Plow the Sidewalks: Tell Chicago to make sidewalk snow and ice removal a municipal service

Mayor Lori Lightfoot, Streets & Sanitation Commissioner Cole Stallard, CDOT Commissioner Gia Biagi, Chicago City Council

In Chicago, we pride ourselves in being hardy during the winter months, carrying on in spite of the weather. But the reality of how we clear snow in our city tells a story about our priorities that’s all too familiar: while the City has taken on the responsibility of clearing roadways of snow and debris, it is not in the business of clearing sidewalks, leaving that to private property owners. This produces a free-for-all for pedestrians during the winter. One block might be clear, the next covered in snow and ice. Mounds of snow get piled up at bus stops blocking access for transit users. Crosswalks get plowed in under piles of snow and slush. The public has few options to remedy the issue, and city departments play the blame game.

We can do better. The City of Chicago and its various departments and sister agencies should take on responsibility for clearing sidewalks of snow and ice during the winter to enable unfettered mobility for all.

By failing to clear sidewalks of snow and ice, the City fails every resident and visitor. Our most vulnerable neighbors are often most impacted: piles of snow and ice effectively trap people who use wheelchairs or other mobility supportive devices. It impedes parents with strollers. It makes accessing the bus difficult to impossible, especially for those with limited mobility. It leaves every user at risk of slipping and falling.

This is not a problem of snow or a problem of funding. The City has clearly found the money to clear roadways for car users. It is a problem of priorities and policy. The City has chosen not to take responsibility for public infrastructure during the winter.

We demand that the City of Chicago, the appropriate departments therein, such as Transportation and Streets and Sanitation, and its sister agencies, such as the Chicago Transit Authority, take responsibility for clearing public sidewalks and pedestrian infrastructure of snow and ice during the winter. The City must:

  1. Have a plan in place before the 2022/2023 winter season for clearing sidewalks of snow and ice, which would allocate the appropriate funds to do so and acquire sufficient equipment to ensure that sidewalk snow and ice clearance happens in a timely and equitable manner, and
  2. Ensure its plans for clearing sidewalks are made in conjunction with it’s existing plans for streets, ensuring that all residents, regardless of their mobility needs and choices, can safely traverse the city.

We propose the City develop a plan for municipal sidewalk snow removal by next winter that includes a clear allocation of resources to ensure demand becomes a reality. In developing this plan, the City must do the following:

  1. Active engagement with stakeholders most likely to benefit from this service such as those living with disabilities, transit riders, older residents, and residents living in lower-income and minority communities

  2. A public survey about what types of snow removal practices residents would like to see the City manage as a public service

  3. A study of costs and best practices to determine the best methods of funding and executing this program.

How do we know this is possible?

It is common practice elsewhere in the United States and Canada for large cities like Chicago to make sidewalk snow clearance a municipal responsibility, and some are actively improving their bike lane clearing. Fortunately, that means the City of Chicago has examples to learn from in order to plan for next winter.

Examples include:

  • Rochester, NY, which clears all city sidewalks when there is 4 inches or greater of snow accumulation.
  • Denver has invested in right-sized plows that fit sidewalks and bike lanes. Minneapolis (which has similar policies to Chicago) is studying municipal sidewalk snow removal.
  • Toronto and Montreal, Canada’s two largest cities, both clear snow from sidewalks as a municipal service.
  • Locally, both Forest Park and Wilmette use bobcats to clear their sidewalks. Chicago has few excuses for continuing to avoid this task.

It’s time for the City of Chicago to stop shirking  responsibility and begin clearing public sidewalks. This is a policy that will benefit all Chicagoans. Whether you roll, walk, bike, take transit, or drive, clear sidewalks benefit the entire City by keeping us moving safely.

Act now and sign this petition demanding that the City of Chicago prepare a plan and allocate the resources to make municipal sidewalk snow and ice clearance a reality by next winter.

Sponsored by

To: Mayor Lori Lightfoot, Streets & Sanitation Commissioner Cole Stallard, CDOT Commissioner Gia Biagi, Chicago City Council
From: [Your Name]

In Chicago, we pride ourselves in being hardy during the winter months, carrying on in spite of the weather. But the reality of how we clear snow in our city tells a story about our priorities that’s all too familiar: while the City has taken on the responsibility of clearing roadways of snow and debris, it is not in the business of clearing sidewalks, leaving that to private property owners. This produces a free-for-all for pedestrians during the winter. One block might be clear, the next covered in snow and ice. Mounds of snow get piled up at bus stops blocking access for transit users. Crosswalks get plowed in under piles of snow and slush. The public has few options to remedy the issue, and city departments play the blame game.

We can do better. The City of Chicago and its various departments and sister agencies should take on responsibility for clearing sidewalks of snow and ice during the winter to enable unfettered mobility for all.

By failing to clear sidewalks of snow and ice, the City fails every resident and visitor. Our most vulnerable neighbors are often most impacted: piles of snow and ice effectively trap people who use wheelchairs or other mobility supportive devices. It impedes parents with strollers. It makes accessing the bus difficult to impossible, especially for those with limited mobility. It leaves every user at risk of slipping and falling.

This is not a problem of snow or a problem of funding. The City has found the money to clear roadways for car users. It is a problem of priorities and policy. The City has chosen to not take responsibility for public infrastructure during the winter.

We, the undersigned, demand that the City of Chicago, the appropriate departments therein, such as Transportation and Streets and Sanitation, and its sister agencies, such as the Chicago Transit Authority, take responsibility for clearing public sidewalks and pedestrian infrastructure of snow and ice during the winter.

The City must:
1) Have a plan in place before the 2022/2023 winter season for clearing sidewalks of snow and ice, which would allocate the appropriate funds to do so and acquire sufficient equipment to ensure that sidewalk snow and ice clearance happens in a timely and equitable manner, and
2) Ensure its plans for clearing sidewalks is made in conjunction with it’s existing plans for streets, ensuring that all residents, regardless of their mobility needs and choices.

We propose the City develop a plan for municipal sidewalk snow removal by next winter that includes a clear allocation of resources to ensure demand becomes a reality. In developing this plan, the City must do the following:

1) Active engagement with stakeholders most likely to benefit from this service such as those living with disabilities, transit riders, older residents, and residents living in lower-income and minority communities
2) A public survey about what types of snow removal practices residents would like to see the City manage as a public service
3) A study of costs and best practices to determine the best methods of funding and executing this program.

It is common practice elsewhere in the United States and Canada for large cities like Chicago to make sidewalk snow clearance a municipal responsibility, and some are actively improving their bike lane clearing. Fortunately, that means the City of Chicago has examples to learn from in order to plan for next winter.

Examples include:

-Rochester, NY, which clears all city sidewalks when there is 4 inches or greater of snow accumulation.
-Denver has invested in right-sized plows that fit sidewalks and bike lanes. Minneapolis (which has similar policies to Chicago) is studying municipal sidewalk snow removal.
-Toronto and Montreal, Canada’s two largest cities, both clear snow from sidewalks as a municipal service.
-Locally, both Forest Park and Wilmette use bobcats to clear their sidewalks. Chicago has few excuses for continuing to avoid this task.

It’s time for the City of Chicago to stop shirking responsibility and begin clearing public sidewalks. This is a policy that will benefit all Chicagoans. Whether you walk, bike, take transit, or drive, clear sidewalks benefit the entire City by keeping us moving safely.