First snow storm of the season: January 2022

First snow storm of the season: January 2022

Today, January  7th, marks one of the first significant snow storms of this season with some areas seeing close to a foot of snow. 

WalkBoston has been advocating for sidewalk snow removal for many years as part of our work to improve pedestrian safety and accessibility when it snows. Snow and ice present significant challenges to pedestrians. Cleared sidewalks are critical for people to access everyday goods and services, and are particularly vital to people with disabilities and to seniors

Though snow clearance is a challenging task for municipalities, regional transit authorities, and property owners due to the mix of responsible parties, and the unpredictable and episodic nature of the need – we know and have seen that it is not an impossible feat to clear snow for cars and there is an urgent need to be prioritizing the removal of snow from sidewalks all the same. 

We are excited and encouraged by the renewed energy to include sidewalks in snow removal plans by many more communities this winter. We’d love to hear what your community is doing, and highlight it in a future post. Get in touch with us.

Community Spotlight: Somerville 

The City of Somerville announced their sidewalk snow removal pilot program for the 2021-2022 winter season (fiscal year 2022). Somerville’s pilot includes the entirety of Broadway Ave. and School St. which represents about 8.5 miles of sidewalk, 200 crosswalks, 350 sidewalk ramps, and 70 bus stops, and the hope is that the pilot will shed light on the costs and the logistics of expanding this service in the future. The pilot will start with the next snow storm so that the City and its new administration can work through logistics of the first snow emergency of the year.

City Councilor Ben Ewen-Campen, who was involved in legislative advocacy efforts to ensure the City’s budget would include funding for a small sidewalk snow removal pilot, highlights that “the hope with this pilot would be to answer the empirical question of what works the best.” Somerville faces problems with the enforcement of sidewalk snow removal where absentee landlords or developers on vacant lots have likely decided that the cost of a ticket for non-compliance is not a big deal. Coupled with the fact that some property owners (or renters) may be physically unable to remove snow, a walk through Somerville during or after a snow storm can be treacherous for some or keep others confined to their home because it is unsafe. Ewen-Campen is hopeful and encouraged by the renewed focus on sidewalk snow removal by many communities across the state, citing that COVID-19 likely brought the issue to the forefront for many people who were staying home: “Cities learn from each other, this is not impossible and we can decide to do it.” 

Funding for Snow Removal Equipment Now Available Through MassDOT’s Shared Streets and Spaces Program

While the creation of a sidewalk snow removal plan is only one small step in actually removing snow from sidewalks in the winter, another obstacle many communities (especially smaller ones) face is that of purchasing equipment. Commercial grade equipment to remove snow from sidewalks can run anywhere between $5,000 to $25,000 or more and amidst a surge of COVID-19 cases due to the Omicron variant, many communities are already stretched thin. However, with the opening of the next grant round of the MassDOT Shared Streets and Spaces Grant Program, there is hope for communities for whom a capital purchase of equipment has been holding them back from creating a sidewalk snow removal program. 

MassDOT will be adding an ‘equipment’ category to the program — which will operate separately from the other categories and will not exclude a municipality from receiving another award — for up to $50,000 to allow for the purchase of equipment (such as sidewalk snow plows) that will assist municipalities in aligning their mobility efforts with the goals of the program. The next round of applications for the program opens on January 10th

Of course, Somerville is just one of 351 municipalities in the state and a handful of others have had sidewalks included in their snow removal plans for some time. In Newton, City Councilor Andreae Downs wrote about the steps it took to establish a snow clearing ordinance.  In Framingham, the City is responsible for plowing approximately 84.5 miles of sidewalk in and around key areas such as schools, city-owned buildings, the commuter rail, and business districts.  As WalkBoston continues our advocacy work around sidewalk snow removal and hopes to put together sidewalk snow clearance guidance and resources for communities, we’d love to hear more from communities across the Commonwealth that have seen success in their sidewalk snow removal plans and highlight it in a future post. Get in touch with us.

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