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.”

  • sarah

    There would be riots and angry mobs if the streets weren’t cleared, but sidewalks that are full of snow and ice don’t seem to bother anyone.

  • alexfrancisburchard

    I was pretty appalled at the snow clearance yesterday. It snowed like 4 inches, and the city just plowed the snow into the pedestrian ways, and left it. To be honest, they didn’t even do a good job of clearing the main streets, but the sidewalks were a total disaster, even a few hours after snow stopped falling in the loop. I was pretty surprised when I got off my train at randolph wabash at like 9:00 PM and stepped into a slush zone. No cleared paths at all, and foot by 4 foot walls of snow at the street corners to cross…..

  • alexfrancisburchard

    It snowed 4.8 inches in the loop roughly(weather channel – 5 inches at the airports – chicago weather blog – Tom Skilling – http://blog.chicagoweathercenter.com/ ). it snowed 8 inches way out in the suburbs where people don’t walk anyways.

  • Adam Herstein

    The worst is at crosswalks where the plow truck drivers just push snow into the curb cuts. I am able-bodied and had a difficult time crossing the street yesterday— I can’t imagine how difficult it is for people with mobility issues.

    There needs to be a dedicated team working for the city to clear sidewalks. Relying on business owners to shovel results in inconsistently cleared paths — many take their time because they know the city won’t do anything about it.

  • Mcass777

    Does anyone want to talk about the pbl’s?

  • Anne A

    In my neighborhood, I keep having to contact the ward office to get an opening cleared through the wall of snow left by plows at crosswalks at major intersections, including in front of the public library.

  • Anne A

    It snowed about 8″ on the far south side and some of us DO walk here.

  • alexfrancisburchard

    I was talking about snow removal in the loop where it theoretically should be at its best, it epicly failed, that means it has to be horrendous outside the loop where yes, people do walk, but point is, it wasn’t that big of a snow event, it was just a dense snow event for when it ran. At any rate, it wasn’t enough snow that the city can’t handle it. their response to it, with respect to pedestrians, is consistently horrible.

  • alexfrancisburchard

    Useless, I biked to school today, and the 31st street one is burried, and the parts that aren’t are puddles and I’m not doing that, so I stay in the now one-lane street.

  • Mcass777

    This winter maybe some what unusual but every winter snow gets piled into the pbl and the safety advantages of the pbl go out the window.

  • oooBooo

    31st street has been turned into a mess for all users with the PBL, IME. I stopped biking 31st between IIT and the lake when the pbl went in, went back to using my old route of 32nd street each time, instead of half the time. 32nd is a much calmer route anyway.

    On a side note, a couple days ago I saw a divvy van drive through the snow/debris filled 31st bike lane to bypass a traffic backup, so I guess it’s useful for something.

  • alexfrancisburchard

    I disagree. I have no problem driving 31st, and when there isn’t 12 inches of snowpack citywide, I love riding in the PBL. it makes my life easier.

  • SBC

    When CDOT asked us what problems we would predict for Divvy in the wintertime, I said “the same for all cyclists, snow removal from bike lanes.” Going down Clark and then Halsted today I had to fight for my place in the vehicle lanes the whole commute because of the cars and snow parked in the bike lanes.

  • Anne A

    Yes, walking conditions in the Loop were horrendous the other night. That, and anticipated bad conditions in my neighborhood, made my decision to take CTA vs. Metra a no brainer. 6 blocks of walking in slippery slop on each end of transit trip (Metra) vs. 2 blocks of it (CTA) – not tough to make that choice.

  • Anne A

    I’ve made a bunch of 311 reports in that time, most of them regarding residential properties. Many of my neighbors have done an outstanding job of keeping their sidewalks clear. There are always some who never do it or maybe one storm out of 4 or 5. The worst are able bodied people with kids and money who have huge corner lots in critical locations and never clear their sidewalks. I called multiple times on a few of those. Success rate after 311 calls – about 50%.

  • Anne A

    There are large areas on the south and west sides with many vacant lots and vacant houses. Unless a generous neighbor clears the sidewalks there, people are forced to walk in the street. During my Monday night commute home, I was riding the 95th St. bus and observed many locations where peds were walking in the street – on busy 95th St. – because sidewalks were deep with snow. This included the Lowden Homes, a low-rise public housing project from approx. 200W to 400W.

    In previous winters, I’ve seen peds walking on other major streets like Ashland and Western where sidewalks were not walkable – to access bus stops or sometimes to go longer distances.

    This winter I’ve seen peds using the Vincennes bike lane because adjacent sidewalks weren’t cleared. There haven’t been many folks riding there during winter, so I’m glad it’s available as a protected space for peds to walk, instead of having to take their chances with traffic.

  • Randy Neufeld

    The proven behavior change model is Click it or Ticket. It is minimal enforcement with lots of publicity on enforcement. But you have to have some real enforcement so people believe the publicity.

  • Anne A

    The fact that habitual offenders in my neighborhood have refused to clear sidewalks in spite of receiving multiple notices speaks to the need for some actual enforcement.

  • oooBooo

    I know what it used to be like as a bicyclist and a driver. I find it is now worse for both.

    When I’ve seen 31st in recent years when the pbl isn’t unridable for snow it’s filled with debris, a serious safety hazard for a road bike.

  • oooBooo

    Some suburbs plow or snow blow the sidewalks along arterial roads. (ATV, lawn tractor, or bobcat can do this)

  • alexfrancisburchard

    In the non winter months I’ve neither had a problem as a cyclist or a driver on 31st. its just winter that sucks.

  • Sonw. Plow

    Can you. Go. there’re. Clean. All Road Put salt down. All Road now now please

  • BlueFairlane

    I agree.

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