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Evanston officials are considering dumping their four-inch sidewalk- snow-removal rule and replacing it with one that makes allowances for different weather events.
Seeking to increase safety and walkability, Evanston officials are considering a rule that requires shoveling after any appreciable accumulation.
Officials unveiled this and other proposed changes at the Jan. 13 City Council Administration & Public Works Committee meeting.
The current four-inch rule has been in place since 2013.
Under City Code, whenever there is a snowfall with an accumulation of four inches or more, property owners are required to create and clear a path of at least 36 inches on the sidewalks in front of their property within 24 hours.
The four-inches-on-the-ground rule takes effect whether “for one snow fall or massive ice accumulation or multiple complaints,” said Johanna Leonard, the City’s Community Development Department Director, during the presentation.
“So this morning we had six complaints,” related Ms. Leonard, whose department includes code enforcement. “But all of our responses [to inquiries about] snow that had not been removed from sidewalks are that ‘This not a Code violation yet, so there is nothing we can do other than put a door hanger [urging cleanup] or try to contact somebody.’”
In support of changing the requirement, Ms. Leonard noted the Department “more or less gets the same number of complaints whether there is nine inches of snow or two.
“And most people don’t necessarily go and measure how much snow is in their backyard or front yard,” she said.
Rather, more realistically, “if the sidewalk is not passable it’s not passable,” she said.
In addition, officials are also weighing another change, separately defining snow and ice events and accumulations in City Code, Ms. Leonard said.
In recent years, said Ms. Leonard along with Edgar Cano, the City’s Public Services Bureau Chief, putting on the presentation, officials have seen different kinds of snow and weather events, including more ice storms – perhaps a product of global warming, they said.
Officials have learned from events, including one last weekend, “that we can get ice, followed by flooding, not necessarily connected to a snow event,” said Ms. Leonard about the need to address the new categories.
Another change is stepping up the enforcement timetable, allowing the issue of a violation after 24 hours of non-snow removal, Ms. Leonard said.
“Right now we go out after a snowfall in which the City receives complaints about removal, property standards officers will pay visits to the property, fixing door hangers on doors, reminding residents to “do the neighborly thing and shovel your sidewalk,” she told Council members.
After 24 hours have gone by and the snow has not been removed, the lack of cleanup is regarded a violation, she said. “And then 24 hours after that, we can write a ticket.”
Under that system, “several days have gone by and you’re going to get a pretty challenging path [to walk on], and there’s still snow and ice,” Ms. Leonard said.
The other piece of that “is we issued zero tickets last year,” she said, “so I don’t want to imagine how much time was spent handing these out,” she said, referring to the door hangers.
Officials are looking at the practices of other communities.
In Chicago, for instance, snow that falls between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. is to be removed by 10 p.m. Oak Park’s code calls for removal within 24 hours, and Madison, Wis. requires removal by noon the day after accumulation.
Then there are communities such as Libertyville and Barrington which have rules like, “Please be a neighbor; remove your snow,” but don’t have a requirement,” Ms. Leonard noted.
She noted that Chicago and other communities are also enlisting residents in the effort, offering downloadable forms for them to use and place on fellow residents, reminding them of their sidewalk snow removal duties and to “Be a good neighbor.”
Safety is a major consideration. Falls and injuries related to falls are the number one injury-related cause of death for people 65 years and older, Ms. Leonard said.
A call log supplied by the Evanston Fire Department showed 600 calls for falls last year, she said.
She suggested that addressing such concerns is in line with making Evanston “the most livable city, where we want to make it a more walkable community.”
In that regard, she reminded Council members, “we often reduce the parking requirements for [residential development], projects because we are told that people will walk, to use transit and find other modes of transportation, but not having clear sidewalks doesn’t support that.”