Mobility in the Season of Snow and Shoveling

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By Hilary Reeves, Communications Director

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man-shoveling-snowy-minneapolis-sidewalkThe sun is getting warmer, but the temperatures and the weather are not. Having just dug out from the most recent dump of snow, it’s discouraging to remember that March can be a very snowy month around here.

So, while we’re dreaming of spring, it’s still essential to buck up some enthusiasm for shoveling and to remember that impassable sidewalks directly affect the ability of all pedestrians, and especially people using a wheel chair or with other disabilities, to get around. Snowy conditions at transit stops have a significant impact on mobility throughout winter months as well.

Metro Transit priorities for snow removal

Metro Transit tracks the transit stops with highest use by people with disabilities. These locations are #3 on their priority list for snow removal. The first priority Metro Transit has after a snow is to clear the places where buses and trains are parked, so they can get out into service. Next comes the places with the highest passenger activity—rail stations, transit centers, park & ride lots. Sometimes these are done in two stages, a first pass to get a path opened up and a second pass later to fully clear the snow. So, then the third priority is locations with high use by persons with disabilities.

Next up (#4 on the priority list) are the 700 customer waiting shelters Metro Transit owns throughout the seven-county metro area. Not all shelters are owned by Metro Transit. Recently, the City of Minneapolis ended its contract with CBS Outdoor to manage and sell advertising on nearly 180 bus shelters, in part because of poor maintenance of the shelters. Minneapolis is expected to shift management of these shelters to Metro Transit in early March.

Who clears bus stops?

snowy-bus-stop-at-park-and-46th-in-south-minneapolisThere are nearly 15,000 transit stops throughout the metro. With its limited staff, Metro Transit is not able to clear snow from each of these locations and relies on municipalities to clear bus stops without shelters. Some municipalities use their crews for some of this work and/or have city ordinances that require property owners to do so.

The City of Minneapolis Pedestrian Master Plan states, “City crews are responsible for snow and ice clearance at crosswalks, sidewalks on bridges, pedestrian refuge islands, and bus stops without shelters.” The City of Saint Paul is less explicit, making it unclear who is truly responsible for shoveling regular bus stops (and fire hydrants, for that matter). An excerpt from the City of Saint Paul’s website offers:

Q: Whose responsibility is it to shovel out and clear the bus shelters and stops?

A: According to Metro Transit if the bus shelter does not have advertisements in them call Metro Transit at 612-373-3333 press “0” and ask the receptionist to be connected to Shelter Maintenance. If the Shelter does have advertisements contact CBS Outdoor at 952-920-7657. City crews do their best to supplement as time allows to support Metro Transit and CBS Outdoor.

The fact that this is unclear affects the basic ability to get around for people with disabilities and seniors, especially. We have long winters here, so ignoring this is not realistic.

As Shaun Murphy, the out-going bike/ped coordinator for the City of Minneapolis, noted recently,snow removal is one of the biggest unsolved problems facing pedestrians.

What to do? Two things: push your elected officials to ensure basic mobility during winter, and pitch in yourself to clear the bus stops and sidewalks near your home or business.

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Shoveling along University Avenue W in Saint Paul.