Column: Ann Arbor Now 0-16

Stopped. Watched. by Woods on a Snowy Evening
sand and salt

The salt/sand mixture at 721 N. Main is self-serve and free to residents. Bring your own shovel and 5-gallon bucket. One bucket per visit, please.

By now sports writers across the nation will have collectively written a flurry of columns, each heaping scorn by the shovelful upon the Detroit Lions – a football team that yesterday completed the first 0-16 winless season in National Football League history.

If only a bit of that shoveling could be harnessed in service of clearing the snow from Ann Arbor’s sidewalks and roads. The headline to this piece reflects the fact that according to National Weather Service statistics through Dec. 28, the date of the Lions’ historic loss, 16 inches of snow have fallen on the city of Ann Arbor this season. The headline also reflects the opinion that we, as a city, are losing the battle against the snow.

Sure, there’s bright spots in our snow removal season. On Dec. 17, at 2 p.m. a city plow truck paid a visit to Mulholland Avenue, one of the more obscure side streets in the city. And Friday, Dec. 19, a guy who lives at the bottom of the hill on Mulholland wrassled his snow-blower first up the east-side sidewalk and then down the west side of the street, even stopping to clear each driveway entrance onto the street. On the same day, the neighbors who live on the west side of Soule Boulevard collectively cleared enough of their sidewalk that I was able to complete my regular delivery service for ArborTeas via bicycle cart.

Or if you’ve followed Stopped. Watched. items filed by Chronicle correspondents, you’ll have noted the apparent stellar snow-removal performance of Republic Parking employees. At 8th & Liberty, I saw a guy clearing the bus stop of snow, but failed to file a Stopped. Watched. item. But such efforts by ordinary citizens did not go completely undocumented here at The Chronicle.

Still, all this is akin to observing that Kevin Jones, running back for the Detroit Lions, gained over 100 yards in any one of the Lions’ games this season. The Lions still lost. And Ann Arbor will continue to lose the battle against the snow, unless we can start measuring our well-swept sidewalks and roads in terms of miles, not yards. With apologies to Robert Frost, we’ve got miles to go that we must sweep.

On the whole, we’re not getting the job done so far this season – on the sidewalks or on the roads. When Liberty Street, a major east-west artery, is still snow-covered the day after a five-inch snowfall (except for tire tracks in each lane), that’s not a win. When downtown Ann Arbor streets are covered in a layer of “cookie dough” two days after the same snowfall, that’s not a win. When, on Christmas Eve, 20 percent of the sidewalk distance between 7th Street and 5th Avenue downtown reflects no attempt by anyone to remove the accumulation of a week’s worth of snow and ice, that’s not a win.

And the season so far is no exception. It’s uncontroversial that Ypsilanti outperforms Ann Arbor on snow removal. It’s not accidental that in response to a prompt on the 2007 National Citizen Survey about what one thing they would change about Ann Arbor, one citizen wrote:

Improve snow removal, which is still a joke compared to any other place I have lived. And I would say this in July as well.

The working document of the Community Success Strategy for the Ann Arbor Region includes the results of a focus group of young professionals, who were asked what things the community should stop doing. One example:

Refusing to plow snow on Sundays and holidays

I doubt that a moratorium on holiday plowing is actually a city of Ann Arbor policy, but it’s easy to understand the perception that it is. On a list of rankings for top cities for snow removal, Ann Arbor doesn’t make the cut. Madison, Wisc. does, though. Damn those snow-removing badgers. Sure, I’m a little dubious about how ServiceMagic came up with those “scores,” but that sort of quibble never seems to bother us when Ann Arbor is included in a list of rankings. We can surely find a way to get better results from our street-clearing efforts.

As for sidewalks, Susan Pollay, executive director of the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority, got it right at the most recent meeting of the DDA’s transportation committee, when she said, “Everyone at some point is a pedestrian.” So it is not just those who walk longer distances, but all of us who should take umbrage, when a fellow citizen comments on the 2007 National Citizen Survey that Ann Arbor should …

Relax code enforcement. My first winter here I got a note to clear my sidewalk of snow even though all but one inch or two was cleared. That is a bit over aggressive.

On the contrary, if our strategy for providing safe walkways for citizens during the wintertime is to require property owners to clear the sidewalks, then what’s called for is more aggressive code enforcement. Why should anyone need to call the city to report a possible violation, wait for inspection by city staff, then wait for the property owner (who is given 24 hours to act) to correct the situation? If citizens are expected to clear their sidewalks, I’d suggest sending out crews with brooms and shovels – if a residence is in violation, they get their sidewalk cleared and a bill from the city for the service.

But until we develop a different approach, it’s pretty much in citizens’ hands. The city does make a pile of salt-sand mixture available free of charge to city residents at 721 N. Main St. Take your own 5-gallon bucket and shovel – it’s a self-serve kind of deal.

And it’s still early in the season. It might even be considered pre-season. When the real snow comes, let’s try not to fumble the (snow)ball.

[Editor's note: HD is Homeless Dave, a.k.a. Dave Askins, editor of The Ann Arbor Chronicle. ]

Section: Opinion

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  1. December 29, 2008 at 8:01 am | permalink

    Wow! This editorial was so outstanding that I was compelled to go right to the TIP Jar at the top right of this excellent web site to add my two bits, metaphorically speaking. Thanks for writing this, Dave.

  2. By Linda Diane Feldt
    December 29, 2008 at 9:00 am | permalink

    I have been a very persistent and regular “reporter” to the office f community standards to have snow removed. I’ve also talked directly to people who don’t do this task. Sending e-mails is easy as well –

    My mom often had to use a wheelchair, and that was a start for me to notice the problem. The year I broke my ankle on thanksgiving and was terrified to walk anywhere when it snowed clinched it. I’ve had some bad falls on ice covered walks – and friends with life altering injuries from falls on ice.

    Every hardware store stocks plenty of ice melter, help is available for people who can’t shovel themselves.

    My suggestions are these – the more people out walking, the more “reporters” we have. It is important to give the city the info, especially early in the season, as it is the only current educational method and formal outreach to homeowners we have. Even if the process is slow, over the years it seems to me that those houses who have gotten notices do better in the future.

    The more people are out walking, the greater awareness of the problem. My personal impression is that people who use sidewalks tend to maintain them. If you drive everywhere it just isn’t on your radar. And I have been told – “why should I go to all that trouble just for a few dog walkers?”
    Yeah – we have some education to do and awareness to raise. I think your writing about the issue will really go a long way. Thanks.

  3. December 29, 2008 at 10:04 am | permalink

    Does anyone know how snow removal at bus stops is supposed to work? As far as I can tell the AATA nor the city do anything whatsoever to clear snow from bus stops. Riders are forced to clamber over 2-3 foot banks of hard and icy snow left from road and sidewalk clearing. It’s awkward and not particularly safe looking even for young people and is surely just impossible for the elderly or disabled.

  4. By Matt
    December 29, 2008 at 11:48 am | permalink

    Snow removal at bus stops is up to your or the property owner. I shovel my neighbor’s stop because they don’t. Bus drivers have also been especially kind recently, stopping at intersections and driveways instead of snowed-in stops.

  5. December 29, 2008 at 12:16 pm | permalink

    Ypsilanti really does do much better at snow removal. About a week ago, after the particularly large snowfall, I noticed that, after city streets were plowed, Ypsilanti came back through, loaded the piles of snow into dump trucks, and dumped it in the Water Street property, leaving us not only with well- and promptly-plowed streets but ample parking as well!

  6. By George Hammond
    December 29, 2008 at 3:16 pm | permalink

    More on clearing bus stops:

    The AATA says they only clear the snow at stops that have more than 50 passengers/day. For other stops they just hope that property owners or residents will do it.

  7. By George Hammond
    December 29, 2008 at 3:33 pm | permalink

    Oh, and I should add — the AATA also says that if the bus stop site is blocked by ice or snow, you should wait at the nearest cleared area, and wave at the driver as the bus approaches so he or she knows you are waiting for the bus. This all from the current (I think) bus schedule (“Ride Guide”), p. 23.

  8. By Joan Lowenstein
    December 30, 2008 at 2:17 pm | permalink

    I spent many hours trying to figure out snow removal while on city council. I even got an engineering class at UM to help the snow team figure out the most efficient routes. Ann Arbor has more miles of roads than does Ypsi. We don’t get enough big snowfalls to justify the expenditure for more equipment and more people. Hiring just a few more employees and a few more trucks means hundreds of thousands of dollars a year. As it is, the snow does not comply with ordinary working hours and employees often have to come in at odd hours and get paid overtime. My street is small and is a very low priority. I finally figured out that paying a few bucks for private snow removal (joining with the neighbors) is better than getting angry about how the city takes 48 hours to get to us and, in the long run, is more cost-efficient.

  9. By Hugh Shirato
    December 30, 2008 at 8:39 pm | permalink

    The city’s unwillingness to enforce the sidewalk clearing ordinace is particularly galling when compared to it’s pre-occupation with have home owners repair sidewalk. An occasional cracked or heaved sidewalk panel is less dangerous than miles of ice. Just another example of city governments greater interest in appearance rather than function.

  10. By Bob Dively
    December 31, 2008 at 1:00 am | permalink

    With all due respect to Joan Lowenstein’s efforts to improve city snow removal, the issues with Ann Arbor’s snow removal aren’t with the sort of streets that a group of neighbors can maintain by hiring private contractors. Something isn’t right when West Stadium still has a couple of inches of mushy snow two days after we receive six inches.

    Days after the big storm earlier this month, I was also surprised to see downtown pedestrians scrambling over berms of plowed snow that blocked access to crosswalks. The DDA is spending millions to put in ADA-compliant curb ramps downtown, yet no one can be bothered to clear the snow from those same curb ramps, resulting in even able-bodied people having trouble getting across streets.

  11. By Linda Diane Feldt
    December 31, 2008 at 6:33 am | permalink

    I know I’m being unreasonable as far as outcome, but I wish there was a way to clear the snow AND not be woken up at 6 AM (and earlier) by snow blowers and private plows. Time now? 6:30 AM. They’ve been at it for 1/2 hour. Oh well it is only sleep.

  12. December 31, 2008 at 10:31 am | permalink

    I was surprised to see all this anger about snow still being on the streets and sidewalks when many of us are worrying about the tax hit from the sale of the Pfizer property and the likely prepackaged bankruptcy of GM and Chrysler in 2009.

    Folks, it’s winter, you live in Michigan.

  13. By Linda Diane Feldt
    December 31, 2008 at 12:34 pm | permalink

    Fred, you are totally correct and I also disagree. Sure, there are bigger issues, but maybe we can actually DO something about these small less important things. And walking is how I try and get rid of stress. And many people run and bike for the same reason. Encountering sidewalks and bike lanes that are hazards because of lazy and uncaring people who should be responsible adds to the stress. With so much fear and worry these days we should all be kinder to each other. Helping me and my friends and others be safe would be the kind thing to do.

  14. December 31, 2008 at 1:35 pm | permalink

    Linda, I agree and I disagree.

    the problem is that there’s really no way of knowing whether a sidewalk is unshoveled because the home owner is lazy and irresponsible, or whether it’s because there’s some other issue entirely: health, family emergency, travel, family responsibilities, whatever. We’re all human and we’re all busy. (For what it’s worth, I do make sure my sidewalks are clean, for precisely the reasons mentioned above.)

    This reminds me of the recent anti-Big Three fervor elsewhere in the country: people find it convenient to focus their anger on the Other to which they attribute all sorts of inhuman attributes, when what is best is to roll up one’s sleeves, pitch in to help, and encourage. (My New Year’s resolution after a fall of making snotty posts on ArborUpdate.)



  15. By Bob Dively
    December 31, 2008 at 6:57 pm | permalink

    I don’t see any anger here – just dissatisfaction with the city’s performance and a desire for better service. “It’s winter in Michigan, suck it up” makes it sound like wanting the city to do a better job of snow removal is unreasonable, which is entirely unfair IMO.

    As for property owners not complying with the sidewalk snow removal ordinance, I’m sure that there’s plenty of leeway for homeowners with emergencies, etc. But not clearing the sidewalks because you’re busy? Please. Totally asinine. The bottom line is that the city has decided that if you want to own property in the city, then you’re responsible for clearing snow from the sidewalks on your property. If you can’t do it personally, then you need to get someone else to do it for you – a neighbor, the kid down the block, a company, whatever.

  16. January 1, 2009 at 7:44 am | permalink

    What has most impressed me about these 15 comments so far (in addition to their having been inspired by the excellent op/ed by HD/Dave Askins that started this thread about snow removal in AA) is the civility of tone and the openness in exchanging ideas and experiences. Some of us walk or run outdoors and can give that perspective; others have mobility challenges and have difficulty in even getting to a bus stop or into a parked car. And, yes, it is indeed winter in Michigan–all the more reason for care and concern about health and safety in the face of the upcoming months of less than friendly weather.

  17. January 1, 2009 at 10:59 am | permalink

    I see three main issues here, which can be separated.

    1) snow removal from city streets. I found Joan L’s #8 about doing a careful bottom-up process study of the issues involved in snow removal more persuasive than the OP’s use of top-down “best city” studies and anecdotal “surveys.” It’s all about geography, local road surface conditions, and resources. I’d like to see a GIS study moving trucks around under varying snow scenarios. I have a feeling the city’s already done that. So I’m not persuaded that we can do better on street removal without spending more money, and, as I noted in my original comment, the money’s not there right now.

    2) Vigorous enforcement of sidewalk snow ordinances. I’m in favor of a more nuanced approach than simply firing away with as many tickets as possible. Sure, let’s prosecute the outliers, and by all means the landlords. I have no sympathy whatsoever for people with income properties who don’t get the shoveling done.

    But before we start handing out tickets to Harry and Harriet Homeowner, I’d like to see a warning, and a visit from a city employee to be sure that we’re not giving out tickets to homebound little old ladies.

    3) Attitude. I wear a titanium knee brace because of a major injury and my wife has severely disabling arthritis in her knees so I am keenly aware of the mobility issues. I drove around during the same snow storm as everyone else, I walked to the office, I shoveled my walk, I shoveled my neighbor’s walk once, I had my walk shoveled, I got stuck, I helped people get unstuck, on some occasions I adjusted my travel plans, on others I forged through miserable weather.

    Never once did it even occur to me to be “dissatisfied” with the city or delinquent sidewalk shovelers. Not that they’re doing everything right, and not that I don’t get unreasonably angry about lots of other things, but on this particular issue my negative emotions were directed entirely at the brutal weather.

  18. By Vivienne Armentrout
    January 1, 2009 at 2:00 pm | permalink

    What I find shocking and of concern is that it is apparently no one’s responsibility to clear access ramps and bus stops. I was downtown last week and had to do considerable maneuvering to get over the big piles of ice at each intersection. There are real accessibility issues, not only for those who are disabled in legal terms but for anyone who wants to enjoy our “walkable vibrant” downtown.

  19. By Steve Bean
    January 1, 2009 at 3:23 pm | permalink

    Fred, you may be alone in your thinking that attitude is a key component in this issue. Nevertheless, I highly recommend Byron Katie’s book, Loving What Is, to you in light of your comments here and your New Year’s resolution you mentioned on AU. You’re onto something that stressful thoughts aren’t necessary to decide to take action to improve things.

    Vivienne, I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how the downtown business community might be undervaluing clear sidewalks downtown. People clearly want to walk downtown in the winter, despite the cold and snow, and some of them clearly want to do so in high heels–because they do. Their experience of downtown could be greatly improved, I think we’d agree. And I think that the long-term benefits of doing so would outweigh the costs. I hope you’ll share your thoughts with the DDA board.

    Also, the transportation committee of the city’s environmental commission has just begun consideration of the city’s snow removal policies. We’d welcome input from you all. I’ll share info here (somehow) on our progress and opportunities for participation.

  20. January 1, 2009 at 4:18 pm | permalink

    Steve, I don’t know if you have ever been in a city like Washington, D.C., during even a trivial snowfall, but believe me, that’s perfect proof that attitude can be a major part of the effectiveness of response to snow emergencies …

  21. By Steve Bean
    January 1, 2009 at 4:43 pm | permalink

    I love that you want to argue, Fred, and I’m just going to wish you a Happy New Year!

  22. January 1, 2009 at 5:56 pm | permalink


    When you make remarks like “you may be alone in your thinking, Fred,” and “I love that you want to argue, Fred,” it comes across as an attempt to patronize and marginalize. From the other things you write, I doubt that is your conscious goal.



  23. By Steve Bean
    January 2, 2009 at 2:27 am | permalink

    “From the other things you write, I doubt that is your conscious goal.”

    You’re right, Fred, and that raises the question of what my conscious goal was, if it wasn’t to be a jerk. ;-) Why would I uncharacteristically make such a personal comment? Why would I use my time to make a personal recommendation? Why would I single you out? The answers can be found in my comment addressed to you in #19 (and in the book recommended therein), but let me clarify for you and everyone else.

    Loving What Is is the most important book (to me) that I’ve ever read. More important than the writings of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the Dalai Lama, Thich Nhat Hanh, Eckhart Tolle, or Daniel Quinn; the Tao Te Ching, the Dhammapada, or the Bhagavad Gita; all of which I’ve read and reread (the last three, coincidentally, translated to English by Katie’s husband, Stephen Mitchell. Byron Katie is a woman, by the way.) I’ve recommended it directly to a dozen or more of my closest friends, I’ve given it as a gift to several, I’ve encouraged my wife to read it, I plan to give it to my son for his birthday, and I recommend it to everyone reading this. (AADL has several copies.) Lately, I’ve been trying to figure out how to get her nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. That’s how important I believe her writing to be.

    From Katie I’ve learned that how other people interpret what I write (or say or do) isn’t my business, it’s theirs (and the converse, as well.) I’ve learned that after I’ve investigated my stressful thoughts, my subsequent actions are motivated by love. Most importantly, I’m learning (still working on it) how to love reality. From your comments, Fred, I imagine a person on the verge of such an awareness. I think you’d find the book (and her subsequent ones) very interesting. And, as Katie might say, I love that I think that about you. :-)

    I’d like to bring this back on topic, but I’ll just stop, leave it to you all to use your imagination in that regard, and hope that I held to the Chronicle’s request to “Be Generous” and that others found this of interest.

  24. January 2, 2009 at 11:14 am | permalink

    Sometimes, a simple apology can do more to soothe hurt feelings than a thousand philosophers.

    This probably wasn’t apparent from text alone, but my comment about the helpless attitude of people in DC to trival snowfalls was a meant as a friendly way of finding common ground by providing a broader perspective, not as an attempt to keep arguing.

    Loving What Is does sound like an interesting book, and it is certainly consistent with my basic approach to the snow removal issue. ;-)

    I am all in favor of revisiting our snow removal priorities to make sure accessibility issues and pedestrian rights are included, but, I suspect that keeping major thoroughfares open is going to keep coming out ahead, and it’s a zero sum game unless we add more resources to the problem.

    Everyone in the thread is suggesting that other people and other organizations provide more resources, but no one is coming forward with resources of their own.

    (Local business people, are you reading this? DDA?)

    Since the need for snow removal is variable by nature, maybe we should see if the city can organize a discount price for purchasing snow plows to put on locally-built GM pickup trucks.

  25. January 2, 2009 at 2:45 pm | permalink

    I favor more stringent enforcement of snow removal from downtown sidewalks.

    Regulation without enforcement doesn’t work. E.g., I don’t gripe when I get an expired parking meter ticket: I know that if tickets were not issued, I would never find an available metered parking space.

    In the case of snow removal, absence of enforcement leads to lax or ignorant property owners. E.g., several days after December’s big storm, I slogged through the still snow-laden sidewalk on William St. just west of Main, headed to the gas station to buy some salt for my own sidewalk. I joked to the clerk that I assumed they must be out of salt, since their own sidewalk was not cleared, and he informed me that clearing the sidewalks is the city’s responsibility.

    Issuing some tickets would solve that problem in a hurry, I am sure!

  26. January 2, 2009 at 5:08 pm | permalink

    I got a pair of pull-on cleats for the holidays; I guess it’s time to carry a bag of salt and a portable shovel with me as I walk around town.

    I’d bet that a few juicy slip-and-fall lawsuits would shape people’s sidewalk clearing up in a hurry, if the city’s tickets don’t do that.

  27. By Hugh Shirato
    January 2, 2009 at 6:50 pm | permalink

    Regarding snow removal, what I’ve found very interesting is that the most conscientious sidewalk shovelers are senior citizens. Many look like they shouldn’t be doing that kind of work while others look like they couldn’t possibly be doing that kind of work, but they do, and it’s much admired.

  28. By Bob Martel
    January 2, 2009 at 7:46 pm | permalink

    Hi all,

    All I can say about this thread is: Wow!

    I hope that Roger Fraser and John Hieftje are reading this!


  29. January 3, 2009 at 5:35 am | permalink

    I wholeheartedly agree–all concerned City of Ann Arbor representatives should definitely be reading this thread about ice/snow removal, which is a “quality of life” issue as well as being a health and safety one for local citizens and their guests.

  30. January 3, 2009 at 3:31 pm | permalink

    I would be interested to hear if the city has any perspective on why it would be difficult to make sidewalk enforcement more vigorous.

    I suspect that once again it’s going to come down to resources. If we divert meter maids to snow enforcement, they’re not giving parking tickets. That translates into clogged streets and lower revenue.

    It would be interesting to know the revenue implications of parking tickets v. snow removal tickets – how many of each can one city official write in an hour? … maybe city council needs to adjust the city’s incentive structure by making snow removal tickets more profitable/////// costly.

    And if we divert cops to spend X% of their patrol hours on snow removal enforcement, we’re saying that it’s more important to do that than to do all the other things they normally do in those X hours during winter.

  31. By Linda Diane Feldt
    January 3, 2009 at 6:08 pm | permalink

    The snow removal tickets are given out by the people who enforce community standards. They may be community standards officers? I don’t know what the title is for people who give out parking tickets, but I’m sure the male and female enforcement people don’t like the term “Meter Maids”. Even if they are Beatles fans.

  32. January 3, 2009 at 6:11 pm | permalink

    Parking tickets vs. sidewalk snow removal tickets is apples and oranges.

    Parking tickets are pretty straight forward – the ticketing agent sees the infraction, writes the ticket and moves on.

    The sidewalk snow removal ticket writing process is a lot more complicated – wait until 24 hours have passed from the end of a storm that results in the accumulation of 1 or more inches of snow, issue a warning to the property owner, wait 24 more hours and only then write a ticket if the property owner has not complied.

    In other words, the sidewalk snow removal ticket writing process may not result in any tickets actually being issued.

  33. January 4, 2009 at 9:17 am | permalink

    Bob/Linda — so maybe we need to simplify the process, at least for income property owners, so that having community standards officers write snow removal tickets is income-neutral for the city…

  34. By Linda Diane Feldt
    January 4, 2009 at 12:45 pm | permalink

    I don’t want to lose track of the fact that enforcement of the law regarding sidewalks is a large quality of life issue for most people. If the city can do it and make money, lose money, connect people up with services that will do it for free or for qualified residents, or even help recruit neighbors to chip in — it leads the the same result. We’re a civilized city, we’ve agreed it is important (there is the law) and it is a reasonable expectation.

    I prefer education and cooperation to the big stick of tickets and the city doing the job for people. But if that’s what it takes, then great. The system is very reasonable now – lots of warning, education, and the community service people are very nice when I’ve talked to them and thanked them for what they are doing!

  35. By Steve Bean
    January 4, 2009 at 2:51 pm | permalink

    “I guess it’s time to carry a bag of salt and a portable shovel with me as I walk around town.”

    I’d been thinking the same about carrying salt, Ed. I love that idea. It gives me power. I’ll directly prevent a broken bone or two! As it turns out, it appears that one of the maintenance people for my apartment building dumped the little bucket of rock salt they placed on our front porch onto the front lawn recently and refilled it with a different type of salt. Now I can scoop that up to use and maybe the grass won’t die as a result. Perfect. My coat has unused pockets. Perfect again.

    This year I also decided that I love picking up the trash that I see on the sidewalks when I walk downtown every day. (I used to grumble and fret.) And I frequently get appreciative smiles and thanks from lovely people passing by. They even have rolled down their windows when stopped in their cars at intersections to say “thanks”. (It’s all reminiscent of this: Sometimes I decide to leave it, and I love that, too. Someone else will have the opportunity to get it in that case.

    For years I’ve picked up nails and other potential tire stickers–it feels great to believe that I may have spared (sorry) someone a flat. I’ve also collected dozens of discarded batteries from the alleys and gutters and given them to RAA to recycle–don’t want that cadmium in the river.

    City government (and the courts, and the lawyers, etc.) are middlemen we can cut out if we see the opportunity we’re presented with to create our own preferred community. Is that an argument against government? Of course not. Our government’s perfect as it is… until we change it, and then it will be perfect in that form. Why would we be motivated to change it? Anger, resentment, spite, dissatisfaction, fear? How would it feel to function that way? There’s an alternative attitude that we can find if we examine our thoughts and are open to it.

  36. By Joan Lowenstein
    January 6, 2009 at 12:08 am | permalink

    I have also asked the DDA staff to look into how much it would cost to have the DDA clear downtown sidewalks (after seeing that one little UM tractor-with-a-brush cleared a lot of territory). I’ll report back.

  37. January 6, 2009 at 1:59 am | permalink

    Thanks Joan ! You might take a look at what Bloomington, MN does:

    what Bloomington does

    “Park Maintenance is responsible for snow removal on over 250 miles of sidewalks throughout the city. We have five sidewalk snow removal units. Removal from a snowfall of 3-5 inches takes approximately four days to complete.”

    “Bloomington averages 40 inches of snow per year which results in 10 to 12 plowable snowfalls per year. ”

    ” Plowing all of Bloomington means clearing snow from:

    * 2,016 lane miles
    * 512 cul-de-sacs
    * 250 miles of sidewalks
    * 33 skating rinks
    * Every municipal building parking lot and walkway

    Average Cost per Household: $10.80 per year “

  38. January 6, 2009 at 9:16 am | permalink

    For a back of the envelope check/preview on the DDA analysis, let’s assuming that they’re working 12 hour days (so that overtime does not totally dominate the costs) so 4 days = 48 working hours.

    250 miles of sidewalk / 5 jeeps

    50 miles/jeep over 48 working hours = ~ 1 mile/jeep/hour

    Can anyone come up with a figure of how many miles of sidewalk Ann Arbor has?

  39. January 6, 2009 at 9:22 am | permalink

    Answered my own question:

    link to city website

    The City of Ann Arbor has over 100 miles of sidewalks, and Prevention Magazine recently named Ann Arbor the 3rd Best City for Walking in United States.

    Apparently, Ann Arbor has many fewer miles of sidewalk per capita than Bloomington (Population in July 2007: 81,446). This is puzzling … any one know the cities?

    So in theory, a team of five jeeps could have Ann Arbor’s 100 miles of sidewalks cleared within 2 working days of 12 hours each, or two dedicated jeeps could have the sidewalks cleared within 4 working days (which apparently is good enough for the citizens of Bloomington, latitude 44.84 vs. AA lat 42.27).

    Joan, I love doing back of the envelope estimates, comparing this with DDA’s results will be interesting!


  40. January 6, 2009 at 9:24 am | permalink

    Let’s say we go with 3 jeeps, so we always have at least two in service. 100 miles sidewalk / 36 miles cleared / working day, so if all jeeps healthy, the sidewalks would be cleared in 3 working days, probably enough to satisfy everyone on this thread.

  41. By Linda Diane Feldt
    January 6, 2009 at 9:37 am | permalink

    Your scenario would make things far worse I fear. If people stopped shoveling same day, waiting for the city to do it in 1-3 days, we could have snow covered walks for weeks at a time if it snowed every 2-4 days). And ice still needs to be cleared same day – as is required now. Because it is profoundly dangerous. I work helping people who have injuries and trauma. This time of year I see a number of people who have back spasms, bones dislocated, head injuries, and other problems from falling on ice. I have a friend who fell on ice a few years back on Hill Street, near the Friend’s Meeting House. He broke his hip. So that was 8 weeks taken from his life.

    I don’t think routine snow and ice removal can be reasonably turned over to the city. It is too important.

  42. January 6, 2009 at 1:23 pm | permalink

    Hi Linda,

    it’s not “my” scenario — I was just being helpful by working through the implications of theh numbers Ed provided for the city of BLoomington. I am not suggesting that we remove property owners from their current obligations.

    Sounds like what you are saying is that safety requires having all sidewalks cleared in way less than 4 days, maybe more like 1 day. This thread has established that the present system of delegating that duty to property owners via regulation and enforcing via ticket is not coming anywhere close to achieving 1 day clearing. We have learned it takes more than 1 working day just to get the city to even post a warning notice, and that issuing snow tickets is nowhere near as efficient in terms of time per ticket per community standards officer as issuing plain old parking tickets.

    So the bottom line is that either

    a) people have to voluntarily improve their own compliance with the law
    b) we have to add enough ticketing resources to change property owners’ behavior significantly or
    c) change the rules for issuing snow tickets so it’s easier to do or
    d) we have to add sidewalk clearing resources, either via the city or via the DDA or via private businesses.

    The city of Bloomington experiences suggests that we would need to add about ten jeep plows to clean 100 miles of sidewalk in 1 day. Doesn’t matter who operates them! If we restrict it to downtown and key locations like bus stops–say 20 miles total–we could get same-day turnaround with two jeeps.

    In fact, my view is that given the current economic situation we probably don’t have the money to buy new jeeps or hire new community standards officer. So we’re left with option a — attitude change — or option c — regulation change. The good thing about both those options is that they are free in dollar terms, they just require an effort of will.

    However, I have to say that I am skeptical that we will ever get anywhere close to 100% sidewalk clearing in 24 hours if we are relying on individual property owners. Maybe 80 or 90% is achievable. Next time there’s a big storm, maybe some of us could do a survey to establish a benchmark for current % of compliance.

  43. January 7, 2009 at 8:53 am | permalink

    This morning while driving my kids to and from Pioneer and Eberwhite then myself to the office near Jackson and Stadium I observed about 5 miles of sidewalk covered by 1″ of snow that must have fallen early this morning. i would say that no more than 5% of it was cleared; ironically, by far the best performers were downtown businesses (along S. Main) and apartment complexes.

  44. By Dave Askins
    January 7, 2009 at 9:17 am | permalink

    I had not looked outside before seeing comment [43]. So I suppose I need to head out briefly to avoid the whole pot and kettle issue.

  45. January 7, 2009 at 10:25 am | permalink

    The fire station across the street from me has cleared its driveway but not its sidewalks. Good one!

  46. January 7, 2009 at 2:29 pm | permalink

    I spoke at the DDA meeting today in the public comment section regarding sidewalk clearing. Here’s a version of my remarks.

    Clearing snow downtown [Editor's note: URL condensed to text link]

    Sidewalks are not promptly cleared after snow storms, to the detriment of pedestrians. In particular there is a dangerous part at the curb, where the property owner (who is responsible for the sidewalk) and the city (who is responsible for the street) share responsibility for the failure to clear the curb, resulting in huge puddles at corners.

  47. January 7, 2009 at 5:43 pm | permalink

    I surveyed ~ 4 miles of sidewalks at 5 pm today, after a 1″ potentially icy snowfall that began at 2 pm, running W along Jackson S on Seventh W on Pauline. I would say no more than 25% were shoveled. By far the best performers were the city (good job on the areas in front of Fritz Park and Slauson Middle School) and apartment complexes. I would say that no more than 1 out of 10 households had shoveled.

    To be sure, this is a very different situation from seeing downtown walks unshoveled days after a major snowfall, but it does help persuade me we really need to gather some more systematic data.

  48. January 7, 2009 at 9:35 pm | permalink

    I don’t worry as much about icy sidewalks with my yaktrax on – – much better traction for your feet on snow and ice. (My favorite holiday present this year, thanks John!)

    Here’s a recent innovation for salt spreading from Iowa (those thrifty, resourceful Iowans again)

    Ariens is referring to the invention of Sam Hipple, 13, and Matt Moran, 12, both of Davenport, Iowa. The boys, by combining a handheld fertilizer spreader, a bicycle brake handle and a couple of other odds and ends, created what they dubbed the “Mega Melter,” a salt-spreading attachment.

    Ariens heard about the invention, which was entered in the 2007 Invent Iowa competition. He was especially interested in the accessory because the boys attached their device to Sam Hipple’s parents’ Ariens brand snow thrower.

    Last month, Ariens Co. announced it had inked a deal with the boys to produce and distribute their invention. A patent is pending on the device and the boys will collect a royalty for every salt-spreading accessory Ariens sells.

  49. By Wendy Rampson
    January 9, 2009 at 10:00 am | permalink

    A correction is in order: the City of Ann Arbor has an estimated 400 miles of public sidewalks and 100 miles of public shared-use paths. These numbers will be refined as the city finishes up the last phase of the sidewalk inventory.

    As the webmaster of the city’s System Planning Unit webpage, I’ve updated the Quick Facts section of the Transportation Planning page ( to reflect these numbers. Our apologies for the confusion.

  50. January 9, 2009 at 10:15 am | permalink

    I wonder if the puddles at the curb are the responsibility of the city’s storm water division.

  51. January 9, 2009 at 11:03 am | permalink

    So Wendy’s info multiplies all my cost estimates by a factor of 5. Yikes!

  52. January 9, 2009 at 2:02 pm | permalink

    It still looks plausible if you do just the DDA area; I don’t know how many sidewalk-miles are in that district.

    Someone mentioned that the Cloverleaf does an exemplary job of clearing not only their sidewalk but also the snow from the curb and also the drain so that their corner is clear.

  53. By Steve Bean
    January 9, 2009 at 3:39 pm | permalink

    There was a puddle in front of the Cloverleaf yesterday and I cleared the snow away from the drain to get the water to flow into it instead of around the corner from Liberty to 4th.

  54. By Steve Bean
    January 9, 2009 at 4:34 pm | permalink

    That wasn’t meant as a jab at the Cloverleaf. They may have cleared it later. Rather, it was pointing to a clear example of how not plowing to the curb is resulting in an unanticipated problem: puddles formed due to snow-blocked storm drains.

  55. By Bob Dively
    January 11, 2009 at 11:13 pm | permalink

    It looks to me like the city did a much better job with snow removal after this weekend’s storm. All of the major streets on the west side of town seemed well-plowed. Downtown curb ramp clearance also seemed better.

  56. By Dave Askins
    January 12, 2009 at 3:13 pm | permalink

    Monday morning after the heavy Saturday snow, Liberty Street (a major east-west artery) was clear down to asphalt. The crumblies along the edges (i.e. bike lanes) are, I think, just about par for the course.

    One of the themes from Saturday’s budget retreat was the importance of communication about service delivery. The idea is that it’s one thing when the service delivery is bad, but it’s another when service delivery is actually okay, but communication about it is poor.

    Right now, Sue McCormick said, the snow plowing information page is manually updated by someone walking from the snow plowing “war room” at the Wheeler Center to another room to log the information for the website.

    So there is some communication about snow plowing activity now. But Councilmember Christopher Taylor sketched the vision of a possible communication system: GPS transmitters on plow trucks with real-time data displayed on a web map. To that I’d add: opt in automatic telephone notification: “A plow truck is currently at 7th and Liberty heading west.” Or whatever makes the most sense.

    It’s easy to take potshots at this sort of thing: does any of this help plow the actual snow? Well, no. But having information about progress makes a huge difference about how people feel about the quality of the service. With computing, think about the display bars that tell you how much of a file has been downloaded. We feel more content that, yep, something is happening. Or think about the ability to track a package sent by UPS or FedEx. Does knowing where it is help it get there faster? Nope. But it satisfies some need to know that, yes, it’s still on its way.

    In sum, communication like that about service delivery can improve perception about the quality of the service delivery, with no additional investment in its actual quality. It’s still a fair question to ask though, if we have X additional dollars to invest, do we invest it in communication about the service, or in the service itself.

  57. By Linda Diane Feldt
    January 12, 2009 at 5:08 pm | permalink

    Well, I e-mailed a couple of addresses to the community standards department on Sunday at 12:53 PM, about sidewalks being unshoveled. I got an e-mail this AM at 7:10 saying “Thank you, we’ll enforce a.s.a.p.” and signed by a person. Of course on a walk at 3:30 today they were mostly the same. No signs of enforcement.
    I do feel a bit better knowing that my message was viewed and considered. But the snow is still there.
    I’m one who greatly appreciates acknowledgement and progress reports. Love to track packages. Some people just want final results and that’s all. Takes all kinds.

  58. January 13, 2009 at 9:02 am | permalink

    Linda, I believe Dave’s point is that shared status information can create peer pressure which can be a) more effective and b) more cost-efficient than relying on a handful of busy community standard officers. I for one welcome our new mashup overlords.

  59. January 19, 2009 at 1:54 am | permalink

    In Stopped Watched I noted that the Kroger on Stadium & S Industrial had piled 6+ feet of snow onto the sidewalk from their clearing of the parking lot.

    I’ve made a few calls and sent a few letters and filled out a few web pages, and we’ll see which of those things gets a result.

    Fortunately, it’s easy to get the name and address of the CEO of a public company, and I assume that someone in that kind of role is good at delegating responsibility and seeing that things get done.

  60. January 19, 2009 at 3:25 pm | permalink

    Ah, yes, those magnificently efficient CEOS …

    I hate to say it, because I’m an orderly Germanic type, but I think by far the best way to put pressure on a public company is by embarrassing public demonstration, whether physical or virtual.

  61. By Matt H
    January 19, 2009 at 9:09 pm | permalink

    I called Community Standards on Friday for the 1200, 1100, 1000, and 800 blocks of Packard; they said they were working through 200-300 complaints.

  62. January 20, 2009 at 6:30 pm | permalink

    The bus stops along the 14 route between Industrial and Packard are almost entirely impassible. I would hate to try to get on the bus there as an able bodied individual, never mind if I were in a wheelchair.

  63. January 21, 2009 at 9:01 am | permalink

    The residential areas along S. Industrial always feel a bit neglected, which is odd considering that they’re on the same street as the AATA.

  64. By Matt H
    January 21, 2009 at 12:47 pm | permalink

    Called Community Standards again today about Packard. They said someone was out today (5 days later!) We’ll see if there’s a change tomorrow.

  65. By Rob Utterback
    January 21, 2009 at 8:46 pm | permalink

    Matt, five days is nothing! I first complained about the vacant lot between 509 and 529 S. Ashley (the former A & L site) back on Jan. 12. I complained again this past Monday. Meanwhile, the property owner has piled additional snow from the driveway onto the sidewalk (sidewalk still unshoveled). Last night I complained a third time and cc:ed my 5th Ward representatives, figuring such a tactic might prove effective. I was wrong. However, I did get a quick reply from Mike Anglin, who wondered if I’d be willing to serve on some future group dealing with the issue.