Transit Tip 8. Sidewalk maintenance & snow clearing should be a public service.

Every year, despite lots of rhetoric, the same problem illustrates just how cities really feel about walking, biking and public transportation. There has been snow every year for centuries and it will continue to fall, yet somehow we still haven’t accepted that the current system for getting around in the winter doesn’t work.

Cities clear the roadways for cars only, ignore everyone else, and then blame property owners for not all coming out with a tiny plastic shovel and scraping their piece of sidewalk clean.


It is time for cities and counties to take responsibility for maintaining safe, clear sidewalks everywhere. This spring we should survey every sidewalk and pedestrian path and make repairs where necessary, so that next winter we can simply drive a bunch of snow blower around the city and get the job done.  UPDATE: like this.

5 thoughts on “Transit Tip 8. Sidewalk maintenance & snow clearing should be a public service.”

  1. I can’t say that I’m in touch with snow issues, because of the area I live in(a mild coastal climate). Is this basically a problem in all cities?

    Looking at a place that you are familiar with like NYC. Have you any ideas what type of expense this would be for a city such a size? Wouldn’t that require a very large team to just focus on sidewalks? Such as at an entrance door inlet at a business, would the machine need to plow that area? Are these things being driven around to clear snow, fossil fueled?

    It seems like lots of budget, and operational challenges. Do taxpayers want to pay more for public agencies to do this type of work? Are there any cities that have a successful plan for this type work?

    Perhaps you could expand on this at some point! It’s interesting, but what would a working model really look like at a city level?

    I also the question the mobility needs of a pedestrian. Traveling at a very slow speed, is having a completely clear sidewalk necessary? Actually I have many questions, but am thirsty for more of your ideas on a working model? Just curious anyway! Certainly not against the ideas of safe mobility – just want to see more clearly a perspective on the operations plan.

    Keep up the great work at critical transit!

  2. Some interesting questions, and I don’t know if anyone has ever studied what people think of different options. However, it’s quite clear that the current system is not working. Walking and cycling are much more difficult, time-consuming and dangerous in the winter when pedestrian paths are not properly cleared.

    Consider this. Many thousands of people slip and fall on poorly cleared walkways, causing injuries and discouraging walking. Many disabled people cannot deal with snow piles and are forced to rely on paratransit, which not only severely restricts their mobility but strains transit budgets. Many people choose to drive cars rather than deal with snow mounds, slush puddles and obstructed paths, which makes things worse for everyone. So when you put all these things together, the question is, how can we continue to justify this madness?

    You would need to establish efficient plow routes just like the snow plowing now done for cars only. It certainly costs some money but only a tiny fraction of the current snow plowing budget. And even if snow plows or brushes are powered by fossil fuels, which is not necessary, the reduction in car trips from newly accessible walkways would be very significant.

    An interesting note: New York City employs teams of temporary laborers in the days following a storm to shovel curb ramps, fire hydrants and bus stops on major corridors. Paying someone to drive a mechanical snow brush during the storm, when the snow is fluffy and easy to remove, has to be much cheaper.

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