“We see the sidewalk as a transportation corridor.” This is the motto of SnowBuddy, a nonprofit organization that removes the snow from all the sidewalks in the Water Hill neighborhood.
I live in the tiny sliver of Water Hill that is in Ward 1, and I have found that SnowBuddy has improved my life immensely in the few years it’s been in operation.
In Ann Arbor, individual homeowners are responsible for removing the snow from their own sidewalks. In most neighborhoods, the result is that many people remove the snow in a timely fashion, and many people do not. However, if even one person fails to remove their snow in a timely fashion, that’s all it takes for the entire street’s worth of sidewalk to become impassible to a person in a wheelchair or walker, or a person pushing a cart. I have a friend who uses a walker and can’t afford to own car. They are trapped in their house all winter, entirely dependent upon friends to get around. Even for a person who can walk down the street without assistance, a sidewalk that has not been cleared can be a dangerous obstacle.
SnowBuddy is great for us in my neighborhood. But what about everybody else? It is not reasonable to expect volunteers and charity-minded individuals to clear everybody’s sidewalks in the city. It is not reasonable to say to people with mobility problems: “You are out of luck”.
Instead, sidewalk snow removal is a service that should be taken on by the city. Why should the city have the responsibility to clear the roads for the benefit of people who own cars, but not have the responsibility to clear the sidewalks for the benefit of people who own feet?
I talked with some of the members of SnowBuddy’s board of directors - Robbin Pott and Lisa Brush. They said that it has been SnowBuddy’s plan all along to serve as a model. Over the past couple of years, they have been meeting with city officials to come up with a plan of how the city could take on this responsibility.
The current iteration of he plan is to have nodes throughout the city, where the snow removal tractors are housed. The city will ask for snow removal companies to bid on the contract to remove the snow in a particular area. With nodes spread throughout the city, the snow removal can be swift and responsive. We won’t have to wait for the tractors to drive all the way from the central station, as we do with road snow removal.
I am excited that people are doing this work. I appreciate that the time is being taken to come up with a plan that is workable.
If the city takes on this responsibility, as it should, then all residents of Ann Arbor will have the opportunity to move about the city safely and comfortably, all year round.