You may be blocking out memories of our six months of winter, but wintertime in Minneapolis too often means navigating snowy or icy sidewalks, snow-blocked curb ramps and disappearing bike lanes.
Minneapolis Public Works is looking to improve the winter experience for people who walk, roll and bike. It recently released a Pedestrian and Bicycle Winter Maintenance Study and Supplemental Report on Sidewalks.
Here are the takeaways for walking and biking:
The City of Minneapolis is looking to make significant improvements for sidewalks and corners this winter. Details will depend on feedback from Mayor Jacob Frey and the City Council.
Public Works recommends taking the following immediate actions:
- Pilot proactive sidewalk inspection in the winter. City staff would go out and proactively inspect sidewalks to make sure they are clear rather than relying solely on complaints from residents. The pilot would allow them to “test whether proactive inspection reduces complaints… and increases the rate of sidewalk clearing” and “better understand the feasibility, costs, and time required” to do citywide proactive inspection.
- Communicate more with residents about sidewalk maintenance. The city will look at expanding communication with residents around the importance of sidewalk clearing and resident’s responsibilities.
- Assistance program for select populations. The city will look at partnering with organizations that provide snow-clearing services to support certain populations for whom sidewalk clearing can be challenging, “including older adults and people with disabilities.”
- Improve sidewalk inspection & clearing process. Currently it takes 6-8 days in the best-case scenario to go from someone reporting a snowy or icy sidewalk and it being cleared. The city will look at ways to speed up this process, in addition to the proactive sidewalk inspection pilot mentioned above.
In May, the City Council tasked Public Works with reporting back this September on details and costs for implementing these short-term actions as well as additional “possible tiers of implementation… that would further enhance the City’s goals for a walkable city in winter.”
One item not recommended by Public Works for immediate action is looking further at having the city directly clear sidewalks in the winter like it does with streets and as is done in some cities, including Bloomington. While the city presented full or partial city clearance of sidewalks as options in its study, the study does not offer a lot of details about the logistics or potential costs or benefits of such an approach. More details on that possibility may come in the report back this September.
There is a lot of interest in winter sidewalk maintenance improvements from council members. Council Member Andrew Johnson said, “Today it’s like the Wild West with sidewalks when it snows. I think that the condition of our sidewalks is the biggest barrier for enjoying the winter and providing accessibility. I know we can do better, I’m glad to see this report… and I’d potentially like a more aggressive approach.”
Council Member Steve Fletcher added, “I want to add urgency to this. We are not meeting people’s expectations now [on winter sidewalk maintenance.]”
Staff have noted that there are some things that they can do with their existing winter maintenance resources and other things that would require additional funding. Council President Lisa Bender noted that, “I think you will find a lot of support on the council to find the resources we need to make sure our bicycle and pedestrian systems are working well in the winter.”
Our Streets Minneapolis has made improving winter sidewalk maintenance its top priority this year and is collecting postcards in support of improvements that will be shared with council members later this year. You can offer your support at http://bit.ly/sidewalkpostcard.
The key recommendation for improving winter bicycle maintenance is creating a “winter priority network.”
Currently, the city and other agencies do a pretty good job of maintaining trails and protected bike lanes. But unprotected bike lanes and bicycle boulevards are basically ignored and become unreliable routes in the winter.
The most important option presented in the study for improving winter maintenance for biking is designating a winter bicycle priority network for a higher level of maintenance. Such a network would be a place you could expect bike infrastructure to be clear, so you do not have to worry when heading out the door. It could include bicycle boulevards and unprotected bike lanes.
It sounds like a such a network may be created for this coming winter, although that is not definitive at this point.