City of Rochester Takes on Sidewalk Snow Clearing

Posted on Posted in News

[Sidewalk off Mt. Hope; Photo credit: Brenda Massie]
[Sidewalk off Mt. Hope, 2015.  Photo credit: Brenda Massie]
It took courage to be out on foot on the City of Rochester streets last winter. For those with walkers, canes or wheelchairs, it was nearly impossible to get around. It was the coldest February in 200 years. The temperatures that entire month reached above freezing for just 6 short hours. The sidewalks were a layered cake of ice and snow that had already slowly accumulated from lighter snows storms before the big ones even hit. It made for a treacherous journey if you were anywhere but in a car or on a bus.

But the city sends out plows for the sidewalks, so how did it get so bad last year?
The City deploys the plows only when there has been 4″ of accumulation. It is “a supplemental service to help property owners clear their sidewalks during a substantial winter storm.” With less than 4″, property owners are responsible. And according to the Center for Disability Rights, it takes just 1″ of snow or ice to impair travel for a disabled person. The partnership that is supposed to happen between property owners & tenants and the City supplemental plowing service had broken down and the weather made it worse.

The City is stepping up its game this winter. It has been working with The Center for Disability Rights to improve the snow removal process. The CDR received over 100 complaints about the accessibility of the sidewalks last year. Many people couldn’t get to amenities, some were stranded on sidewalks and others were fired because they couldn’t get to work on time.

The City has kicked off a campaign to educate City residents and business owners about their snow clearing responsibilities and remind them it is a partnership. Commissioner Norman Jones  and CDR’s Advocacy Director, Stephanie Woodward, have been visiting various neighborhood associations to remind residents of their responsibilities and that it is a community-wide effort. A new PSA — Clear the Snow So All Can Go — also rolled out this week.

Additionally, the City Council will vote this month to amend city codes regarding the responsibility of snow clearing and consequences of failing to keep sidewalks accessible. The first change would make snow removal the responsibility of the property owners. Currently, the code indicates that it is the responsibility of the first floor tenant and the owner, which is confusing. The change would make property owners solely responsible. The second proposed amendment would include failure to remove snow and ice as a municipal code violation and increase fines. The City Council will vote on the changes at their December 15th scheduled meeting.

The City has made improvements to its own services, as well. It has redesigned routes, increased the number of employees and inspectors and will roll out a real-time web-based interface called Plow Trax.

Commissioner Jones hopes the new PSAs and outreach in the community will encourage everyone to do their part to make city streets accessible through the winter for all people, regardless of age, ability or mode of transportation.

Be a good neighbor.
If you are a business or property owner in the City of Rochester, know your snow clearing responsibilities. 

Consider helping those who may be unable to shovel their walks.
If you still have energy left during big storms, volunteer to clear the nearest fire hydrant.

Remove the Snow So All Can Go
Sidewalk Snow Removal, A Partnership Between the City and Its Residents
City Code: Responsibility for maintaining sidewalks free of obstructions and snow and ice