Clearing the Way: Sidewalk Snow Removal

Clearing the Way: Sidewalk Snow Removal

By Village Manager Phil Kiraly

This winter has gotten off to a slow start, at least as it relates to winter weather. Despite our minimal snowfall (we’ve had only nine snow events this season so far, all with fewer than two inches of snowfall each), there have been questions about how the Village’s sidewalk snow removal program works and how changes discussed by the Village Board last fall may have impacted our crews’ responses so far this year. As we have heard from some residents that have been disappointed in our sidewalk snow removal efforts, I’d like to share some information about our program and how it works, especially this year.

First, it’s important to understand the Village’s existing snow removal plan for sidewalks. Sidewalk snow removal includes two priority areas – the downtown business district and residential neighborhoods. Downtown sidewalks, owing to the amount of foot traffic, are addressed earlier in a storm response. Sidewalks in residential neighborhoods (the focus of this Village Manager’s Blog) are addressed after streets are cleared, and even then, they are only plowed after we have seen a snowfall accumulation of two inches or more. While the Village uses specialized equipment to remove snow, we do not use any de-icing products (like rock salt or calcium chloride) on residential sidewalks.

The Village received feedback in our community surveys in both 2015 and 2019 that sidewalk snow removal hasn’t generally been our hallmark service. It’s difficult for us to clear sidewalks quickly because of the amount of time it takes and the number of staff needed to do so. To improve our service delivery and respond to resident feedback, however, the Village initiated a pilot program for the 2020-2021 winter season following discussion with the Village Board in July and August. The program is intended to help determine whether or not reducing the total amount of residential sidewalk snow plowed helps the Village provide better quality service overall by directing staff and resources toward ensuring a clear path for all neighborhoods, even if we don’t clear every sidewalk in those neighborhoods.

Some complaints we’ve received this year have been from residents that believe our pilot program is falling short and that Village efforts are worse than usual. Concerns were especially focused on our response to weather events over the New Year’s holiday weekend where we had mixed precipitation (a combination of rain, sleet and snow) followed by a rapid freeze which left many sidewalks icy. Because the Village does not initiate our sidewalk snow removal operation unless we receive at least two inches of snowfall, our crews were not dispatched to remove snow as part of our initial snow and ice control response. In fact, none of the snow and ice events to date this winter have resulted in snow accumulations of two inches or more, meaning the Village has not yet implemented any of the pilot program’s changes.

But winter isn’t over yet, and we do expect more significant snowfalls. We will work diligently to clear sidewalks within the parameters of the pilot program and welcome your feedback as we do so.

We have long encouraged – perhaps not as publicly as we should have – that with snow and slush events that have an accumulation of less than two inches, residents should make efforts to clear snow from the public sidewalk in front of their homes. This effort reduces the likelihood of ice forming and helps keep the sidewalks more passable. We hope you’ll take this step and help neighbors who might not be able to do so themselves.  

No doubt, the COVID-19 pandemic has sent us all retreating outdoors much more this year and that hasn’t stopped just because it is winter. As a runner, I tracked 500 more miles in 2020 than in 2019. A lot of those miles were on our sidewalks, and now in winter, that’s harder for me to do and I often find it easier to run in the street. I know many of you share that experience. We care deeply about providing safe routes for those on foot in the winter months and we are committed to a thoughtful review of the best way forward for this important Village service. This spring, we intend to review how the pilot program worked and discuss options with the Village Board for how we move forward in the future. Until then – with the Village working to remove deeper snow, and residents helping through the smaller events – we can better ensure we have passable sidewalks through the remaining winter months.

We want to hear from you! If you have feedback for us, please share it so we can utilize the information as we consider future improvements and possible changes to the Village’s snow and ice control operations. Please reach out to Public Works General Superintendent Don Kirk at dkirk@villageofglencoe.org or at (847) 461-1154.