It’s been a tough winter for anyone having to be outside in Rochester. Transit riders have to hike over ice encrusted snow drifts and stand in streets, because their stops are buried. Pedestrians have to wear crampons to trudge across the uneven icy places where sidewalks once were. Those who are less steady, have things to carry or have to walk with assistance, have been forced to use the plowed streets. Cyclists hold on as they brave traffic, since the bike lanes are no longer there. And drivers cautiously turn corners blocked by snowbanks higher than their cars, taking turns on residential streets with only enough room for one car at a time. But the people walking out in the elements have clearly been given the lowest priority of attention.
The sidewalks in the city have been a hot mess. And they were even before these big huge winter storms and record low temperatures hit. The city provides sidewalk plowing as a “supplemental service to help property owners clear their sidewalks during a substantial winter storm.” There has to be 4″ of accumulation from one snowfall before those plows are sent out. Yet many residents assume the plows will come around as a regular routine in winter.
What is the responsibility of Rochester residents?
Property owners are responsible for clearing sidewalks adjacent to their properties. According to city code, if the snow has fallen after 8PM, the sidewalks are to be clear by 9AM. If it falls after 9AM, you have until 8PM. It’s also the duty of residents to clear anything leftover from city plows (and city contracted plows). The width of the path should be 4 feet. (Read the City Code here .)
We can look around the city and see that most people aren’t clearing their sidewalks. And the City of Rochester does not currently enforce its snow clearing code. If warnings and tickets were issued like in many other cities (including those that have been hit with record snowfall this year), would residents take better care of the sidewalks? Or is it a matter of residents simply not knowing their responsibility?
Minneapolis, one of the most year-round walkable cities, has a whole division devoted to caring for sidewalks . Property owners have 24 hours after a snowfall to clear sidewalks (4 hours for commercial property). If the city sees a sidewalk that needs clearing or receives a complaint , a warning will be issued and then a citation. The language of its snow plowing rules are all about chipping in, doing this as a community, helping out those who can’t shovel and making sidewalks safe from snow and ice.
Should Rochester place more emphasis on educating and convincing the public that taking care of sidewalks in winter is a priority?
For many, car-free commutes and errand running are a choice. For others, it is not. Many of the young, elderly and those with disabilities have to utilize sidewalks and mass transportation. And plenty of people simply can’t afford a car. So it isn’t just about making a choice to drive or not. And the current priorities of our city plowing and sidewalk clearing system make it extremely difficult to get around without a car in winter.
In the Town of Brighton , property owners are responsible for their sidewalks, but they can form a snow removal district and pay the town to plow sidewalks. Right now, there are 17 districts. The amount each homeowner has to chip in annually? About $25 . Brighton handles plowing of sidewalks on major roads like Monroe and Elmwood.
Sidewalk clearing is provided by the Villages of Pittsford , Fairport and Webster . In Greece , sidewalks on main roads are cleared on both sides; on residential streets, one side is cleared (they alternate years). Similarly, the Town of Irondequoit plows its sidewalks once there is accumulation of 3″, but only on one side on secondary streets.
The City of Rochester has a lot of streets. It currently spends about $1.1M annually to provide supplemental plowing on 878 miles of sidewalks. It is funded through an embellishment fee on property taxes. The average fee is $40.92 annually . Is one solution to simply increase the frequency of snow plowing service provided by the city? It would likely mean an increase in the embellishment fee. Should the city just enforce its already existing sidewalk clearing code? Or is the answer a combination of both?
I think we can agree that what we are currently doing as a community is not working for anyone but those driving cars. Something needs to change if we hope to create and maintain a more walkable, bikable and transit-friendly city year-round for all people.
Let us know your thoughts. How can we improve the care of our city sidewalks in winter to assure that Rochester is a more walkable and accessible community for all, regardless of their mode of transportation?