Sidewalk Snow Clearance
Snow and ice can present challenges to walkers, which is why many Massachusetts cities and towns hold property owners responsible for clearing sidewalks on or next to their property. Still, sidewalks sometimes remain uncleared and potentially hazardous days -- or even weeks -- after a storm. A look down Massachusetts' streets after a snowfall often reveals well-plowed streets, juxtaposed with impassible sidewalks and crosswalks, and pedestrians who have taken to the narrowed and dangerous street. Click here for a consolidated list of who to contact to report trouble spots (send us updates for your city/town!).
Safe passage along sidewalks is critical for the safety of pedestrians. Unlike motorists, pedestrians don't have seat belts or airbags, and are not encased in steel. In many cases, to slip and fall means getting hurt. Every winter there is a dramatic spike in fractures in Massachusetts, especially of the hip and forearm, due to slips on icy sidewalks. As the population of Massachusetts ages, the impacts of poorly shoveled sidewalks will grow.
In response to many comments from Massachusetts walkers and observations by our board and staff, WalkBoston developed basic recommendations to improve sidewalk snow and ice clearance, as well as comprehensive Sidewalk Snow Clearance Recommendations. Several parties would be responsible for carrying out the recommendations: municipal and state agencies, individual property owners/managers, and advocacy organizations such as WalkBoston.
A comprehensive program following these recommendations would make a noticeable difference in sidewalk conditions:
- Create a norm of snow and ice clearance through local and state marketing campaigns that make uncleared sidewalks and curb ramps as unacceptable as litter.
- Identify a municipal point person for snow removal so that reporting an uncleared sidewalk or getting assistance is provided through one well-advertised and well-staffed phone number.
- Set priorities for sidewalk snow clearance that identify the most critical sidewalks – such as those near schools, transit stations or senior centers – to ensure that enforcement and public snow clearance are focused on the most important locations. The City of Calgary, Alberta (Canada) has a four-level priority system for sidewalk snow and ice control. READ MORE
- Improve monitoring and enforcement by giving ticketing authority to municipal workers who are already outdoors (e.g., parking officers, crossing guards) and can see the problems in person (Remember: the goal is to clear sidewalks, not to raise money). In Massachusetts, the City of Cambridge has authorized parking control officers to administer citations for unshoveled sidewalks. READ MORE
- Design sidewalks for easier snow removal with simple design interventions, especially at common trouble spots such as curb ramps.
- Train municipal and private snow plowing personnel so that plow drivers are sensitive to the needs of pedestrians and are proficient in techniques that aid clearance of sidewalks, pedestrian ramps, crosswalks and pedestrian crossing islands.
- Create sensible state policies through appropriate legislation to eliminate the liability property owners face for clearing sidewalks and allow municipalities to levy more reasonable fines against those who fail to clear. The Massachusetts Green Tickets Law attaches unpaid fines from failure to clear snow and ice from sidewalks to property tax bills. READ MORE
Report ice/snow clearance problems in your community (don't see your town? we can add it!)
Mass.gov's "Snow Regulations in Massachusetts' Municipalities" map compiled by MassGIS, MassIT
MassDCR's Winter Storm Plan and Priority Map, which also clarifies jurisdiction on many state-controlled roads and shared-use paths
MBTA Bus Stop Clearing and Snow Removal Info
WalkBoston’s Snow Removal Report
WalkBoston's Snow Removal Recommendations