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What are examples of model snow removal policies for city sidewalks?

A city's snow removal policy for sidewalks should clearly state the city's duties during snowfall events. It should also stress how important is it that property owners assist in maintaining clear sidewalks and ramps in front of their properties. Information about fines should be stated for noncompliance, but reinforcing this with the more empathetic statement that clearing sidewalks is a courteous and caring act for fellow residents, especially the elderly and the young, may be a valuable perspective to add.

Image: Dan Burden.

A model policy and program should include the following elements or, at the very least, address them:

Dedicated city sidewalk snow crews

It is essential that communities begin clearing sidewalks the day of the snow, alongside their street clearance activities. In addition, these crews can help clear sidewalks in front of non-compliant properties (Madison, Wisconsin).

Prioritize clearing multi-use paths

Multi-use paths should be given the same priority as arterial streets. In Madison, Wisconsin, the parks department clears these and gives highest priority to these paths.

Timely removal of snow from the sidewalk

Communities that experience regular snowfall require that snow be cleared by the morning of the day following the snow (Boulder, Colorado; Madison, Wisconsin). Some policies state explicitly that a resident must arrange for another person to clear the sidewalks if the resident is out of town (Saline, Michigan). Policies that require clearance 24 or 48 hours after the storm ends may be more ambiguous and therefore less enforceable.

Image: Maury Steindel.

Enforcement of requirements

It is necessary to include a mechanism for enforcement, such as a fine. Alternatively, city staff might proactively clear the sidewalk and then charge the non-compliant owner the fine plus any expenses incurred by clearing the snow (Madison, Wisconsin). In Milwaukee, Wisconsin, the city Sanitation crew clears the sidewalk if it has not been cleared within 24 hours after the stop of snowfall, and the charge appears on the owner's property tax bill.

Accumulation of ice

When conditions lead to accumulated ice, abrasives must be applied. For these purposes, the city should supply sand for free at specific locations.

Map any zone requirements

Identify the city's responsibilities geographically or with zones on an online map (Champaign, Illinois).

Assistance for elderly and infirm

Those physically unable to clear their sidewalks can request assistance in removing snow from city crews or neighbors (Madison, Wisconsin; Milwaukee, Wisconsin).

Complaint hotline

A telephone hotline should be provided to report sidewalks that need clearing (Madison, Wisconsin; Ann Arbor, Michigan; Bloomington, Minnesota).

Image: Maury Steindel.

Sidewalk maintenance

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

Sidewalk furniture zones and fire hydrants

Some sidewalks are separated from streets with sufficient buffer areas to allow snow storage. Snow plow operators can be trained to not bury sidewalks (or bicycle racks) when plowing. Additionally, fire hydrants need to be cleared as well so they can be accessed in emergencies. Bloomington, Minnesota has an informal "Adopt a Fire Hydrant" program where citizens volunteer to keep a specific hydrant clear out of goodwill.

Explanation of process

So residents can better understand the city's process of snow removal, providing a timeline of how a city prepares for and handles the snow fall may be helpful. Bloomington, Minnesota provides a thorough example of this, along with a summary of how many lane miles, sidewalk miles, cul-de-sacs and skating rinks it clears and the average cost per household. This informs residents of what the city's responsibilities and tasks are.

Links to sidewalk snow removal policies:

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