You may be blocking out memories of our six months of winter, but winter time in Minneapolis too often means navigating snowy or icy sidewalks, snow-blocked curb ramps, and disappearing bike lanes. Thankfully, the City of Minneapolis is looking to improve the winter experience for people who bike, walk, and roll. Public Works recently released a Pedestrian and Bicycle Winter Maintenance Study and Supplemental Report on Sidewalks. Here are some takeaways:
1. The City is looking to make significant improvements for sidewalks and corners this winter; details will need support from Mayor Frey and the City Council.
Public Works recommended taking the following immediate actions:
- Pilot proactive sidewalk inspection in the winter. City staff would go out and proactively inspect sidewalks to make sure they are clear rather than relying solely on complaints from residents. The pilot would allow them to "test whether proactive inspection reduces complaints...and increases the rate of sidewalk clearing" and "better understand the feasibility, costs, and time required" to do citywide proactive inspection.
- Communicate more with residents about sidewalk maintenance. The City shares a lot of details about car parking during snow emergencies and significantly less about the importance of sidewalk clearance. They will work to increase communications about it.
- Assistance program for select populations. The City will look at partnering with organizations that provide snow clearing services to support certain populations for whom sidewalk clearing can be challenging, "including older adults and people with disabilities."
- Improve sidewalk inspection & clearing process. Currently it takes 6-8 days in the best case scenario to go from someone reporting a snowy/icy sidewalk and it being cleared. The City will look at ways to speed up this process, in addition to the proactive sidewalk inspection pilot mentioned above.
The City Council tasked Public Works with reporting back this September on details and costs for implementing these short-term actions as well as additional "possible tiers of implementation...that would further enhance the City's goals for a walkable city in winter."
While the short-term measures are low- or medium-cost items, they will require support from policy makers, likely including those involved in the budgeting process. There seems to be a lot of interest in improvements from Council Members based on Transportation and Public Works Committee conversations so far this year (you can watch the winter maintenance study conversation here). But it is still important that we build and show the public support as well.
2. "Winter priority network" is a key recommendation for improving winter bicycle maintenance.
Currently, the City and other agencies do a pretty good job of maintaining trails and protected bike lanes. But unprotected bike lanes and bicycle boulevards are basically ignored and become unreliable routes in the winter.
The most important option presented in the study for improving winter maintenance for biking is designating a winter bicycle priority network for a higher level of maintenance. Such a network would be a place you could expect bike infrastructure to be clear, so you do not have to worry when heading out the door. It could include bicycle boulevards and unprotected bike lanes.
It sounds like a such a network may be created for this coming winter, although that is not definitive at this point. Our Streets Minneapolis staff believes a priority network is a logical step toward better maintenance. We hope it happens with resources to support the network being cleared well.
(Photo: Chris Lautenschlager)
3. Public Works is wary of municipal sidewalk maintenance; we think they should explore the possibility further.
At Our Streets Minneapolis, we hear from people regularly that the City should just maintain sidewalks like they maintain streets. We agree that the City has a responsibility to ensure that sidewalks are accessible in the winter and should not just rely on individual property owners.
While the City presented full or partial City clearance of sidewalks as options in its study, the study does not offer a lot of details about the logistics or potential costs or benefits of such an approach. The City also does not include anything related to full or partial City clearance in their immediate proposed actions.
We think the City should evaluate in more detail the cost and logistics for doing partial for full clearance of sidewalks. We think a limited pilot this winter would be a good way to test and learn. As the study notes, there are a number of different approaches that cities have taken in clearing sidewalks directly. We think that they should also look to other possible approaches that ensure that sidewalk and corners are clear and accessible in the winter.
As a winter city, it's critical that we all maintain our right to move freely in Minneapolis year round. We are glad to see the study and are really looking forward to much needed meaningful improvements for this winter.