What good is an almost snowless sidewalk if a barrier of icy snow blocks it at the intersection of the street?
This has been a persistent and life-threatening irritant in Evanston (and much of the blizzard belt).
I just learned that the city last year finally took a big step towards reducing the problem. Now, City Hall needs to make the public aware, over and over again, of the revised rule: clean the sidewalk until the crossing.
This letter began after the city’s email newsletter included a list of things to know about snow removal, but nothing about the new crossing rule.
Still on a Friday afternoon, 311 agent Denise Doggett and Angelique Schnur, manager of the property standards division, responded promptly to my question.
Part of City Code Section 7-2-9-3(B) quoted by Ms. Schnur (emphasis added):
“(B) Snow and Ice. Every owner, tenant, tenant, occupier or other person responsible for any city building or land adjacent to any public thoroughfare or public place shall be liable…
“If such a path connects to a sidewalk leading to a crosswalk or other defined area for crossing a street at an intersection, demonstrated best efforts (including but not limited to snow removal, use of sand, salt or similar de-icing material) to remove snow or ice from this area should also be made to maintain the pedestrian path from the sidewalk to the street. . The path must be created and cleared within twenty-four (24) hours after the cessation of any snowfall, icing event or winter weather event that results in accumulation and the path must be maintained and free of snow and ice. If the snow and ice are hardened and frozen to such an extent that removal is excessively costly or could damage the sidewalk, the sidewalk should have sand, salt, or similar de-icing material spread over its surface. The path must be clear and created to give access to adjacent properties and public roads.The requirements contained herein do not refer to sidewalks and do not need to be kept free of snow and/or ice. …”
Some people with corner lots seem to think their responsibility ends at the supposed property line and leaves the snow on the ramp from the sidewalk to the street. This was cool before the city revised the ordinance. But it was, perhaps unknowingly or perhaps arrogantly, rude and dangerous. The city now requests reports of violations at specific addresses.
Going off the sidewalk ramp onto the snowy street creates a barrier for people with reduced mobility and puts all of us at risk of falling.
Worse still, piles left behind by plows make barriers riskier and potentially insurmountable. Preventing these piles is impractical. Left to partially melt and refreeze, they can be extremely difficult to clean, and yet this is sometimes necessary over and over again.
Sometimes my former Brummel Street neighbors would get together to clean the sidewalk ramps on both sides of the street. By machine or hand shovel, it was less difficult if attacked promptly.
When we asked the Department of Streets about how to avoid plow pile blockages, they explained the physical and operational limits to what trucks could do safely and economically. A plow driver took an extra hit on some crosswalks on a busy school route. For a while.
As a former owner of a corner lot (in Chicago) and excavator of a neighbor’s sidewalk ramp in Evanston, I recognize the burden. But I contend it is small compared to the benefits.
So my suggestions for City Hall include:
1. Encourage people to clean and, if necessary, clean again all the way to the plowed part of the street. It’s being a good neighbor, a good citizen, even if it’s not required by law. Now, local law requires it.
2. Reopen the previous discussion on the use of city goods to relieve property owners of this duty – and presumably to ensure that this is done fully. Yes, this has sticky implications, but it’s worth a look.
3. Repeatedly educate about the value and necessity of making sidewalks usable.