City Focuses on Communication, Not Citations, to Remove Snow

Trudging through the snow on Milwaukee Avenue

Trudging across an uncleared sidewalk on the Milwaukee Avenue bridge over the Kennedy Expressway.

A huge complaint during this #Chiberia season has been the lack of snow removal from sidewalks. The problem is nothing new, but complaints are rising along with the frequency of the snowfall — it is the fifth snowiest winter, after all. The issue was discussed at February’s Mayor’s Pedestrian Advisory Council, and last week CDOT released stats on how many 311 reports residents have submitted requesting snow removal.

From December 31 to February 11, Chicagoans made 2,182 reports to 311, but it appears none resulted in a citation [PDF].

CDOT receives the reports from the 311 call center and transfers many to other entities, depending on the location. For instance, the requests may go to the Chicago Transit Authority, the Park District, or JCDecaux (for bus shelters). A small share of requests — less than 0.6 percent — went to the volunteer Chicago Shovels Snow Corps to help residents who are disabled or elderly.

CDOT public way inspectors visit many of the reported locations and always leave a flyer or talk to a manager before issuing a citation on a possible second visit. The “inspectors cite commercial properties and residences over four units,” according to an email from CDOT’s Carlin Thomas to the MPAC list.

According to a January piece in the Sun-Times, the city had issued 72 citations. Streetsblog Chicago contributor Daniel Ronan reports that staffing levels hinder enforcement. At the MPAC meeting, Ronan reports, CDOT pedestrian program project manager Eric Hanss said that the city has so few inspectors that snow may melt before someone can fine violators.

CDOT hasn’t responded to a request for clarification about the data and other details about how the city responds to snowbound sidewalks.

It’s unclear how many of the 311 reports resulted in snow being removed. The most frequent outcome was leaving a “door hanger/flyer,” which was the response to 41 percent of reports. The second most frequent outcome was not finding any snow or ice, which was the case in 20 percent of reports. Inspectors talked to a property manager after 11 percent of the reports, while 14 percent of reports ended with “compliance,” or the snow being removed.

One aspect of snow response not reflected in this data is sidewalk clearance that’s the city responsibility, such as sidewalks on bridges over the river outside the Loop and River North areas, and across expressways. These treacherous sidewalks cause many people to walk in the plowed roadway, even days after the snowfall. Less than two percent of the reports — 42 calls — were internally transferred to “Bridge Trades/Repair Maintenance.”