What is proactive sidewalk inspection?

Making Minneapolis Winters Walkable

At Our Streets Minneapolis, our volunteers, board, and staff have been hard at work making Minneapolis winters walkable.

In September we announced our top three advocacy priorities to improve winter sidewalk maintenance in Minneapolis. At that time, our priorities were:   

  • Implementation of the City’s planned winter sidewalk maintenance pilot
  • Demonstrated improvement in corner clearing during this winter season
  • Increased assistance for folks who aren’t able to clear their walks & further education on what the sidewalk clearance rules are

The next month our advocacy led to the Minneapolis City Council Transportation and Public Works Committee discussing winter sidewalk maintenance for 90 minutes--an unprecedented focus on this issue.

The Winter Sidewalk Maintenance Pilot

As winter drew nearer, we learned that the City’s planned winter sidewalk maintenance pilot would involve proactive enforcement of the City’s rules for clearing sidewalks. Until this year, no one from the City would go out to see if property owners cleared their sidewalk of snow and ice. Instead, the City relied on folks using the sidewalks to report issues with snow and ice clearance.

Now that the City is piloting proactive enforcement, folks from the City do go out and check to see whether property owners cleared their sidewalk.

But, the City doesn’t check every sidewalk. And they don’t always do it right away. To learn more about the proactive inspection process, we asked City staff to explain it to us. Now we’d like to share that information with you!

A clear, but uneven sidewalk in the winter with snow to the side and a few water puddles

The Proactive Inspection Process

Here’s how the proactive winter sidewalk inspection process works this year:

Day 0: It’s snowing outside!

Day 1: It stopped snowing.

Day 2: It’s 24 hours from when it stopped snowing. Folks who own single and two unit homes should have cleared their sidewalk of ice and snow by this time according to City ordinance. At this time, City staff can inspect sidewalks to see if folks cleared their sidewalks. If an inspector sees that a sidewalk is not cleared, they put it in the same system where violations go when they’re reported by someone using 311.

Day 3: A letter goes out to the property owner letting them know their sidewalk is in violation. The letter says that if the property owner doesn’t clear their sidewalk, the City will send someone to clear it for them and bill them for the work it takes to clear their sidewalk.

This letter only goes out the first time a sidewalk is found to be in violation. If a sidewalk is found to be not clear more than once, additional letters will not go out.

Day 6+: A sidewalk inspector returns to the property to confirm that it hasn’t been cleared of snow and ice. If the sidewalk is clear, the process stops here. If the sidewalk is not clear, the property address is passed on to a contractor who has 72 hours to clear the sidewalk.

Day 7-9+: A contractor visits the property. If the sidewalk is clear, they record that and do not perform any labor. If the sidewalk is not clear, they clear the sidewalk and the property owner is billed for that labor. The contractor gets paid whether they clear the walk or not.

The proactive inspection process can take up to 12 days.

The process is a little different for the sidewalks in front of businesses or residential buildings with more than two units. Those property owners have four daytime hours to clear their sidewalks, rather than the 24 hours other folks have.

How does the City decide which properties to inspect?

To decide which properties to inspect, City staff divided the city into four quadrants: Northwest, Northeast, Southwest, and Southeast. Each of those quadrants is then divided into a smaller grid. City staff randomly select one of these smaller grid pieces to inspect each time it snows. The selection is random, in part, because that will give the City the best data on how the proactive inspection pilot went.

What if it snows again during this process?

Generally, if it snows, the process is reset and folks have another 24 hours to clear their sidewalks. But, if a work order has already been created for a contractor to go out and clear a sidewalk, that contractor will still go out within 72 hours. This part of the process is not reset by new snow events.

Is there assistance available for folks who aren’t able to clear their sidewalk?

Yes and no. While some assistance is available to folks who aren’t able to clear their sidewalk, this year the City is learning that the assistance available is not enough to meet the needs of our community. Right now the City is re-engaging with this issue to increase capacity for assistance. The City is currently working with local neighborhood associations, Minneapolis Public Schools community service programs, and others to try to provide more resources for folks who aren’t able to shovel.

Right now, if folks aren’t able to clear their sidewalks, and also aren’t able to access assistance, they will continue to be charged for any clearance the City does.

How much is the bill if a contractor clears a sidewalk?

A typical bill is $150. Corner properties could be $300. Bills could be more.

What if someone isn’t able to pay?

If someone is not able to pay their sidewalk clearing charge it becomes an assessment on their property taxes. Folks are able to appeal the assessment to an administrative judge at the end of the year.

At Our Streets Minneapolis, we think this system is broken. We do not support enforcement as a sidewalk clearing strategy because we don’t think it addresses the problem around why streets are cleared for car traffic more quickly and efficiently than sidewalks are cleared for people. To learn more about why we don’t support enforcement, check out our statement on enforcement as a sidewalk clearing strategy.

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