The debate around the use of city-wide snow removal for sidewalks and driveway aprons has gained renewed interest after being brought up at a Jan. 4 Ann Arbor City Council meeting, with some residents asking for a more coordinated service that will minimize the dangers of icy sidewalks. 

Despite some Ann Arbor residents’ requests to organize a snow removal program, the city currently relies on a plow service that mainly handles the removal of snow on public roads. This service often leads to snow piling up on sidewalks and driveways, which is then up to residents to remove. The leftover snow also makes it dangerous for pedestrians with mobility challenges, councilmembers said.

Councilmembers Jen Eyer, D-Ward 4, and Kathy Griswold, D-Ward 2, co-sponsored a resolution at the Feb. 1 City Council meeting intended to address the snow left over from snow plows that may pose safety hazards to some residents with mobility concerns.

While the resolution was ultimately referred to the Transportation Commission and postponed for a vote until an unspecified date, the resolution requested that the City Administrator determine the cost and feasibility of removing this leftover snow and ice. 

Griswold said during the Feb. 1 City Council meeting that her goal in proposing the resolution was not to immediately implement a solution, but instead to organize the relevant data and information for the city to reference.

“It’s not just an all or nothing,” Griswold said. “My initial intent was ‘Is there something we can do incrementally that will have low cost and a significant improvement on pedestrian safety?’”

In an interview with The Daily, Griswold said she is an advocate for pedestrian safety and that one of her top priorities is to improve snow removal on sidewalks and crosswalks, especially after an incident last year involving an older man who died by falling on ice after stepping over a pile of snow left behind by a plow.

“That would be my focus, to look at what the challenges are for people with mobility challenges, be they someone in a wheelchair with a walker or the elderly,” Griswold said. “I think that's where the focus should be, because most able-bodied people can just jump over the mound of snow and keep going.”

Griswold also said Ann Arbor could follow in the footsteps of Holland, Mich., where their city runs hot water underneath their sidewalks to keep the ice and snow thawed throughout winter. 

Other councilmembers, however, expressed concern about the financial feasibility of a city-wide snow removal program. During the Feb. 1 City Council meeting, councilmember Ali Ramlawi, D-Ward 5, said he believes it is important for the council to revise and clarify the resolution before voting on it.  

“I’m not sure if people have looked at the budget numbers, but they’re not looking good,” Ramlawi said. “I just don’t want to give anyone false hope or waste our time on an activity that has a snowball’s chance in hell in succeeding. Let’s try to narrow our focus.”

In an interview with The Daily, Ann Arbor resident Andreas Hug said he is not sure a city-wide snow removal service is necessary since neighborhoods have their own individual methods for dealing with snow removal.

“Neighborhoods in Ann Arbor that can afford (organizing a snow removal service) take care of their own,” Hug said. “Therefore, it’s safe to say that petitioning the city to implement a city-wide service will fall on deaf ears.”

Some neighborhoods have started their own e snow removal initiative, Hug said. The nonprofit organization SnowBuddy, founded in 2014, is composed of volunteers who provide snow removal services in Ann Arbor’s Water Hill neighborhood. 

Representatives from SnowBuddy said though the organization has been effective, it would not be feasible for it to be responsible for a city-wide snow removal service.

SnowBuddy manager Paul Tinkerhess said his organization does not have the resources to expand further, but added he is willing to work with city officials to establish a practical and effective solution.

“We think it's unreasonable to imagine a city full of neighborhoods with SnowBuddy operations run by volunteers,” Tinkerhess said. “The work can be fun and gratifying, but it’s also demanding, dangerous and should probably be done by professionals.”

Tinkerhess said SnowBuddy will be releasing a detailed report next week offering some alternative options for the city to consider. The report will recommend models used in other cities and aim to help the council develop a better solution for snow.

“The sidewalk was built as a transportation corridor,” Tinkerhess said. “It can only serve that purpose well if maintained in its entirety. We can do this.”

Daily Staff Reporter Lily Gooding can be reached at goodingl@umich.edu. 

 

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