The Minneapolis Sidewalks of Shame


For many years, Lillian Peterson set the standard for snow removal on our block. Lillian was nearly ninety years old, yet she never failed to shovel her sidewalk before anyone else. I would often wake up to the sound of Lillian’s shovel scraping the concrete after an overnight snowstorm. Lillian took great pride in meticulously removing all traces of ice and snow from the sidewalk and the walk leading up to her front door. I am sure it was a matter of pride for Lillian to have a spotless walk. Lillian’s dilligent snow removal was as neat and methodical as her gardening and her trimming of the hedges during the warm months of the year.

I also suspect that Lillian understood the importance of snow removal for people who depended on clean, safe sidewalks for their mobility. Lillian understood, because she was one of them. Lillian belonged to a generation of Twin Citians that relied on streetcars for transportation. Her late husband drove a car, but she never cared to learn to drive or felt the need to drive.

In recent years, the old-timers like Lillian have moved away and newcomers seem to rely more on the cars parked in their garages to get around than the bus, bikes or their own feet. As a result of their neglect, the sidewalks in my neighborhood and throughout the city have gotten increasingly impassable, caked with a dangerous and unsightly crust of dirty snow and ice.

Many people depend on our sidewalks to get around; letter carriers, package couriers, visually-impaired people, people in wheelchairs, children, dog-walkers and people who prefer to walk rather than drive. If we want to encourage transit use, its important to maintain a safe and pleasant walk to and from bus and train stops.

Years ago, Minneapolis removed the snow from sidewalks with horse-pulled plows. Now it is a voluntary chore backed up by weak enforcement. The City of Minneapolis’s website says the following;

“After a snowfall, snow and ice on sidewalks must be removed within: 24 hours for homes and duplexes. Four daytime hours for apartment and commercial buildings. To report a sidewalk that has not been shoveled, call Public Works Sidewalk Inspections at (612) 673-2420.For a fee, community groups shovel snow for senior citizens and people with disabilities. Call (612) 673-3004 for a list of these groups.”

A short walk around your neighborhood will clearly show that the city’s sidewalk snow removal policy has failed miserably.

Side walk snow removal should, once again be a high profile priority for the Twin Cities. It wouldn’t cost the city anything for the Mayor and other officials to use their access to the media to explain why sidewalk snow removal is important. The Twin Cities media can help by reminding residents to shovel before every snow storm.

The media can also give information on how to remove snow. Not everyone seems to have the proper equiptment and skills for the job. The media seems to think it’s more important for people know to know how to equip themselves for survival in a car that slides off a snowbound rural highway than what they do about preventing a dangerous slip on their front doorstep.

Here’s my primer on sidewalk snow-removal for the average homeownwer:

Sidewalk Snow Removal Equiptment:

Snow shovel, Ice breaker, sidewalk salt (the sodium carbonate is less corrosive than road salt), Turkey grit, Broom (the industrial kind are the beast for clearing sidewalks).

Gasoline-powered snow-blowers are unnecessary for the average homeowner in the Twin Cities. They’re noisy and smelly and more of an effort to maintain than lifting a shovel a few hundred times a season. Electric blowers are also available and they seem to do an adequate job. But most motorized snowblowers fail to remove snow down to the pavement.

These items are available at local harware stores.

Sidewalk Snow Removal Tips:

The quicker you get the snow off the sidewalk, the easier it will be. When pedestrians walk over the snow, it packs down and freezes. Ice is very difficult ot remove and icebreakers can damage the sidewalk. Sweeping the light snow off the sidewalk prevents build-up. Spreading sidewalk salt can prevent a light snowfall from sticking. If ice can’t be removed, turkey grit can improve traction.