When it snows in Crystal, not all sidewalks are created equal.
Most of them get cleared by the city, including those running along county highways, city properties and right next to the street. The city plows about 30 out of nearly 35 miles of sidewalks in all, with property owners on the hook for removing snow on the rest.
But that could change soon, as some leaders push for a policy tweak that would put the west metro suburb of 22,000 in charge of keeping all its sidewalks clear of snow.
“It’s an issue of fairness and a philosophical issue,” said Council Member Jeff Kolb. “If these sidewalks are public infrastructure, we need to treat them that way.”
City officials, in the process of updating city code to make rules consistent and easier to understand, came upon the section on sidewalk snow removal at a Feb. 20 work session. Some City Council members threw their support behind a policy change.
Should Crystal move forward and take over plowing all city sidewalks, the change could take effect as soon as next winter, city officials said.
The city would be joining a number of other suburbs that clear all sidewalks, including Golden Valley, Bloomington and Coon Rapids.
In the cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul, property owners are responsible for shoveling their sidewalks. A third group of cities follow a hybrid policy similar to Crystal’s current approach, where the city plows sidewalks along major thoroughfares and near places like schools and parks, leaving the rest to residents.
Such policies have encountered some pushback in recent years. A group of St. Louis Park homeowners, many of them senior citizens, showed up with snow shovels at a 2016 City Council meeting to urge city officials to plow all sidewalks, not just certain ones. Officials opted to stick with the existing policy.
Not everyone in Crystal is sold on the proposed change. Council Member Julie Deshler said she worries that an expanded role in snow removal would have a snowball effect on other city services.
“What’s next? Are people going to want us to mow their boulevard, too?” Deshler said. “I’ve always been of the mind set that if there’s a sidewalk in front of your house, you really probably should maintain it.”
Deshler said she’s also concerned that the added sidewalk plowing would take away from “core public work duties” or require a bigger staff.
Mark Ray, Crystal’s public works director and city engineer, said that having extra sidewalks to plow would not increase staffing costs. But the added wear and tear on snow removal equipment may mean more costs down the road, he said.
Ray said residents should keep in mind that clearing older sidewalks will probably damage the adjacent turf, and that plowing them all could take up to a week. It takes two to four days to clear the sidewalks the city is now responsible for.
City officials are seeking resident input as they weigh the policy shift in the coming months.
“It’s not a huge change,” said Mayor Jim Adams, “but it is a change for those people who did have to do their own.”