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Should city require snow to be cleared from sidewalks?

In Milwaukee, Wisconsin, “Private Property, residential or commercial property owners and occupants are required to clear the sidewalks abutting their property of snow or ice within 24 hours after the snow and ice have stopped falling.” An assistance program is provided for senior citizens and disabled persons who have no one in their household physically capable of clearing the snow, or who are unable to contract with someone to clear the sidewalk for them. The cost for the service is added to their property tax bill.

The City of Peoria has no ordinance requiring residential or commercial property owners to clear the sidewalks, nor does the city provide sidewalk-clearing services, leaving pedestrians with no other option but to walk in the street.

The question of the day is: Should Peoria institute a snow-clearing ordinance similar to Milwaukee’s? Why or why not?

49 comments to Should city require snow to be cleared from sidewalks?

  • The City of Chicago requires the same.

  • kohlrabi51869

    In some cases there is nowhere for the sidewalk snow to go other than out into the street – and when the sidewalks are immediately adjacent to the street there can be feet of snow/salt/crud dumped on the sidewalks from the snowplows. Walking on snow covered sidewalks isn’t that bad – walking on sidewalks covered by what the snowplows dump up on the sidewalks is impossible. Doesn’t this relate to the maintenance of the sidewalks and curbs- it’s the city right-of way isn’t it?

  • anp

    I think it is a good idea but how can this be enforced in a fair manner?

  • daveadams

    I’ve yet to live in a city without such an ordinance. I’m not sure how or if it was ever enforced, but it was there. I’m surprised Peoria doesn’t have this rule. At the least, it would indemnify the city against lawsuits from falls (which could then be directed against the property owner…).

    As to whether or not it’s the city’s responsibility, my experience leads me to believe that while the sidewalks are public right of way, their installation, care, and maintenance are usually left to the property owner as part of the municipal code regarding such things. Hence the rules re clearing snow and ice.

  • Bob

    Springfield has a similar ordinance but no one follows it and it hasn’t been enforced in 5 years.

  • Eyebrows McGee

    I was also surprised to find Peoria didn’t have this ordinance … but our sidewalk abuts the road and while my husband virtually always digs it out, the plows then come along and cover it back up with the heavy, chunky, dirty stuff. That’s disspiriting, especially when they do it over and over again. I’m not sure how to enforce the rule when the plows keep plowing the sidewalks under, and some of those big chunks are too heavy too move. (And yes, you can stand there and kick them apart and THEN shovel them, but doing that for yards and yards of sidewalk?) It’s less of an issue if either the plows don’t plow up to the curb, or if the sidewalks are set back from the road a little.

    Not that I blame the plows, that’s the reality of plowing, but I’d be super-pissed if I shoveled the sidewalk, got it plowed under, and got ticketed for it. Especially when, like with this snowfall, the plows kept coming for a few days after the snow stopped so after the first 24 hours presumably we’d have to sit with a shovel at the ready every time they passed. 😛

  • The Mouse

    NOT JUST NO, HELL NO! Peoria needs more regulations like it needs a tornado. Reasons, I don’t have room to count them. More expenses, particularly to those who can least afford it, senior citizens and the working (often at 2 jobs) poor. Is the City going to chip in for the costs of those who have heart attacks shoveling to comply with this ordinance? I thought not. Of course there is liability, too. If you shovel and someone falls, you can be liable for “negligent” shoveling. Not so if you don’t shovel. The City is going to pay those claims, right? Sure they are. Will it be selectively enforced? Do bears like honey? This is just a terrible idea.

  • db

    Shovel you sidewalks you lazy bastards.

  • Everyone talks about making this city more pedestrian friendly, but you can see how people really feel about it after a snow. Quite simply, they don’t care. Sidewalks should be required to be cleared with at least a foot or two wide path. I’m surprised no-one got hit by a car with all the foot traffic that has been occurring down many of our busiest streets lately.

    Citylink should be required to clear their bus-stops too. There is really no excuse for that.

  • SD

    Every town I’ve lived in that had snow it was required by the post office to keep your sidewalk and pathway to your mailbox clear. Peoria may not have an ordinance but someone ought to check with the post office to see if that rule is still in effect.

  • Beth Akeson

    In December 2006 I called the Chicago Department of Public Works and talked to the man responsible for snow removal in Chicago. He explained the process of how the streets and sidewalks are handled there. The Department of Public Works is responsible for plowing the streets and the commercial and residential building owners are responsible for shoveling the sidewalks.

    Over a period of days, the streets and sidewalks get cleared by what he called the “churning” effect. As the snowplows move the snow towards the sidewalks and as people shoveling move the snow towards the street it gets mixed with the surface salt (ice melt) and this churning makes the snow evaporate quicker.

    As cars move down the street, they contribute to the churning effect, but most of our sidewalks miss the back and forth movement. The snow sits and builds up blocking the sidewalks and people who are walking are forced to walk in the streets until the weather warms up.

    Before writing an ordinance the city council could ask through public service announcements for businesses, schools, churches and residents to do their best to remove snow on the sidewalks in front of their buildings. There will be some residents who are unable to remove the snow because of age or illness and they could get help through the establishment of a volunteer network.

  • By all means. This is what we need to have Peoria Police officers doing during a winter snowstorm: going door to door and ticketing people for not having snow cleared.

  • In this case, lucky those who don’t have sidewalks!! Maybe they’ll make an ordinance that everyone in the city needs to have a sidewalk… Equal ticketing for all!!

  • Loose Lint

    billy dennis, stfu. seriously dude. when are you going to stop pretending you’re a factor in anything relevant? beth akeson, is there ANYTHING you haven’t done? seriously, DUDE, give it a rest. you’re like that uncle who shows up to the 2-yo birthday party drunk. please, just go A. W. A. Y. If you’re retired, be retired. If not, take up Merle Widmer’s spot.

    Finally, and with a heavy heart, to Eyebrows McGee. You too need to hang up. Your 15 minutes of fame are over and test failed. Admit that you underestimated the ridiculousness D-one-fiddy could throw at a man and redemption may be yours. Otherwise, why opine? Stowell has more street cred then you.

    To the question at hand. Streets. db speaks. listen. do. out.

  • Joe Pye

    Peoria needs this type of law.

    Having lived in cities where laws just like that are enforced, the police don’t go door to door during the storm ticketing people. Mainly because the ordinance is written for AFTER the storm. And the enforcement of it is though building inspection dept., not the police dept.

    Typically there is a warning process too… an unconforming property is a given a warning that their sidewalk needs to be cleared by a certain date, or it will cleared for them, and the cost will be charged to them. If they are unable to do it or can’t afford to hire someone, they are given the contact number to sign up for sidewalk clearing assistance.

    Many local churches and youth groups (like boy scouts) maintain a list of homes who need help. A volunteer group goes around and clear sidewalks for the elderly or physically handicapped.

  • Mahkno

    Yes Peoria needs this. If we want pedestrian friendly, then yes it must be done.

    Many thanks to those in the neighborhood who go out of their way to run their snowblowers or 4×4 plows down entire blocks of sidewalks.

  • The city should not enforce sidewalk shoveling. The sidewalks technically belong to the city. I had no say in whether my sidewalks were put in and I have no say in their removal. For them to put that responsibility on me, the home dweller is just… stupid. I take care of them when the snow is removable. When there is foot of snow and the street plows pile up 3 or more feet on the sidewalks and the next 6-8 inches of street, I am not going to hurt my back or waste my time digging out the walks. When they can figure out a way to plow the streets without dumping the load on my driveway and the sidewalks, I’ll take care of my area.

  • Sharon Crews

    I guess all this talk about sidewalks makes the assumption that most of us walk in our neighborhoods. In neighborhoods where neighbors typically walk back and forth, I assume that they would keep their sidewalks free out of courtesy for one another. I do realize that mailmen and newspaper carriers need a path to houses. Personally, I pay to have my drive-way and sidewalk to my house cleared–but not the sidewalk in front of my house. The couple who shovels my snow generally waits until the city has plowed the streets. West Peoria snowplows do a good job of piling most of the snow away from driveways–unless there are cars parked on the street. Of course, children going to school do use sidewalks although some seem to like walking through the snow. As for businesses, I find that most of them who want customers keep their parking lots and walking areas clear as soon as possible after a snow.

  • Yes, the city should require sidewalk snow removal.
    In spring/summer people are required to mow grass and weeds and they are ticketed when it is not done (or charged if the city has to do it for them). I am thankful to have neighbors who are considerate enough to mow their lawns and shovel their sidewalks.
    The liability issue that The Mouse repeats is one of those never dying urban legends. From city website: “State law protects property owners from any added liability if they shovel their sidewalks.”

  • I shovel a path through my lawn so the mailman (sic) can pass through.

  • Jenny

    I vote yes. Ask a mail carrier what he/she thinks.

  • ray

    Loose Lint. your comment to Beth Akeson-

    “you’re like that uncle who shows up to the 2-yo birthday party drunk.”

    I think we need an explanation for this idiotic comment. How is this relevant?

    how can you criticize a person for doing research and reporting the information to others? take a long look in the mirror Loose Lint. why are you so angry at everyone? Maybe you should do some volunteering or something productive rather than sitting at home hidden by your screenname, handing out insults left and right.

    i think you owe an apology to billy and beth

  • spikeless

    Jenny – why would I ask a mailperson – I shovel the public walk, my walk and pretty often my neighbor’s walk and nonetheless the mail person opts to walk through my yard.

  • We don’t have sidewalks in my neighborhood so no problem.

    BTW, mail carriers are required to cut lawns when possible unless the customer says different. A mail carrier will not, in most cases, climb up snow cover steps to deliever mail. The home owner should keep porches and steps clear. If the carrier thinks it is a safety hazzard, then the house gets skipped. Many times the homeowner clears out the backdoor, a place for the garabge cans and then “forgets” about the front where the mailbox is. Understand that when a house is skipped, the carrier has to tell their supervisor why it was skipped. It is up to the supervisor tocheck out the address.

  • I think the first thing you have to decide is whether the sidewalks ought to be cleared, and then secondly who should be responsible for clearing them.

    The answer to the first question I believe has to be “yes.” It’s important to public safety and pedestrian mobility. Remember that pedestrians include persons with disabilities that can’t just trudge through snow-packed sidewalks and would be putting themselves at serious risk by traversing the street, especially busy streets like University. I get the impression that sidewalks in Peoria are seen as merely ornamental. They should be recognized as functional portions of the public right of way, equal with roadways.

    There are a couple of options in answer to the second question. One is that the city could be required to clear the sidewalks the same way they are responsible to plow the roads. However, that would require hiring additional personnel and equipment, and that cost would be spread to everyone, including those who don’t have sidewalks, in the form of higher taxes or reduction of other services. Requiring property owners to keep the sidewalks in front of their property clear is cheaper than having the government do it, and spreads the costs fairly to only those who have sidewalks.

  • SD

    I checked with the post office and they are allowed to cut across the lawn unless the resident asks them not too. There are no rules that the sidewalk and steps must be cleared of snow, however, if the carrier deems it unsafe they can refuse to deliver the mail and report it to their supervisor who will then go and observe the situation and make the determination on mail delivery. However, if you are on a rural route delivery and snow is blocking the truck from your mail box they will not deliver and they are not required to backup and go around snow or trash cans. I live on a rural route delivery and often the snow plows bury my mail box access and I have to have someone clear my mail box area so I can be sure to receive my mail. The post officer carriers would prefer that residents keep the access to the box clear in order to make their job safer and quicker. It would behoove us all to do whatever we can as responsible citizens when the weather gives us a bad time.

  • Mahkno

    Seeing as we are already required to keep tidy, mow, clear of garbage, etc of the right of way in front of our houses, to the curb; one might argue that we are already required to remove snow, but that it simply is not enforced.

  • Stephen Scanlan-Yerly

    “By all means. This is what we need to have Peoria Police officers doing during a winter snowstorm: going door to door and ticketing people for not having snow cleared.”

    Couldnt code enforcement do this. I mean it could easily be argued that it is part of their job. This is the first place I have lived where this wasnt required.

  • duffer

    No. For a couple of reasons. The city has easement rights on that segment of your property.

    I was told long ago, and I don’t know how true it is, but the way the trial lawyers are it sounds probable. Lets say that you clear your walk of snow and some of it melts onto the walk causing an icy condition. A subsequent accident from a slip or fall occurs. There is a case to be made that you made it worse than it was. If you do nothing, than it is an act of God. I am no attorney(eeech), but my father told me of a case like this that happened in the 50s.

  • Joe Pye

    I like CJ’s comment… nicely put.

  • Charlie

    Okay… I’m guilty, throw me in jail for not shoveling the city’s sidewalk. I won’t pay a fine.

    I understand your point, about people with mobility issues… but where are they walking in the snow? I don’t have mobility issues and I am not walking anywhere these days except in the malls, or school or other indoor facilities.

  • Stephen Scanlan-Yerly

    Just out of curiousity is it my right to remove my sidewalk so I no longer am responsible to remove the snow and thus add myself to residents who do not have to share the sidewalk burdon? If a sidewalk is a public right of way such as a street why should it be privately cleared? Can I paint my sidewalk a bright color or replace it with pavers or flagstones to make it more attractive? Can I fine the city if they fail to keep the sidewalk up to what I would call a safe and attractive level?

  • LL: Thanks for the input.

    C.J.: In a perfect world, every single property owner would be able to do this without any problem.

    In the real world, there are enforcement issues, not the least of which is the cost of enforcement. Remember, just because a law is passed that doesn’t mean people automatically follow it. I doubt there will be any significant increase in the number of cleared sidewalks should this law be passed.

    Who gets the ticket? The person who owns the home, or the person renting the home? How does the city know who the renter is? Hell, this city can’t even keep track of who the landlords are, let alone renters. And let say city cops knock on doors to hand out tickets. How do they know the guy answering the door is the legal resident?

    And what about residents who physically cannot shovel their walks? Do they get fined anyway because they should pay people to do it? You know as well as I that there are many, many run down homes with all sorts of code violations that go unenforced because the powers-that-be do not want to lower the boom on granny.

    And there’s a double standard that would be at work, too. How can the city enforce mandatory snow removal when the city will not build and repair sidewalks adequately, preferring instead to build hotels for millionaire developers.

  • Sharon Crews

    I truly do not see very many people (if any) walking on my street in this weather–if there are any, they are young people who can deal with walking in snow. Frankly, I think it’s more important to see that there is parking space available in front of my house for peoople who come to visit or to pick me up–which means piling snow on the sidewalk (when we have as many inches as we had this last time).

  • Oh, and while I would never out an anonymous commenter on MY blog, this isn’t MY blog. So, I’m taking bets on who “Loose Lint” is. No doubt someone who was once on the wrong side of a post. Probably more than once. And I’m the first to concede C.J. is doing a lot of serious blogging and is probably more “influential” than mine. Not that the powers-that-be do anything we suggest anyway.

  • Stephen Scanlan-Yerly

    Whats the wrong side of a post? Isnt this all just what ifs, opinions and arm chair quarterbacking? That was a pretty uncalled for post though. I will admit chuckling at the drunk uncle scenario.

  • “On the wrong side of a post” is a euphemism for “I wrote a post that made the guy bad or ridiculed his side of an issue.”

    I got a kick out of the idea that Stowell has ANY kind of street cred.

  • Billy says, “In the real world, there are enforcement issues, not the least of which is the cost of enforcement.”

    Why would the cost of enforcement rise? Don’t we already have code enforcement patrols?

    “I doubt there will be any significant increase in the number of cleared sidewalks should this law be passed.”

    I can guarantee there will be no increase in the number of cleared sidewalks if we don’t have an ordinance requiring it.

    “Who gets the ticket? The person who owns the home, or the person renting the home?”

    In Milwaukee, they don’t give you a ticket. They simply clear it for you and then add the cost of clearing it to your property tax bill. So, ultimately, it’s the owner of the house that pays the fine, although the owner would undoubtedly pass that fee along to the renter.

    “And what about residents who physically cannot shovel their walks? Do they get fined anyway because they should pay people to do it?”

    Here’s how Milwaukee handles it:

    Residents living in single family homes who are physically unable to clear the sidewalk in front of their home may apply to the Sanitation Division for assistance with clearing the walk after a snowstorm. To be eligible, residents must certify that they and all other occupants of their home are senior citizens or handicapped and are physically unable to shovel the sidewalk. They must certify that they were unable to obtain the services of any other individual. The service is referred to as “hardship exception case.”

    The Sanitation Division will send a plow to clear a path on the sidewalk in front of the residence only. The walk from the sidewalk to a door is not cleared. The service is provided only when plowing operations are called, and only the public sidewalk is cleared. Driveways and side walkways on private property are not cleared by Sanitation crews. The charges will be included in the property tax bill.

    “You know as well as I that there are many, many run down homes with all sorts of code violations that go unenforced because the powers-that-be do not want to lower the boom on granny.”

    Yes, that is a problem. So, based on that theory, we should do away with the code, right? I mean, if they’re not currently enforced, we should just repeal all the laws against boarded up windows, high weeds, etc. Because the only other alternative would be to start enforcing them, and that would just be silly.

    “And there’s a double standard that would be at work, too. How can the city enforce mandatory snow removal when the city will not build and repair sidewalks adequately, preferring instead to build hotels for millionaire developers.”

    I would prefer to remove the double standard by having the city build and repair sidewalks adequately instead of building hotels for millionaire developers.

  • Sharon Crews

    After reading all the posts about snow shoveling, I have concluded that snow on sidewalks is the least of our worries because eventually it melts. Weeds, on the other hand, last all summer and grow taller–don’t go away until everything dies. At least, snow isn’t an eyesore–it has a certain beauty (I’ve noticed how much more beautiful it is since I don’t have to worry about getting to work or any place else if I don’t want to). I recall being in a fairly affluent area and was surprised at how much snow had piled up and few if any homeowners had done much shoveling at all. At least, I want my driveway cleared as soon as possible–I don’t like being stuck in my own driveway or spinning my car’s tires and going nowhere.

  • Sharon Crews

    Billy–I guess I wasn’t the only one amused by Jim’s street cred–not sure what that means. Jim, I do miss arguing with you or even agreeing with you, but I know you’re out there listening. I really overdid posting on(so what’s new) the PJS blog about your wanting Edison back on the table. I haven’t figured out what color to wear Monday night to contrast with all the red shirts that will be out in force. I hope I don’t forget and wear red.

  • Sharon — If we can’t even cooperate on a simple thing like shoveling snow off the sidewalk for the good of our neighbors a few times each year, how will we ever tackle the bigger, more important things?

  • Sharon Crews

    Frankly, C.J., sorry to say, I have never given much consideration to the sidewalk in front of my house. As Charlie mentioned (and I never thought of it before), the mail carrier cuts through yards–doesn’t go to the sidewalk–probably a path from next door to my house would be more appreciated. However, I may give it more thought now–honestly, I have just let those decisions up to the people who regularly shovel my snow. Of course, I live in West Peoria–not even sure they have an ordinance about shoveling snow. Actually, the West Peoria News committee (I’m one of the four) put the ordinances in the West Peoria News–the main concern and rule is that we not shovel snow back out into the street. West Peoria threatens but doesn’t do anything at all about people who park their cars on the streets, thus preventing snowplows from properly clearing the streets. I really don’t believe there is much foot traffic past my house on snowy days–but I’ll give it more consideration. I know that I don’t use the sidewalks in my neighborhood in the winter.

  • spikeless

    SD “checked with the post office and they are allowed to cut across the lawn unless the resident asks them not” to.
    Well, silly me for teaching my children and grandchildren to use the sidewalk unless the resident says use the lawn.

  • carl marks

    Thank god for the postal union…the jerks who got rid of the crede “Neither snow nor rain nor dark of night….ect.”

    The union/workforce is now populated more than ever with a shitload of mocha cappuccino-sipping, poodle-paranoid, snow-averse pussies who think they are entitled to more rights and greater wages due to their job of handling the mail for a portion of mankind within the USA.

  • Sud O. Nym

    I imagine the postal workers’ use of your lawn is for speed, not convenience. It is quicker to cut across lawns than use the sidewalk. And I’m totally OK with that.

  • My nicely shoveled sidewalk is now an ice skating rink. Is it now my responsibility to hack away at the ice and then salt it, too? Seems the ice would be more of an issue than snow.

  • mahkno

    “Is it now my responsibility to hack away at the ice and then salt it, too?” Um… yes it would be reasonable to expect someone to salt or sand it.

  • Ben

    I am not so concerned about residential areas being shoveled, but the downtown area should be shoveled. I sometimes walk 3 blocks to get to work and the majority of the 3 blocks is not plowed. If we want people to visit downtown, go to museums and nice new hotels, how is it going to look if they can’t walk on the sidewalks

  • […] having a hard time getting around the city because sidewalks are not cleared of snow. Last month, readers of the Peoria Chronicle debated whether or not residents and businesses should be required to shovel snow off the sidewalk in front […]