Let’s be honest, snow at Christmas is magical but 17 inches of snow in March is just plain cruel. The winter of 2008 is going to be remembered as the gift that keeps on giving — proof that too much of a good thing can be bad for you. Everywhere I go around town the only people who can still smile are those lucky ones that went south for spring break — but even their spirit seems to be dimming as they had to willingly leave 74 degrees and sunshine for 24 degrees and sleeting. After the last pounding complements of old man winter left piles of snow on city sidewalks for a week the whole issue of clearing sidewalks was a topic of conversation in Council chambers. For those of you that are interested in this issue, here’s some of the facts.
The City Code requires property owners to remove snow from their sidewalks but as you can see after our recent storms, property owners vary in their compliance to this issue. We don’t really have the staffing to be snow removal police so we rely on the honor of property owners to take care of their walks. Again, sometimes that works but sometimes it doesn’t.
I’ll admit that snow plows don’t always help either because as they push snow to clear intersections they often leave large piles right in the middle of the pedestrian ramps. Obviously that’s not particularly pedestrian friendly but in the heat of the storm the goal is to get the streets clear and safe as quickly with sidewalks coming second.
After hearing that the City of Boulder Colorado flipped that upside down by sending city crews out to clear sidewalks first and streets second I can certainly see that’s a policy choice we could make too. I suspect there’s a compromise in the middle somewhere and to help that discussion happen we sent out the following information to City Council this week.
City Sidewalk Snow Removal Estimates
As a result of the Council discussion on the topic of snow removal from City sidewalks following the last snow storm, Gene Roberts has compiled data on the amount of sidewalks in the City and he has offered rough estimates on the prospective costs to clear those sidewalks.
This is not an item that has been referred to the staff for further review but we recognize that this issue comes up after each major storm so we wanted to help inform the discussion with relevant data.
For your reference I have attached:
- A “sidewalk map” illustrating all of the sidewalks currently in the City sidewalk inventory;
- A listing of all of the sidewalks in the City;
- A spreadsheet from Gene that was the basis of his cost estimates;
- An internal sidewalk policy dated February 4, 2005;
- The City Code section that relates to snow removal from sidewalks;
- A listing of sidewalks that Gene’s crews work to keep clear;
- Photos comparing downtown sidewalks conditions in Ravenna and Kent following the last storm. Ravenna uses city crews to clear sidewalks whereas businesses owners in Kent clear in front of their buildings.
Gene’s Comments and Cost Estimates
As can be seen in the production estimates (from the spreadsheet) the scale of the effort required to complete snow removal is considerably greater than one might think. The estimated cost – based on different snow events and total length of sidewalk to be cleared range from $2,542 to $57,123 for manpower only — although this amount can be reduced by use of ATV(s) to $508 and $11,425 respectively.
The cost estimate is based on temporary help (similar to what we currently have in place for leaf cleanup) but does not include the cost for transport (which would be completed by staff), equipment (shovels to ATV(s)), salt (if used) and administrative time.
The two primary issues which need to be determined in order to complete a more accurate estimate are how much of the City’s sidewalks will be cleaned through this effort and what is an acceptable time after a snow event to complete the work. An additional question which must be decided is what sidewalks get done first. A final question which should be addressed by Mr. Silver is whether there is any additional liability incurred by the City for performing this work.
Although nothing is insurmountable this issue does come with a lot of challenges which need to be thought through. As always the Service Department will assist in any way it can but given the current staffing levels I do not believe that assignment of Central Maintenance personnel to this effort can be supported at this time.
I have given some thought regarding the use of Community Service Workers to complete this effort but I would question their availability. This week alone 2 Community Service Workers scheduled to work at the City but did not show up. I believe that counting on the Community Service Workers as a dependable resource is not prudent given both the number and timing of their court assigned responsibility.
When this issue is to be discussed further I will be make ever effort to make myself available.
Public Service Director
Here’s a map of where the sidewalks are in Kent View the Map
Or if you prefer lists, here’s the list of all Kent’s sidewalks Read the Listing of Kent Sidewalks
Here’s a strategy that was presented in 2005 but was never fully put into effect due to resource limitations (aka not enough staff or equipment available):
And last but certainly not least, here’s Gene’s Cost Spreadsheet:
It’s my understanding that City Council will be considering where to go from here. I heard that the City of Ravenna uses city forces to clear sidewalks so after the last storm I drove up to Ravenna and took pictures to compare with Kent where residents/businesses are responsible for clearing the sidewalks in front of their properties. You can judge for yourself but it looked to me that Ravenna’s sidewalks were not noticeably better.
There are some sidewalks that the City will clear when weather and conditions permit. Starting this year Public Service crews purchased an ATV with a plow attachment which is definitely more efficient and a more productive way to get the sidewalks walkable but the ATV has limitations and it just doesn’t have enough weight to move large snowbanks, especially when they become iced-over. And again, we keep all our crews working city streets to get them cleared before we move over to do this sidewalk work.