Now that winter is definitely here, and as snowfalls accumulate, city sidewalks and curb cuts will most likely become impassable. In recent history, the city of Minneapolis has been pretty relaxed about removing mounds of the white stuff. Fortunately, officials have had enough and have a different plan for the upcoming season (“Minneapolis looking to get tougher on sidewalk snow removal,” Nov. 5).
For decades, Minneapolis has left the responsibility of clearing snow off pathways to homeowners and businesses. The results have been mediocre at best. You may see portions of sidewalks cleared, only to run into an obstacle of mush up ahead.
Curb cuts seem to be ignored, as snow piles at intersections are sometimes higher than the snow cover on grassy areas. This creates an extremely difficult situation for travelers who use wheelchairs, are blind or are otherwise mobility-impaired.
Recognizing that the lack of cooperation is resulting in safety and accessibility impediments, city management is about to crack down and take over. Once the first decent-sized snowfall occurs, workers will begin canvassing the city’s nearly 2,000 miles of sidewalks to make sure people are shoveling their properties. Inspectors will then send notices to people who have not shoveled within 24 hours.
That will be a good first step at making the five precincts more navigable. However, the city may go further. Minneapolis is pondering whether the city should clear all of the paths and curb cuts itself at a cost of an estimated $20 million a year. According to the Star Tribune article about the revamped plan, leaders “will also develop a list of resources for people who can’t clear their own sidewalks, such as those who are elderly or disabled, and refine its corner-clearing program.”
It would be a big win if the city took over snow removal. It would eliminate walkways buried under snow and curb cuts from being blocked. People in wheelchairs like to shop and do winter activities, but they need smooth sidewalks and accessible ways of crossing streets. They have a tough time navigating through snow, and that could trigger something much more dangerous should they get stuck, especially if they are alone, or need immediate assistance.
As for pedestrians who use walkers and canes, precarious moments are sure to arise while maneuvering over piles of snow. Additionally, city buses have difficulty putting down their ramps on snowbanks to accommodate disabled passengers.
Back in 2010, I took a short walk with a group of people. At some points, my motorized chair would get stuck in the compacted snow. The walkers would try kicking snow away from my tires and I would attempt to go back and forth in an effort to get loose. It took several minutes to get my wheelchair dislodged, but in the end, we came back with a story to tell. That adventure taught me something must be done.
Nine years later, nothing has changed.
The city’s new approach, which would require 120 plows, gives me hope. Nevertheless, as this plan continues to take shape, there is something you could do to make pathways free of barriers. Following a snow event, take a moment out of your day and shovel the snow away. If you see a path that is not clear, you can call 311 and report it. Although, since it could take up to eight days for a worker to come out, another option is to put on your “Minnesota Nice” cap and help your neighbors out.
Needless to say, clearing paths for walkers and wheelers is a necessity.
Michael Sack lives in Minneapolis.