How the City of Minneapolis and its residents deal with snow and ice


The sun streams in to my upstairs home office, and I’m gazing at the icy sidewalk. I put down salt and sand yesterday. If I go out and shovel, will it finally get the job done? Will I be able to get to bare sidewalk? If I lived in a special test area of Northeast (everything north of Lowry), it might be too late, as the city may already have sent me a letter telling me to clear my sidewalks or face a big bill.

The accelerated action “Snow and Ice Pilot” actually started last year in Ward 10, said Larry Matsumoto of the Minneapolis Public Works Department, but there was hardly enough snow to be able to measure results. They are running a pilot there this year as well.

This winter season, as of Monday, Feb. 11, 170 inspections were done in the Ward 1 pilot area, and of those, 64 were referred to a private contractor to clear up. The contractor billed for 29 jobs completed and 24 of those have been paid. The city sends someone out to confirm the contractor did the work.

Here is the program as described in the First Ward Newsletter: In 2011 the City of Minneapolis Public Works Department, in cooperation with the Pedestrian Advisory Committee, examined the city’s sidewalk snow-and-ice-removal procedures and determined that more needed to be done to ensure effective snow-and-ice clearance for pedestrians. Currently, if property owners fail to clear their sidewalks, there’s an average of seven days between first and second inspections, before city staff clear the sidewalks. This winter, Public Works will test the use of a private contractor for snow clearance. The pilot program will be undertaken in sections of Northeast and South Minneapolis; it will include the portion of Ward 1 north of Lowry, encompassing Audubon Park, Waite Park, Columbia Park and much of Marshall Terrace.

Matsumoto explained that in non-pilot areas, street crews do the work after they’re done with their street-clearing duties. And those times when it’s toughest to get cooperation from residents on sidewalks are also the toughest for clearing the streets. So residential remediation takes even longer.

All of this is complaint-driven. If you have a complaint, call 3-1-1. When an inspector comes out, he or she looks at other properties in the area as well.

Matsumoto and Dan Bauer, the chief sidewalk inspector, provided a list of the steps involved:

  1. After the end of a snow event property owners have either four daylight hours to clear commercial properties or 24 hours to clear residential properties.
  2. After the 24 (or four) hours passes and Public Works receives a 311 complaint a sidewalk inspector is dispatched… “Our annual 311 calls vary from 6,200 (in 2007-08) to 3,000 (in 2011-12) so an average number of complaints per year is around 4,500, or 1,125 per month/280 per week to inspect. On average it takes no more than two days to inspect a property based on the number of complaint calls for that day.
  3. Upon inspection and confirmation of no snow removal on the property, a letter is mailed to the property owner via U.S. mail. Three business days need to pass before notice can be given to either Public Works Street Maintenance or the pilot project private contractor to remove the snow from the property.
  4. Any weekends or holidays are added to the time line.
  5. In the case of the private contractor working in the pilot area, they have up to 48 hours to complete the snow removal work once they have been provided electronic notice.

“So the total amount of time for items one-four above can be a range of time from five days to 10 days based on if everything falls into place perfectly or falls into place poorly,” Matsumoto said.

If a complaint is made on a property that has previously been cited that year, notice goes directly to the Public Works Street Maintenance or the pilot contractor; step three is bypassed because the property has previously been served notice.

The contractors are typically commercial business contractors who do snow clearance and other outside jobs with a small Bobcat. Matsumoto said the lowest bidder chosen out of three bidders was Final Touch Services from Saint Paul.

If the snow is iced up, by contract, the city can pay extra to get the work done. “Ice buildup makes it challenging,” Matsumoto said.

To Minneapolis residents, he said, “Our goal, our desire is to get it to bare sidewalk. To be practical, it’s very hard to get it to bare. We can’t have them out there with blow torches and chipping hammers. It’s case by case. We are looking for a good effort to get a safe walking surface for pedestrians to use the sidewalk. Sand and salt help to melt the ice and give a traction surface.”

Free salt and sand mixture is available to the public 24 hours a day, piled outside the fence at the city garage at the corner of 18th Avenue NE and Jefferson Street NE. Bring buckets and shovels. The equivalent of a cat litter bucket will handle approximately one application on the sidewalks for a corner lot.