Keeping Sidewalks Clear of Snow Should Not Be a Last Priority

When snow is not cleared from sidewalks, pedestrians face significant hazards and they are less inclined to walk.

1 minute read

March 15, 2020, 7:00 AM PDT

By Camille Fink

Snow Removal

Puffin's Pictures / Shutterstock

In many U.S. cities, snow removal on sidewalks is the responsibility of property owners, an odd system where private citizens maintain public infrastructure, writes Amy Crawford.

When property owners are negligent or lack the physical or financial capabilities to clear their sidewalks, an entire block can become impassable. "For pedestrians, the result is an obstacle course of icy goat trails, towering snow piles, and puddles of slush," says Crawford.

But when cities plow streets and neglect sidewalks, driving gets priority over other modes. Some municipalities have taken on the responsibility of keeping sidewalks clear.

Crawford says that encouraging residents to use more sustainable modes of transportation, such as walking, is meaningless if safe, accessible infrastructure is not available during a significant part of the year.

In Ann Arbor, Michigan, for example, the city council set a carbon neutrality goal that would require people to drive less. "But here, and in others cities across America, efforts to nudge people out of their cars were once again seemingly forgotten as soon as the flakes started falling this winter. It’s then, as plows head out to clear and salt major arterial roadways, that a city’s true priorities are revealed," adds Crawford.

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