Snow removal

Windsor Locks, like many backward-thinking towns and cities, places the burden of sidewalk snow removal on the fraction of residents who were unlucky enough to have a sidewalk built in their front yard. This is bad for the elderly and disabled, and it causes problems for working people. It also results in an unwalkable town.

Snowblower overrun by snow

An estimated 18.9% of Windsor Locks residents are over the age of 65, while 9.4% of residents below that age are disabled in some way. Many of these people undoubtedly have trouble clearing their sidewalks. If so, the current town policy requires them to use their limited income to pay somebody to do it.

First Selectman Chris Kervick has touted Windsor Locks as a good place to live for people who commute to the Hartford area. However, commuting professionals are among those hit hardest by the current snow removal policy. They often work long hours, finally getting home after fighting rush hour traffic, only to be legally required to shovel their sidewalks. This happens in the evening, after schoolchildren and such have been using the snow-covered sidewalks all day. Otherwise, the commuter must pay somebody to do it, which affects the equation when choosing to reside in an otherwise relatively inexpensive place to live.

Due to the airport, another type of people who might like living in Windsor Locks are those who travel a lot, whether for work or pleasure. These people are also hit hard by the current policy. Before leaving town in the winter (some would consider winter a desirable time to leave CT), they must always find somebody to clear their snow. This is a game of luck. It might snow every day while they are gone, running up hundreds of dollars in charges.

While this arrangement is not unusual by any means, many forward-thinking towns are starting to provide this service using tax dollars for at least some key streets. Here are some current examples that I know of (in alphabetical order):

  • Ann Arbor, MI has some sidewalks cleared by a nonprofit organization called SnowBuddy, supported by donations.
  • Bloomington, MN clears all sidewalks.
  • Burlington, VT clears all sidewalks with city staff.
  • Concord, NH claims that their sidewalk snow removal is the best in New England.
  • Duluth, MN clears 100 miles of priority sidewalks.
  • Golden Valley, MN clears all of its sidewalks.
  • Grand Rapids, MI uses a private contractor to clear sidewalks along a couple dozen main roads.
  • Minneapolis, MN is considering options, potentially clearing all sidewalks in major snow events.
  • Plymouth, MN clears some sidewalks.
  • Rochester, NY clears all sidewalks after snowfall of 4 inches or more.
  • Saint Louis Park, MN clears sidewalks on high-volume streets.
  • Shoreview, MN clears all sidewalks.
  • Syracuse, NY uses a private contractor to clear 48 miles of priority sidewalks after snowfall of 3 inches or more.
  • Toronto, ON, Canada clears most sidewalks.
  • Vaughan, ON, Canada clears all sidewalks with city staff if the snowfall is greater than 2 inches.

In Windsor Locks, we have been diligently building sidewalks. Chris Kervick is very proud of some of these projects. Upon hearing that some businesses don’t want sidewalks on their property, several residents asked for them to be outed so they could boycott. Well, that’s idiotic. How can we expect property owners to embrace sidewalks when they come with increased liability and thousands of dollars a year in snow removal costs?

Chris Kervick has stated that it would likely be unworkable for the town to help with this task, due to the costs. Selectman Scott Storms has referred to the idea as “ridiculous,” without even inquiring about details and rationale. This is not an exotic idea. It is essentially required in order for a town to fully comply with ADA rules and Complete Streets philosophies. Note that I am not a huge advocate of Complete Streets itself, mostly because most of its adherents seem to hate cars. However, the general philosophy is solid. We should be providing safe infrastructure for all residents using a good mix of transportation modes. Even if 99% of us (well, 99% of the 50% who have sidewalks) obediently pay the snow tax, clearing our sidewalks completely, the town will still be unwalkable. The Complete Streets philosophy demands that we don’t arbitrarily clear streets for cars and then let residents take care of the sidewalks when they get around to it. We should therefore work toward some solution for the town to help with at least some sidewalks, at least under certain snowfall conditions. If Scott Storms thinks a constituent suggestion to look into a forward-thinking policy that many other towns have already implemented is “ridiculous,” then he should be replaced. Funny, I recall him running on a platform of listening to people.