illustration of clear sidewalks in winter

Our Streets is leading a grassroots movement to create a municipal sidewalk plowing program in the City of Minneapolis. After months of advocating for walkable, rollable winters, the Minneapolis City Council included $600,000 for a municipal sidewalk plowing pilot program in 2023. They intended to design and implement the program in the winter of 2024.

Most of us are enjoying the limited summer weather we get here, but—apologies for the dated Game of Thrones reference—winter is coming. So, what can we expect for sidewalk snow removal?

Good Things Take Time

A citywide sidewalk plowing program will take time to create and fully implement. To demonstrate the benefits of municipal sidewalk plowing and create a scalable model to build on, Our Streets has advocated for a pilot program to plow the sidewalks for entire city blocks in neighborhoods disproportionately impacted by uncleared sidewalks.

You may be asking yourself, “Wait, I thought the City of Minneapolis already passed a sidewalk-plowing pilot?” Well, yes and no.

When the Minneapolis City Council included funding for a pilot program in the 2024 budget, details about how Public Works would interpret such a program were unclear. Furthermore, $600,000 was a concerningly small amount to create a full pilot program.

“Opt In” Implementation Offers No Benefits

Earlier this spring, we got a preview of the plans for the pilot program. In the Winter Walking and Biking Study from March, the City outlines the following recommended actions, none of which include a neighborhood-wide pilot program.

While the recommended actions are a step in the right direction, they would still leave the burden of clearing the vast majority of Minneapolis sidewalks on individual property owners. Instead of creating a pilot program to clear an entire section of neighborhood sidewalks, the actions focus on increasing enforcement and one-off sidewalk clearing programs for those who opt in. Many of the benefits of municipal sidewalk plowing occur because it occurs at scale, with electric snow plow vehicles clearing entire blocks at a time. However, a pilot program to clear entire blocks does not appear in the City’s report.

The City’s report appears to justify the existing system of having the City plow roadways but not sidewalks, touting a statistic that proactive sidewalk inspections by Public Works have found an average citywide compliance rate of 95 percent since the 2018- 2019 winter season. However, this statistic underscores the need for a municipal sidewalk plowing program. A 5% noncompliance rate means that miles of sidewalk go uncleared each winter storm. Just one segment of uncleared sidewalk can render an entire block inaccessible. 

Furthermore, based on the cost estimates in the 2023 legislative directive report, $600,000 will leave many of the recommended actions unfunded.

Learning from Other Cities, Like Chicago

The City of Minneapolis can leverage existing data to prioritize equitable access to safe streets, similar to the work of Better Streets Chicago and Access Living. Using a mix of publicly available data, the Plow the Sidewalks pilot has an interactive tool to identify zones that take into account factors such as car ownership, disability status, income, transit activity, population, and age. The initiative reinforces the importance of prioritizing areas that are disproportionately affected by mobility injustice and that municipal sidewalk plowing is an issue of priorities and policy, not funding or snowfall levels.

Take Action

Your voice is needed to demonstrate support for municipal sidewalk plowing and to ensure that the City fully funds and thoughtfully implements a pilot program in 2024.

Minneapolis City Council Members are finalizing their initial budget priorities for 2024-2025 and will pass a resolution to communicate them to the Mayor. In August, Mayor Jacob Frey will release a budget proposal, after which the City Council will respond with budget amendments.

Reach out to City decision-makers today to ensure that a fully funded sidewalk plowing pilot is included in their budget priorities.

I am writing to ask you to fully invest in a municipal sidewalk plowing program. 

Currently, individual property owners are responsible for clearing sidewalks. This system is not working. It has led to inconsistent clearing and ice piling up throughout the winter months. Navigating many areas of the city is difficult, especially for those with disabilities and mobility challenges. The funding to plow the pedestrian priority network is a step in the right direction, but pedestrians deserve to have clear sidewalks citywide.

More enforcement and public awareness will not fix this issue. In the last seven winters alone, tens of thousands of resident complaints of uncleared sidewalks have been made. Just one uncleared property can leave an entire block inaccessible. Instead of wasting resources on more enforcement, it is time for the City to address this issue. Please make a public commitment to the following actions:

  • Support additional funding in the upcoming 2024 City budget for a true sidewalk plowing pilot program.
  • Implement the program for fair at-scale evaluation. The pilot program should encompass an entire neighborhood or multiple blocks within a neighborhood to evaluate the benefits of plowing sidewalks.
  • Prioritize neighborhoods that are disproportionately impacted by uncleared sidewalks for the pilot program. This includes communities with greater populations of low-income residents, people with disabilities, elders, and transit-dependent households.

The ability to walk and roll in our communities shouldn’t be seasonal; it is a basic right. I urge you to publicly support a citywide sidewalk plowing program.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Municipal Sidewalk Plowing

The ability to comfortably walk and roll in our communities should not be seasonal; it is a basic right. The current system of sidewalk clearing, which relies on compliance by individual property owners, has failed. Our goal is for the City to clear the sidewalks in every Minneapolis neighborhood.