BRATTLEBORO -- Of the town's 35 miles of sidewalks, the town clears only 14 miles with its sidewalk plow following snowstorms. It's on the shoulders of property owners and building residents to clear the rest.

And as is often the case following a snowstorm, social media lit up the past two days with harsh criticism that Brattleboro sidewalks weren't being cleared fast enough, putting pedestrians at risk.

"(Department of Public Works) crews spent the entire night removing snow drifts from Canal Street, while sidewalks and crosswalks remain blocked in areas slated for ‘traffic calming' due to pedestrian deaths," noted one commenter. "Couldn't spare one driver to clean up the snow they plowed off the streets and onto the sidewalk?"

"Shameful," posted another.

But Selectboard Chairman David Gartenstein said making sure the sidewalks are cleared "is a very complicated endeavor."

"The sidewalk plow used by the town of Brattleboro operates on a cycle," he said. And sometimes during its sweep around town, snow is piled back onto the sidewalks by plow trucks and homeowners, he said. "But, as a general matter, the sidewalks are in pretty good shape."

Clearing the sidewalks is also affected by the town budget, said Gartenstein.

"Brattleboro actually considered this year, because of the very tight budget we are facing, the elimination of sidewalk plowing, but this Selectboard at its last budget meeting decided not implement that cut," he said.

Gartenstein insisted that pedestrian safety is a core concern of the Brattleboro Selectboard.

"Our commitment to pedestrian safety is the reason why we have declined to cut sidewalk plowing out of the budget."

Steve Barrett, the director of Brattleboro's Department of Public Works, said more than 15 years ago, the town cut the amount of sidewalks cleared from 18 miles down to 13 and reduced its staff by three people.

[This map shows the town's sidewalks and plow route: Click Here for .PDF.]

"We also used to have three sidewalk snow removal machines, but we are down to one now," he said. "A reduced level of sidewalk maintenance resulted."

One of DPW's employees is assigned to clearing the sidewalks, said Barrett, and his priority is clearing high-volume sidewalks, such as those needed for children to get to school and people to get to work.

Nonetheless, he said, "You have to complete road plowing before you can complete sidewalk plowing."

Barrett said people also need to be aware that the snow that piles up on the sidewalks is often more than the snow on the roadway.

"A six-inch storm turns into 36 inches of snow on the sidewalk because that's what the plows push off the road," he said.

This is compounded by the fact that most of Brattleboro's sidewalks are right on the road and there is no green space between the sidewalks and the roads for snow to pile up.

Barrett was grateful to the town residents who take it upon themselves to do some sidewalk clearing.

"There are a lot of people who shovel the sidewalks in front of their houses even though they are on a sidewalk clearing route," he said. "That helps us because removal is done quicker."

There are also people who take on the responsibility of shoveling the walks of neighbors who aren't physically able to do so themselves, said Barrett. Some residents have also taken it upon themselves to shovel out fire hydrants, he said.

Gartenstein reminded property owners in the downtown district that they are responsible for clearing sidewalks in front of their properties.

According to Chapter 14 of Brattleboro's Code of Ordinances, shoveling must be done by property owners who have sidewalks on the following streets or portions of streets: Main Street, Elliot Street to its intersection with School Street, Harris Place, Flat Street, Elm Street, High Street to its intersection with Retting Place, Canal Street to its southerly intersection with Clark Street, and Bridge Street.

Property owners who fail to shovel their sidewalks could receive a bill from the town for any snow removal and be fined $50.

Bob Audette can be reached at raudette@reformer.com, or at 802-254-2311, ext. 160. Follow Bob on Twitter @audette.reformer.