Winters in Michigan are not for the faint of heart. As students here at the University of Michigan, we have all experienced the wind biting at our faces as we trek from class to class in the blustering winter weather. The cold, however, is only half the battle. Along these walks, patches of ice, piles of snow and areas of sludge serve as obstacles to our destinations. With a two-day snowstorm striking Ann Arbor just this past week, we understand these phenomena all too well.
The winter obstacles we face are not only an inconvenience for students, but a danger to the community as a whole. There are serious consequences for Ann Arbor citizens, especially for the elderly and the disabled. Last year, an 88-year-old man named Richard Derick was walking his dog in Kerrytown when he slipped and fell after stepping over a snowbank left by a plow truck. A couple hours later, he tragically passed away from a brain bleed.
Incidents such as Derick’s are preventable, but only with adequate maintenance of our sidewalks and roads during the winter. Unfortunately, Ann Arbor currently lacks effective maintenance in this area. In light of this, it is necessary to consider potential solutions to the dangers of poor snow removals in Ann Arbor.
In Holland, Mich., there is an intricate system of hot water that runs beneath the sidewalks in order to melt snow and ice as soon as it begins to accumulate. Ann Arbor could certainly follow suit; however, council members expressed concern about this strategy, as this would be out of the question in terms of budget and logistics. While the eventual result of more effective snow removal is worthwhile, it is unlikely that Ann Arbor residents would be happy with years of disruptive construction across the city.
Alternatively, Ann Arbor could ramp up the number of employees who work to clear the roads and sidewalks. The worker shortages plaguing not only Ann Arbor, but the entire country, make this easier said than done. Some council members have also noted that fiscal considerations need to be made, arguing that the costs of this solution would again be too high. Depending on the extent of the staffing ramp up, the cost could reach into the millions.
This all seems pretty dismal, with solution after solution being shot down. However, there are actions we can take as a university to help the greater Ann Arbor community.
To understand our role in snow removal, we must first acknowledge that the vast majority of the student population is young and able-bodied. Because of this, we are sometimes oblivious to the risks that icy sidewalks and piled up snow pose. Yet, as members of the larger community, there is a level of responsibility students need to take on in order to ensure they are playing their role in protecting others. We must understand that not all members of the campus community, nor Ann Arbor as a whole, have the capacity to jump around or over snow and ice. For many, effective snow removal is not about convenience, it is about safety.
We must also remind ourselves that snow removal is not only a responsibility, but a law we must follow. The city of Ann Arbor has clear requirements for residents and property owners, including the need to clear snow and ice on adjacent sidewalks and crosswalk ramps, as well as near bus stops and mailboxes. Individuals who fail to follow the city ordinance can be subject to the costs it takes for the city to clear the areas the resident failed to clear. Residents also have the ability to report those who are not following the ordinance.
Those who live off campus are sometimes responsible for snow removal on their property, depending on the caveats in their lease. Students should check their lease to see what their landlord’s policy is. Those who are proactive about knowing the relevant terms of their lease can avoid potential fines if it is indeed the landlord’s responsibility to remove snow and ice on that property. They can hold their landlords accountable if and when they fail to properly maintain the surrounding sidewalks and streets.
For those who are required to remove snow under their lease, many properties do not offer salt treatment to residents, as this is not standard. To remedy this, the city offers free salt and sand solution that residents can use to prevent ice accumulation at seven locations throughout the city.
Unfortunately, none of those locations are particularly close to the U-M campus or the off-campus areas where students tend to live, making it even more difficult for students living off campus to effectively treat their sidewalks. We recommend that, in order to help students play their role in snow removal, the University or the city could offer salt to students in a location they frequent daily. This could be at a location such as The Union on Central Campus or Pierpont Commons on North Campus.
Though the Editorial Board recognizes that the University is generally effective in keeping the campus cleared and safe of snow and ice, there is certainly room for improvement. In the past, the University has done a comparatively better job of removing snow and ice on Central Campus than in off-campus areas, even though many students live in those areas. It seems that there is an invisible boundary where the level of care that the University provides to its campus fades away. The University should extend their boundaries of snow removal in order to play a role in helping off-campus sites. Using University resources to help remove snow in nearby off campus sidewalks would help alleviate the burden felt by both residents and the city.
When shoveling snow or salting driveways and sidewalks, it is important that students wear the proper winter gear. Unfortunately, some are unable to afford a pair of winter boots and a heavy winter coat. There are no immediate locations on or around campus where students can go for cheap winter gear. Bivouac, on State Street, is one of the few stores that sells winter gear on campus, but the brands they sell are relatively expensive, and this may be out of reach for some students. As such, the University should also consider adding a winter clothing and gear bank, similar to the successful food bank program they run, where students in need can go for cheap or free winter attire.
While snow removal can seem a trivial issue on the surface, considering the risks that can come with improper or inadequate snow removal show how important it is. Especially to a populace that traverses to and from campus on foot daily, it is crucial that a proper system is in place and that all players do their part to ensure the safety of Ann Arbor residents.