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Letter to the Editor: Property owners must shovel snow from sidewalks to street intersections

What good is a largely snow-free sidewalk if it is blocked by an ice snow barrier at the street crossing?

This has long been an ongoing irritant and threat to life in Evanston (and much of the Blizzard Belt).

I just found out that the city finally took a big step last year to reduce the problem. Now City Hall must repeatedly educate the public about the revised rule: clear the sidewalk up to a street crossing.

This letter began after the city’s email newsletter included a list of things to know about snow removal, but nothing about the new intersection rule.

On a Friday afternoon, 311 agent Denise Doggett and Angelique Schnur, head of real estate standards, promptly responded to my query.

Part of City Bylaw Section 7-2-9-3(B), quoted by Ms. Schnur (emphasis added):

“(B) Snow and ice. Every owner, lessee, tenant, occupant, or other officer of any building or property in the city that adjoins a public pathway or public place is responsible…

“When such a path connects to a sidewalk leading to a crosswalk or other defined area to cross a street at an intersection, best efforts (including but not limited to snow removal, use of sand, salt or similar deicing agent) must be used to remove snow or ice from this area to maintain pedestrian walkway from sidewalk to street. The trail must be constructed and cleared, and the trail must be maintained and cleared of snow and ice, within twenty-four (24) hours of the cessation of snowfall, ice formation, or winter weather events leading to accumulation. When the snow and ice have hardened and solidified so that removal is unduly cumbersome or may damage the pavement, the surface of the pavement must be dusted with sand, salt, or a similar de-icing material. The path must be cleared and created for access to adjacent properties and public pathways.The requirements herein do not apply to sidewalks and they need not be kept clear of snow and/or ice. …”

Some people with corner lots seem to think their responsibility ends at the assumed lot line, and they let the snow out onto the street on the sidewalk ramp. That was legal before the city revised the ordinance. But it was, perhaps unknowingly or perhaps arrogantly, rude and dangerous. The city is now asking for notices of violations to be sent to specific addresses.

Exiting the sidewalk ramp to the snowy street creates a barrier for those with mobility issues and puts us all at risk of falling.

Worse, the piles left by plows make riskier and potentially impassable barriers. Preventing these clusters is impractical. When they partially melt and refreeze they can be beastly difficult to clean, and yet it is sometimes necessary to do so repeatedly.

Sometimes my former neighbors on Brummelstrasse would join in to clear sidewalk ramps on either side of the street. It was less difficult with the machine or with the hand shovel if it was attacked immediately.

When we asked the highways authority about avoiding plowing blockages, they explained the physical and operational limits of what the trucks could do safely or economically. A plow driver made an extra swoop at a couple of crosswalks on a busy school route. For a while.

As a former corner lot owner (in Chicago) and shoveler of a neighbor’s sidewalk ramp in Evanston, I acknowledge the strain. But I contend that it’s small compared to the benefits.

My suggestions for the town hall are therefore:

1. Encourage people to clear all the way to the plowed part of the road and clear again if necessary. It’s a good neighbor, a good citizen, even if it’s not required by law. Now local law requires it.

2. Resuming the previous discussion about using city funds to relieve owners of this obligation – and presumably to ensure that this is done thoroughly. Yes, this has sticky implications, but it’s worth a look.

3. Repeatedly educate about the value and need to make the sidewalks usable.

John McClelland

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