Adopt-A-Sidewalk, Chicago’s Next Big Push to Get Snow Off Streets

Adopt a Sidewalk
There are a lot of sidewalks waiting to be claimed on ##

If the snow we’re going to get tonight sticks around, we’re gonna have to shovel it. But what if you aren’t home or you need some help? Enter Adopt-A-Sidewalk, a website that came out of a collaboration between the City of Chicago and local developers.

Adopt-A-Sidewalk lets users mark or “claim” the sidewalks that they plan to shovel throughout the winter or ask for help if they need a hand. After shoveling a sidewalk, you can then announce via the website that you’ve cleared the sidewalk you claimed.

City ordinances require property owners to shovel snow within a certain time period after snowfall, but winter after winter city officials, including mayors, decline to enforce these rules. They prefer to educate, and Adopt-A-Sidewalk is another tool from the Chicago Shovels campaign to help citizens better deal with snow.

The goal of Adopt-A-Sidewalk is “to help people, government and businesses to work together,” according to Kevin Hauswirth, the city’s social media director. “These are natural tendencies in the face of Chicago’s winter and Adopt-a-Sidewalk is there to facilitate neighbors lending a hand.”

Adopt-A-Sidewalk is based off the Adopt-a-Hydrant concept, originally designed for Boston: Residents claim a hydrant and then shovel the snow out from around it. It was adapted for Chicago by the Mayor’s Office, the Department of Innovation and Technology, and developers.

Christopher Whitaker is the Code for America brigade captain in Chicago, organizing programmers and designers to work on civic-oriented applications, and worked on launching Adopt-A-Sidewalk. Whitaker has high hopes for what it can do for Chicagoans.

No snow shoveling on this overpass
## will likely show red lines for all of the sidewalks that the City of Chicago is responsible for shoveling and doesn't, like highway overpasses.

“One of the things that we hope to see happen is for people to volunteer to help shovel sidewalks that their neighbors need help with,” he said. “On the site, you’ll see sidewalks marked in red. These sidewalks are from people indicating that these sidewalks need help shoveling and are open for adoption. With neighbors and businesses helping each other during the winter, we’ll have cleaner – and ultimately safer – sidewalks.”

Adopt-a-Sidewalk is set up on GitHub, a social coding site that allows anyone contribute to the application and discuss new features and issues.

  • I wish the city would just take care of all the sidewalks. Unrealistic, I know, but they plow the road lanes while people walking on the sidewalk have to deal with property owners that don’t take care of their sidewalks.

  • Joseph Musco

    I think snow shoveling ordinances are actually enforced in many cities. I know the town where I grew up in the ‘burbs enforced their snow ordinance. It was a low dollar amount but high enough that my father really yelled at me if I didn’t get my butt out there and shovel.

    I don’t understand the logic behind non-enforcement. I know everybody imagines seniors on a tight budget having a hard time shoveling their walk but those are the seniors who are most likely to be pedestrian renters impeded by unshoveled walks. Property owning seniors are the actually wealthiest demographic group in America and can well afford to pay to have their walk cleared.

  • Exchanging money for the service may not be necessary if this website can successfully pair up the person who wants to clear with the person who needs help clearing. If a business arrangement results, then more power to that salesperson!

  • The only city property that the city clears of snow with any regularity are the sidewalks on the bridges in the Loop. 

    The Dearborn two-way protected bike lane wasn’t cleared until 10:30 AM on Friday. 


Solving The Problem of Snow Being Pushed Into Protected Lanes

In general, protected bike lanes are great for encouraging “interested-but-concerned” folks to try urban cycling. However, as I discussed last week, when the lanes aren’t maintained well during the winter, they can actually make cycling more difficult. And when snow- or ice-filled PBLs force bike riders to share narrow travel lanes with motorists, that decreases […]