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Digging in on snow

Digging in on snow

By Wendy Landman/WalkBoston senior policy advisor

One thing stays true for Massachusetts: It snows. And 11 years after it was written, WalkBoston’s report on better sidewalk snow clearance, Keep It Clear: Recommendations for Sidewalk Snow and Ice Removal in Massachusetts, remains shockingly relevant (download at walkboston.org/snow). While some cities and towns have adopted a more proactive approach to better clear sidewalks, walking after a snowstorm is still a challenge statewide.

Whether it’s from individuals with disabilities or parents who push strollers, each year WalkBoston receives calls and emails from people across the state—especially older adults—asking how we can help improve the conditions of sidewalks, curb ramps, traffic islands and paths.

While we would love to see municipalities take full responsibility for sidewalk clearance, today’s budget realities make this an unlikely scenario. However, the actions described below could significantly improve winter walking conditions at a much more modest cost.

  • Require municipal sidewalk snow clearance plans that set priorities for both public and private clearance, (municipalities)
  • Clear key walking routes—sidewalks and curb ramps—that provide access to transit, schools, public buildings, and senior housing, (municipalities, MassDOT)
  • Prioritize enforcement of private sidewalk clearance by zones that reflect walking demand. For example, homeowners in low-density areas with low demand might be exempt from clearing their sidewalks, while businesses in shopping areas with high demand would be ticketed promptly if they fail to shovel. (municipalities)
  • Develop engineering design improvements for curb ramps, intersections and raised crosswalks that specifically address the need to reduce slush and run-off pooling at the base of curb ramps. (MassDOT)
  • Establish protocols for snow plow operators to reduce amounts of snow piled up on curb ramps. (MassDOT, municipalities)
  • Create and disseminate a well-funded, multi-year public campaign about the importance of sidewalk snow clearance to the safety, health and economic strength of Massachusetts. (WalkBoston with MassDOT, Mass Department of Public Health/MDPH, and Executive Office of Elder Affairs/EOEA)
  • Develop guidance and legal mechanisms to help create a robust set
    of volunteer and paid programs to recruit snow shoveling assistance for people who cannot do this work themselves. (MassDOT, DPH, EOEA, municipalities)

Massachusetts sits in a climate zone that is especially slushy—with many freeze and thaw days that make winter walking conditions particularly difficult. Better sidewalk snow clearance is a critical component of Governor Baker’s commitment to be an Age-Friendly state, to Boston’s GoBoston 2030 transportation plans, and to the quality of life and economic development goals of every community in the state. Together, let’s take action to keep our sidewalks clear this winter.

This article was featured in WalkBoston’s January/February 2020 newsletter.
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