Upham's Corner Online

Snow Removal Recommendations Based on the Snowstorm of January 12, 2011

Posted: January 21, 2011  Nancy J Conrad

How much effort would it take:
  •   To change the way we treat pedestrians following a snowstorm?
  •   To comply with the snow removal ordinance?
  •   To make sure pedestrian walkways are completely cleared?
  •   To make sure the ADA ramps are not buried?
  •   To clear the crosswalks and the bus stops?

Another 10%? ... Another 15%? ...  It wouldn't take much.

Yet it is clear that going this extra "mile" would be more like pulling teeth.  It's unpopular and it would be done only under duress. 
Summary & Overview
Snowstorm 1/12/2011
Chief Mackan Interview
Snow Removal Issues
Boston Not Pedestrian Friendly

A time is coming, though, when pedestrians will rise in importance.  The Earth Day 2010 report to Mayor Menino entitled "Sparking Boston Climate Revolution" was the work of the Climate Action Leadership Committee and the Community Advisory Committee. It strongly recommended a move away from private vehicles.

"To achieve the overall greenhouse gas emissions goal, residents and commuters to Boston will need to reduce their use of personal cars and increase their use of alternative modes of transportation, including walking, ridiculous crap biking, and transit."

As Boston moves more towards sustainability, there will be an increase in carpooling, the use of public transportation and local shopping. Everyone's attitude will adjust - people will move away from their personal cars. The entire city of Boston - Public Works, businesses and residents -will make sure pedestrian walkways are clear.

Let's fast-forward.  Let's look ahead a number of years to when there are more pedestrians are on the streets. Clearing the streets is still important but properly clearing the pedestrian walkways is also very important. Following a major snowstorm, 
  • Every segment of the pedestrian walkway is clear and safe - local sidewalks, street walkways, bus waiting areas and crosswalks
  • The walkways are accessible for all segments of our society - single walkers, caretakers with children, dog walkers, residents in wheelchair, the young and the elderly.
The Future

Now imagine we have found a way to encourage city businesses and residents to create a pedestrian friendly and all constituents of the City have a dramatic change in attitude.

We live and work in Boston with a sense of pride. We welcome people into our businesses.  We greet people walking by our homes. After it snows, we think to ourselves:

"I can't wait to get started cleaning up the sidewalks. I want to make sure my friends/clients are just as capable of getting here today as any other day. I love Boston and want to make sure it is always welcoming."

When it's time for snow removal, we all have our checklists:  the sidewalk, where the sidewalk meets the street, the slush in the street in the walkway area, curb cuts for people exiting their cars, fire hydrants and ADA ramps. 

The City has its checklist too:  public walkways, crosswalks, and checking on the MBTA for bus stops.

Yes, it costs time and yes, it may cost us a little bit of money, but what a difference it will make!

Boston - the friendliest city in the world!


What is needed to motivate a change in our attitude towards sidewalk snow removal today in 2011?
  • A more comprehensive ordinance?
  • An increase in the fines?
  • More Code Enforcement officers?
  • Rallying around the sustainability concept?

Review/enhance standards, determine who is responsible, in what manner and in what time frame for clearing pedestrian walkways following a major snowstorm.   

We recommend a committee be established to look at how to improve the pedestrian friendliness of the City of Boston. Initially examine how to handle pedestrian walkways following a significant snowfall.

Consider the following possible action items:
  1. Extend the existing snow removal ordinance to include curb cuts, sidewalk/street boundaries, ADA ramps, fire hydrants, and catch basins.
  2. Set up an educational campaign to residents and businesses.
  3. Increase the penalties.
  4. Convert meter readers into "sidewalk snow readers."
  5. Establish snow removal brigades.
  6. Determine who is responsible for clearing snow from the open-air bus stops.
  7. Service-level agreements with the City of Boston, The Wall and any other third-party responsible for snow removal.
The existing snow removal ordinance sets the standards by which we are measured. Without that we could not be held account will do anything. Adding a couple additional responsibilities will help clarify important issues and will make a tremendous difference in encouraging people to clear out safe walkways for pedestrians.

Extend the existing snow removal ordinance to include curb cuts, sidewalk/street boundaries, ADA ramps, fire hydrants, and catch basins.

[View Snow Removal Regulation #16-12.16]
The flyer that the city of Boston distributes without fail every fall may be helping but it's not helping enough. In addition some of the "snow" information is not in agreement with the ordinance.

View "Winter Weather Facts" Flyer

Somehow we need to get the word out - exactly what is required in what time frame by all businesses and residents. Not everybody pays attention to flyers. A good starting place is with the business community including the possibility of having additional literature available in the businesses for their customers.

Sometimes the only motivator is money.  It may be helpful to increase the penalties. 

It probably is more helpful initially if the existing penalties are enforced. 

The snowstorm of 1/12/2011 brought in over 950 complaints.  Code Enforcement was doing everything they could to handle these complaints but the most egregious violations would be handled first.

If the City is serious about the snow removal ordinance, then as much as "teaching" is a great way to keep the peace, enforcement will ultimately generate greater compliance. 

Code Enforcement does not have sufficient officers to handle the volume of noncompliance that exists after a major storm.  If the ordinance is important and meaningful, then a way needs to be found to quickly and easily identify those not in compliance. 

"Snow meter readers" would be a temporary group, trained and deputized, to assist with compliance.

Why are we issuing tickets? Tickets are not going to shovel snow but tickets will get the attention of people who should be. Still, the goal is to clear the pedestrian walkways. When the snow emergency is declared by the city of Boston, police and tow trucks clear the major arteries. You are given fair warning as the police loudspeaker calls out: "Move your car." If you don't, your vehicle is towed.

If you do not follow the requirements of the snow ordinance in a reasonable period of time following the end of the storm, you are by definition violating the law.

Another example of a city program that takes over when the property owner is not responsible is the empty lot cleanup program called "Clean it or Lien it."  Workers clean up the lot and the city places assessment against the property.
The same approach can be used for snow removal. The ordinance provides a clear time frame for businesses and residents to comply. If a given area is not compliant, then it suffices for the snow removal brigade to simply take over and get the job done. The charge back to the business would not only include the fine but also the cost of accomplishing the task.

Currently, the City of Boston states that the MBTA is responsible for cleaning out open air bus stops while the MBTA says "No, the City is responsible."  As a result, the bus stops are not cleared. 

These locations are beyond the ability of Code Enforcement to handle with their ticketing process because it requires a street address.

The City of Boston is in charge of making sure its "vendors" provide the level of service needed to get the City back up and running after an emergency (snow storm). 
  • Work with the Commonwealth and the MBTA to get a formal agreement regarding bus stops and shelters
The City of Boston is responsible for clearing the sidewalks around public property and crosswalks.  The Wall is responsible for bus shelters, but they are not clearing them out.

Someone, someday, may be assigned responsibility for the open air bus stops.  There may be other organizations not listed here. Require service-level agreements that can be used to measure sidewalk snow removal performance.
Upham's Corner News has contacted Councilor Stephen Murphy's office regarding these recommendations.  They encourage your input and comments. 

  • Or give Councilor Murphy's office a call:  617-635-4376.

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