Accessibility advocates thrilled over Minneapolis' investment in sidewalk snow removal

A man shovels snow from the sidewalk.
Stephen Yoakam shovels the front of his house after a snowfall in Minneapolis on Feb. 22.
Kerem Yücel | MPR News

The Minneapolis City Council Tuesday night passed a $1.8 billion budget for next year which includes a $595,000 funding package to help clear city sidewalks of snow.

It’s intended to target high-traffic areas and residents who don’t shovel their walks.

Accessibility advocates — like José Antonio Zayas Cabán, executive director of Our Streets Minneapolis — are especially thrilled about the city’s move. The group tries to make streets safer for pedestrians and bicyclists.

While the investment fell short of an original $40 million citywide program, Zayas Cabán says it’s a first step in the right direction for people with mobility issues, businesses, aging infrastructure and the environment.

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“There are a lot of people in our community who are transit-dependent, or elderly or disabled,” he said. “And the best way to create a path towards reducing carbon emissions to a more friendly climate future is to give people an opportunity to engage with our sidewalks in a way that’s comfortable during our winter months … We think it’s a win to start piloting the program and we’re going to keep advocating for it to grow.”

Right now, property owners can get fined by the city for not shoveling their walkways within 24 hours of a snowfall, but he thinks that doesn’t appear to be effective.

“Snow and ice complaints are at a five-year high,” according to Zayas Cabán and data Our Streets combed through. “And in general, as an organization, we just believe that punitive strategies don’t work because generally they leave the problem in place. And they don’t really lead to preventing the solutions over the long term.”

“We’re also talking about racial and class equity,” he said. “So it’s also about moral priorities for the City of Minneapolis. Did they want to see it become accessible to everyone in the community or do we want to continue to, sort of, unfortunately, leave a line between people who have access to other modes of transportation?”

The city snow removal program is slated to begin in fall 2024.