Aldermen asked City officials to consider changes to their proposal for new sidewalk snow removal rules, including lightening the fine in some cases.

At the Feb. 10 City Council meeting, officials introduced the recommended amendments to the City’s current rules for removing snow and ice from sidewalks.

With safety a concern, officials are proposing replacing the City’s current rule that requires removal of snow from walks after four inches of snow.

Instead, officials are proposing that the four-inch rule be dropped and recommending any accumulation of snow and ice be removed from public and private sidewalks within 24 hours of a winter weather event.

Officials are proposing a new fine schedule too, starting at $150 for the first violation, $400 for the second and $750 for a third and any subsequent violation.

Current fines are $100 for the first infraction, $250 for the second, and then $540 for the third, pointed out Community Development Director Johanna Leonard, responding to questions at the Feb. 10 meeting.

In support of the changes, Ms. Leonard noted in a memo that “the ability to utilize the sidewalk year- round, regardless of weather conditions, is an important priority for the City. 

“The current City Code only requires snow and ice removal after a total of four inches of accumulation,” she noted. “While this threshold may only be met a few times during the winter, sidewalks are often not passable after a few inches of snow or even a tenth of an inch of snow. Snow- and ice-covered sidewalks present hazardous and even dangerous conditions for those needing to utilize the sidewalk.”

Officials are also worried about falls. A call log supplied by the Evanston Fire Department showed 600 calls for falls last year, Ms. Leonard said in an earlier presentation.

Reacting to the recommended changes, Ald. Peter Braithwaite, 2nd Ward, acknowledged to Ms. Leonard “there are going to be a lot of steps you’ll be taking to help our residents.

“But I’m still concerned about the fee schedule,” he said. “I think the goal of this is to drive compliancy, not charging a fee.”

Alderman Melissa Wynne, 3rd Ward, also asked for a little more flexibility in cases where residents cannot immediately get out to clean walks.

Businesses are different. “I mean those sidewalks should be clean absolutely right away,” she said.
She explained,  “I think we really need to look at how applying this [so the fines aren’t] going to affect a commercial, business or property owner in the same way that it’s going to impact a resident.”

Alderman Donald Wilson, 4th Ward, also drew a distinction.

“There’s a difference between an apartment building  where the landlord shovels snow, versus a single family house [where] somebody is on vacation for whatever – a week – and they don’t find a kid in the neighborhood to do it [shovel].”

Alderman Ann Rainey, 8th Ward, asked how the proposed new system would be applied on a snow that fell on a Sunday and stopped that day at noon.

If someone called the City on Monday with a complaint, an inspector would go out around noon, after 24 hours had elapsed, Ms. Leonard said.

“What would happen then is that they [the homeowner or business] would get a notice of violation,” she said. “They would not get a ticket.”

The violator would receive a ticket 48 hours after the final snowfall if the issue was not addressed, Ms. Leonard said, responding to Ald. Rainey’s scenario.

The ticket would serve notice of a fine and inform the alleged violator that the City could take the person to the City-run administrative adjudication court, which hears ordinance violations.

With a court date sometimes a week or two weeks out, “that sidewalk could stay 10 days without any shoveling if the weather stays cold,” observed Ald. Rainey.

“We can have the biggest fine in the world, but our system does not produce compliance,”  she said.

Based on the discussion, Mayor Stephen Hagerty expressed hope that staff would take into consideration some of the comments when they come back to the Council in two weeks, at which time aldermen are expected to act on the ordinance.

Bob Seidenberg is an award-winning reporter covering issues in Evanston for more than 30 years. He is a graduate of the Northwestern University Medill School of Journalism.