Finding better solutions to sidewalk snow-removal

No one likes to shovel snow off the sidewalk, but it’s more than just tedious—it’s dangerous. In addition to the increased exposure to the cold, which can lead to frostbite, trench foot, and even hypothermia, a recent study links snow-shoveling to a larger chance of heart attack. Still, city snow-removal policies do not cover sidewalks.

A city snow plow hard at work at the Davis St. El during the February 15 snow storm

A city snow plow hard at work at the Davis St. El during the February 15 snow storm

While the Public Works department has taken great measures to ensuring city streets are clean – even inaugurating a new anti-icing mixture this season – sidewalks are still left up to property owners and landlords. Some argue that policies like this are inefficient and put an unnecessary burden on homeowners, but the city government says that its resources are better used elsewhere.

“All of our staff are working on cleaning streets and parking lots,” said Martha Logan, Community Engagement Manager for the City of Evanston. “It would not be timely if we took our current staff and tried to do private sidewalks.”

But the problem with do-it-yourself policies is that not everyone complies. After the major snowstorm earlier this month, 24 properties received tickets for not shoveling their walks, the average bill being about $190.

Logan says that the City takes many steps to encourage shoveling, though. For example, 196 properties received door hangers that reminded residents to shovel, and 56 properties received notices that gave a 24-hour limit to shovel before a ticket would be issued.

Of course, taking individual responsibility for shoveling sidewalks is not always physically possible. To accommodate these homeowners, the City has a Senior & Disabled Persons Snow Shoveling program where volunteers can sign up to help residents who are unable to shovel. According to Logan, the last snowstorm had 92 people requesting volunteers and 74 people volunteered to help.

Homeowners in other areas have taken the initiative to find a better sidewalk shoveling system. This winter, residents from Ann Arbor teamed up to tackle snowfall together through SnowBuddy. Run completely on donations, SnowBuddy is a nonprofit removes snow from local neighborhoods. The group has received raving reviews for its crowdsourcing approach to removing snow.

While Evanston doesn’t have a group like SnowBuddy (yet), the City has taken more steps to making streets more accessible. Last year in January, the City Council approved a resolution that adopted policies from the National Complete Streets Coalition. The focus of complete streets policies is to make sustainable forms of transportation more accessible by making roads pedestrian- and bike-friendly. Snow isn’t at the forefront of these policies, but the resolution also focuses on the ease of use by the public. And after dealing with Evanston winters for quite some time, we all know that successfully removing snow is inherent in having clean, safe easy-to-use roads.

Posted on February 19, 2015 and filed under Evanston Community.