hope is that homeowners and businesses will help us with that,” he said. “It all comes down to balancing priorities.”

However, if residents see parts of the street still covered by ice or snow, he suggested they call the Public Works Department at 358-5700. A truck will come by to plow and salt the patch, he said, as long as the area is part of the street and not the sidewalk.

Wielebnicki said he was pleased with the cleanup of the Dec. 1 snowstorm, which dumped an icy layer and then six inches of snow on the village.

The village did receive complaints about the storm cleanup, but Wielebnicki added, “I don’t know if you can ever do it without complaints.” The village’s trucks first plow major streets, then feeder streets, residential streets, and finally alleys and village-owned parking lots.

It wasn’t just corners that were slippery last week. On a stroll through town last week, one could easily find icy patches mid-block or at corners that would made getting around tricky-and that’s for the sure and fleet of foot.

Snow, ice and snow removal (when it piles snow on curb cuts or otherwise in the way) are major concerns for people with mobility problems.

“Hopefully, at least where there’s a disabled [parking] place plows wouldn’t dump the snow in that area,” said Diane Coleman, executive director of the Progress Center for Independent Living in Forest Park.

Residents who don’t shovel their sidewalks force people with disabilities out onto the street, Joel Sheffel told the Oak Park village board Monday night. Sheffel, a resident of the 100 block of South Humphrey who has a balance problem that keeps him from walking on snow, asked the village to find a way to ensure all sidewalks and bus stops get cleared.

Buses are required by the federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) to be accessible. But when bus stops are covered in icy snow, they keep people with disabilities from riding, said Sheffel, who is also the executive director of West Suburban Access News Association.

“For a village which boasts having a Universal Access Commission and not have anything on the books to ensure equal access of persons with disabilities during winter is a shame for our village,” he said.

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