Home > Complete Streets, Cultural Movement, Design the Details, Safety Issues, Transportation Education, Universal Access, Walking > As the last snow falls, start thinking about next winter

As the last snow falls, start thinking about next winter

A message sent via email from a Traverse City City Commissioner:

Just went back and reviewed the comments from the snow calming post. I understand people want the sidewalks cleared of snow, I do to. But fact is, the ordinance clearly states it’s up to citizens to keep walks clear of snow (Section 668.11). The snow pushers are not plows and can not remove all the snow to the pavement, making it safe for pedestrians. They are used to help after the roads are taken care of and people seem to think it is a given that it should be done.

Rather than ranting and raving about it you might encourage your readers and posters to take action. Maybe to first amend the ordinance that requires residents to keep the side walks clear and then suggets that DPW make it a priority to remove the snow. At this point it is not.

It’s easy to sit on the couch and bitch about a situation but that gets little done. People need to organize and present a plan to the planning commission and/or city commission to change priorities. Otherwise this is just a lot of hot air which gets old year after year. I can’t do this by my self, people need to organize and large groups of citizens need to come forward asking, demanding a change. It’s not going to get done otherwise…[sic]


TC Snowpusher (blower)

The message is in response to previous posts, and comments, this week here and here.

Again, point taken. We all need to work on this together if it is to be a priority. And, the time to be working on changing policy and implementation is in the summer months when we’d rather be shoveling sand on the beach. The great thing is we don’t have to reinvent the wheel, the difficult task is organizing. Here is help with the former today.

Below are some model ordinance elements that the Association of Pedestrian and Bicycle Professionals  culled from cities where providing access to all transportation choices is a priority. Many of these could be public-private partnerships and investment by the City of time and energy into a communication system would assist the citizen-wide effort. I’ve added comments following a few.

You can view the fact sheet at AmericaWalks.org (PDF).

  • Dedicated City Sidewalk Snow Crews: It is essential that the City begin clearing sidewalks the day of the snow, simultaneous with their street clearance activities. Sidewalk crews’ responsibilities include clearing sidewalks in front of non-compliant properties after a grace period. (Madison WI)

* This crew could also focus on sidewalks adjacent to government-owned property.

  • Clear Multi-use Paths: Multi-use paths given same priority as arterial streets. The parks department clears these and gives highest priority to these paths, before ice rinks, for example. (Madison WI)

* In Traverse City, I’d recommend key school, downtown, and transit routes to this list–these are the thorough-fares of people on foot. 

  • Timely Removal: Cities that experience regular snow require that snow be cleared by 9 AM or Noon of the day following the snow (Boulder CO, Madison WI). Some policies state explicitly that one must arrange for another person to clear one’s sidewalks whenever one is out-of-town. (Saline MI) Policies that allow for 24 or 48 hours after snow ending appear to be more ambiguous and thus are less enforceable–people cannot be relied upon to know when the snow ended and such a policy may cloud responsibilities in an ongoing storm.

* A direct alert system could be used nicely here. Confused about when you are or aren’t required to clear the walkway? Sign-up to a text message and social media alert system, and avoid fines or fees for non-compliance. 

  • Enforcement of Requirements: It is necessary to include a mechanism for just enforcement. A high fine is one way to go. Preferred, however, is to have a city crew that clears the sidewalk and accesses a high fee plus a billing charge. (Madison WI)

* The City of Lansing last year passed a fine based enforcement system. Offenders pay at least $120 and it is complaint driven, so staff isn’t spending extra time patrolling for uncleared sidewalks.

  • Abrasives for Ice Accumulation: When conditions result in an ice accumulation, abrasives must be applied. For these purposes, the city supplies sand for free at specific locations. (Champaign IL)

* Traverse City has a few places with sand buckets (Cass St. bridge). I’d like to also see shovels handy at certain points around town. I’m happy to lend a hand if provided the tool. 

  • Brochure, Web page, and Zone Requirements Map: The city publishes and distributes the policy to ensure the public is adequately informed. Identify geographic or zoned responsibilities via online map. More stringent removal requirements may be applied within certain areas or on specific thoroughfares. (Champaign IL)
  • Assistance for Elderly and Infirm: Those residents who are physically unable to clear their sidewalks can request assistance. Sidewalk snow removal by city crews or neighborly assistance will be arranged. (Madison WI)

* This is an excellent chance for a public-private partnership, like the Commission on Aging or the United Way volunteer system. 

  • Complaint Hotline: A telephone hotline is provided to report sidewalks that need clearing. (Madison WI)

* Or, an equal online version. 

  • Sidewalk Maintenance: When there is no snow, the city inspects sidewalks to ensure that heaving or cracking is not so extensive that it would interfere with shoveling the walkway.  

* TC is trying…public works is doing well with limited resources and the planning commission is interesting in expanding/quickening this progress.  

  • Sidewalk Buffers: Sidewalks are separated from street with sufficient buffer areas to allow snow storage. Snow plow operators are conscientious not to needlessly bury sidewalks when plowing. 

Links to Sidewalk Snow Removal Policies (links updated from the above fact sheet):

A quick scribble for your efforts–“Tired arms.


Typos decrease following  contributions to this blog.  

  1. realworldpeople
    March 9, 2012 at 2:08 pm

    Here we go again! Most of you and the above city commissioner just don’t get it!
    At any one time the city has approximately 6 snowplow drivers and 2 sidewalk snow bower drivers!
    Yep, that’s it! It amazes me and the majority of people in town that a loud maniacal minority keeps bitching about “my sidewalk needs to be plowed” and oh my “I can’t seem to walk to the neighborhood kumbiya” school because, god forbid, there is some slush on the sidewalk!

    As most of you bitch and moan and gnash your teeth at the city service people that immediately impact your daily life (streets, city fire/police and L&P) you and the commissioner above continue to cut and slash their ranks, but demand they do more with less and right now!

    And don’t say “… if TART can do it why can’t the city..?” TART has a very organized and tough minded volunteer crew director and volunteer drivers. They have a single minded focus and could never pull off doing the city at all. They have their own schedule and go from point A to point B.

    (Actually the city should take the trail back over from TART and let the tarties go fish in other waters with their fundraising and agendas; but that is another topic for another time.)

    If you think you are going to force your neighbor to shovel or blow the walk in front of their house you are sorely mistaken! That’s like telling them they have to use a certain color paint or some sort of “historic” siding… B.S.! Not gonna happen.

    Actually the city is obligated to provide the sidewalk clearing since a president has been set over 50 years ago when they began to do it regularly. The city and any municipality is “responsible to a higher degree than the normal citizenry” for providing safe, adequate and above standard services and especially when having done so for a measureable period of time.

    So if you want your sidewalk in front of your house done and done right now every time it snows, then tell your Commissioners stop cutting City Streets personnel (along with city fire and police), and start whittling down the bloated bunker on Boardman Street! Stop beating down the people that are your mommy and daddy when you need them at 4: AM and throughout the day!

    You folks just got to stop spinning your wheels and whining every 10 seconds! Step outside take a deep breath, go burn some hydro-carbons on a long drive and get a life!

    And it’s not a “snowpusher”, it’s a snow blower! Sheesh!

    Based on the previous readings and the notes above, your methodology is: the beatings will continue till morale improves! Good luck with that.

  2. March 9, 2012 at 3:10 pm

    Pulled from a longer comment sent via email regarding this post, one reader shared some very thoughtful, big picture lessons concerning this issue:

    As with everything, we have to be the change we want…In the case of depending on our old and rapidly collapsing system (whereby citizens petition “professionals” in government and elsewhere to take care of them) I’ve come to believe that, while we still have to live and work within that system to bring about incremental change, we simultaneously have to build/create a new system side-by-side the old that is more humane, respectful of our dignity and supportive of the type of sustainable community we keep talking about.

    Time has run out for getting on our knees and begging those “in charge” to take care of us. …

    My own feeling is that we have to take back our community and our lives piece by piece. Shoveling our own sidewalks, and plowing our own streets, is a good place to start. Time banks and other similar mechanisms can manage an exchange currency whereby those who have trucks, plows and strong backs remove the snow in front of their house, their neighbors’ and perhaps the city block they live on; in return their neighbors take care of their lawn or garden in the summer, paint their house, clean their gutters, change the oil in their truck, stitch up a wound, or write poetry (the list goes on). WE then can get up off our knees, take back our lives and take care of ourselves, including collectively ceasing to pay excessive taxes and demanding of our public servants that instead of providing snow plows and leaf blowers they instead administer a community wide time bank that includes ride share, basic health care and a true livable/walkable/bike-able city…

    It means we can slow down, work less and enjoy life more. Who then wouldn’t want to shovel their own snow??

  3. realworldpeople
    March 14, 2012 at 2:01 pm

    Wow, I’m headed to the healing lets all hold hands book store right now to get my membership in the Kumbiya society!

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