chicago politics

Mayor Johnson's newly unveiled sidewalk snow removal pilot met with some City Council resistance

Sidewalks would be cleared whenever “two inches or more” of snow and ice accumulate over a 24-hour period for a maximum of seven snow events or a one year period

Chicago sidewalks would be cleared of snow and ice in four zones whenever “two inches or more” accumulate within a 24-hour period, under a pilot program unveiled Friday that one alderperson called a slippery slope and a costly mistake.

A report mandated by the City Council and released Friday recommends that the sidewalk snow removal experiment start in four pilot areas, each of them 1.5 square miles.

The West Side Zone would include Belmont Cragin and Mayor Brandon Johnson’s Austin neighborhood. The Southwest Side Zone would include Brighton Park and Gage Park. Englewood would dominate the South Side Zone. And sidewalks in Uptown and Lincoln Square would be cleared on the North Side.

The four zones would be divvied up between city crews and private contractors after a public bidding process. Sidewalks would be cleared whenever “two inches or more” of snow and ice accumulate over a 24-hour period for a maximum of seven snow events or a one year period, “whichever comes first.”

The city would “prioritize the use of multi-purpose tractors” and use “equipment and materials that minimize noise disruptions and environmental risks.” Snow and ice would be removed from sidewalks “in a way that does not obstruct pedestrian or vehicle traffic or access to emergency access points or other infrastructure.”

Ald. Marty Quinn (13th) provides sidewalk snow removal to 760 homes for senior citizens in his Southwest Side ward and knows firsthand how costly it can be.

To “do it right” citywide would require at least 750 pieces of equipment and 2,300 operators, Quinn said. And once the city creates the political expectation that sidewalks will be cleared of snow and ice, it would be virtually impossible to take the service away, Quinn said.

“It’s a huge undertaking that’s going to cost millions of dollars. And even then, I don’t know if it can be perfected,” Quinn said.

For now at least, Chicago will start small, beginning some time next year, at a cost of up to $3.5 million.

Economic Development Committee Chair Ald. Gilbert Villegas (36th) has been the driving force behind sidewalk snow removal in Chicago.

Villegas welcomed the mayor’s decision to start small to work out the kinks. He flatly denied that the new service would saddle beleaguered Chicago taxpayers with costs they can’t afford.

Villegas noted that Toronto has been clearing its sidewalks at city expense for a decade.

“As a world-class city, we need to have the infrastructure in place to allow for people that have disabilities, seniors and young families with strollers the ability to walk to the corner store in a way that’s not presenting a barrier,” Villegas said.

“Once we get this service in place over the course of a few years,” Villegas added, “we’ll be saying, `Man, you should have done this a long time ago.’“

Chicago politics and snow removal have been inextricably linked since the Blizzard of `79 buried then-Mayor Michael Bilandic. Ever since then, mayors and alderpersons have lived in fear of snow.

Copyright CHIST - SunTimes
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