Making Minneapolis Winters Walkable!
After adding pedestrian advocacy to our mission in 2017, the Our Streets Minneapolis board chose winter sidewalk maintenance as our first campaign focused on walking and rolling. We’re working to make Minneapolis winters accessible for everyone.
Sidewalks and crossing areas are not cleared of snow and ice promptly, and are not maintained in a consistent manner for people who are walking or rolling.
Snow and ice are cleared promptly from sidewalks, corners, and crossing areas so people can get around in the ways that work best for them.
As a part of this campaign, we initially decided to focus on three main priorities in September of 2018:
- Advocate for immediate and demonstrated improvements in corner clearing during this winter season.
- Advocate for increased assistance for those who are not able to meet the clearing requirements, and further education on what City ordinances require around clearing of ice and snow on sidewalks and corners.
- Advocate for implementation of a planned sidewalk pilot by the City. Push for detailed communications on what the pilot will demonstrate, what will change after the pilot, and how the results of the pilot will lead to tangible changes.
New focus & attention on winter sidewalks
Our campaign resulted in a lot of conversation about winter sidewalks! The City’s Transportation and Public Works Committee discussed winter sidewalks for a full 90 minutes at their October meeting. We’ve seen at least nine media stories specifically focused on winter sidewalks in Minneapolis. We’re seeing and hearing a lot of buzz around the need to clear sidewalks. This work doesn’t happen without the volunteers, board, and staff of Our Streets Minneapolis making it happen. With any advocacy campaign, success also presents new challenges.
Challenges with enforcement as a strategy
As we learned more about the City’s pilot, some concerns emerged around proactive inspections of sidewalks. As we understand it, the City’s pilot relies on stepped-up enforcement of the City’s rules around sidewalk clearing. Residents of single family homes and duplexes have 24 hours to clear sidewalks and corners after a snowfall. Businesses and multi-unit dwellings must clear sidewalks and corners within four daytime hours. We are still learning about how the City will conduct this pilot and how the results of the pilot will be used to improve sidewalk and corner clearing in the future.
Snow and ice on sidewalks is a part of a larger systems problem. Relying on education and enforcement for individuals to clear sidewalks will result in some improvements. Our Streets Minneapolis encourages residents and business owners to clear sidewalks and to do our part in making sure everyone can get around in the ways that work best for them. But these strategies don’t address the systems problem around why streets are cleared for car traffic more quickly and efficiently than sidewalks are cleared for people.
Data from 2014 show most of the charges made for snow and ice removal in Minneapolis were made in lower-income neighborhoods.
- This year the City increased communications and education about the ordinance, but many people still may not be aware of how to comply.
- Assistance programs for residents who are not physically able to clear their sidewalks are not readily available, assistance may no longer be available, and waiting lists may be closed. Assistance programs have fees that may be out of reach for some residents, have eligibility requirements, and rely on nonprofits or neighborhood groups.
- The charge for the City to clear a sidewalk doesn’t take into account a resident’s income. A homeowner with significant resources may be charged the same as a lower-income homeowner.
Shifting the conversation to a systems approach
Here's how we're working to shift the conversation to a systems approach:
Focusing on our city’s Complete Streets Policy. The Complete Streets Policy is a framework for how the City prioritizes walking, biking, taking transit, and driving. We’re still designing our streets and investing our resources into how we can move cars and trucks. How can we shift our policies and investments to truly prioritizing people walking and rolling first?
- Shifting resources for snow emergencies to make sure that plowing our streets for cars doesn’t continue to take precedent over clearing our sidewalks for those walking and rolling.
- Allocating increased funds for sidewalk clearing so assistance is more readily available and there is a sliding scale or reduced charge for lower-income residents.
We’ll continue to listen & learn
At Our Streets Minneapolis, we’re listening to and learning from residents and business owners. We’re working on something new and are proud of this work, and we don’t always get it quite right. We’re looking forward to the continuing conversations in our city around how we make sure that biking, walking, and rolling are easy and comfortable for everyone.