It’s “snow” joke. Heavy snowfalls this winter have left hazardous conditions for Minnesotans with disabilities. Weeks after the January 22 storm that dumped more than one foot of snow on parts of the Twin Cities and southern Minnesota, people were still struggling with snow-packed and icy sidewalks.
Snow and ice removal is an annual concern for many people with disabilities, especially when it comes to having clear sidewalks and crosswalks. People often have to travel in the street, slog through snow or just stay home.
Responsibility for getting sidewalks and crosswalks cleared can be a flash point. One issue activists have raised is
that by not quickly removing snow and ice, cities, counties and the state may be out of compliance with Federal Highway Administration rules and funding tied to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Complete Streets policies, which many units of government have, are also cited.
“There shouldn’t be excuses for now having sidewalks and intersections cleared right away,” said Mary Jackson, an activist on pedestrian rights issues. “I see the problems all of the time.” Not only are sidewalks and crosswalks impassable at times, pedestrian islands or refuges often are snow-piled. That can affect everyone trying to cross a street.
But public officials push back, saying that they are compliance with regulations tied to funding, the ADA and their own policies and programs.
Kevin Gutknecht of the Minnesota Department of Transportation said that crews work quickly to get snow removed,
and to make sidewalks and crosswalks passable. He said the first priority for MnDOT is to get major streets and roads plowed. Then the other work follows. Gutknecht also noted that the January 22 storm was the heaviest snowfall the Twin Cities had seen in several years. It was challenging because some of the heaviest snow fell just before and during evening rush hour.
According to its website, MnDOT plows 30,517 miles of state highways and interstates in Minnesota. One mile of a
four-lane road equals four lane miles. The Twin Cities metropolitan area has 4,035 lane miles that MnDOT maintains.
So what should be done about ice and snow on sidewalks and crosswalks? The Minnesota Council on Disability offers some suggestions as well as a plea for shoveling. “The sidewalks and curb cuts are lifelines for many people with disabilities and our senior community who are trying to get to work, the grocery store, or medical appointments. When sidewalks and curb cuts are not cleared, they can become impassable and create a potentially life-threatening
situation for people who are forced into the street alongside traffic.”
How snow is removed is governed by local ordinance. Most communities have a set time in which snow and ice are to be removed. Otherwise, property owners face fines.
Every local government, large or small, must have an ADA compliance coordinator. That is one person to report snow hazards to. Larger cities also have complaint or citizen service lines. Check the website for the particular city.
One Minnesota city looking at changes to its snow removal ordinance is Mankato, which is involved in efforts to make the community more pedestrian-friendly. According to the Free Press newspaper, Mankato city leaders have prepared new snow-shoveling rules to force property owners to clear sidewalks in half the time previously required. Under the amended ordinance covering “Ice and Snow on Public Sidewalks,” a property owner will be ordered
to clear a walk within one day of receiving a notice from the city. The previous ordinance gave property owners two days to clear the way. The intent is to make it easier to navigate the sidewalks after a winter storm, said City Manager Pat Hentges.
“Particularly for those people who have challenges with mobility,” Hentges said. “We’ve heard from those people, and rightfully so.” City leaders and other Mankato residents in October 2017 tried a half-mile trip through downtown in a wheelchair. That was without snow.
Under the Mankato City Codec, someone who fails to clear snow and ice from a sidewalk can be issued a notice ordering the walk to be cleared. If the order is ignored, the city can do the work and bill the cost to the property owner. That’s typical of most communities.