City seeks improvement on snow removal procedures

On January 17, 2018, in Latest News, by The Somerville Times

Many residents have complained that city snow plows have piled snow onto already shoveled sidewalks and driveways, leaving some – such as the elderly and disabled – unable to cope with the situation as it stands.

By Jim Clark

The City of Somerville Board of Aldermen addressed several issues related to snow removal at its most recent regular meeting last Thursday.

An order sponsored by Ward Five Alderman Mark Niedergang and Alderman At-Large Wilfred N. Mbah asked for the Commissioner of Public Works deploy a shoveling crew after major snowstorms to shovel out the sidewalks of elderly and disabled residents that get buried by city snow plows, and that the Director of Health and Human Services and the Director of Communications work together to register such residents so they can contact 311 to get their sidewalks re-shoveled after they have been buried by snow plows.

On the matter, Niedergand told the Board, “The problem that I think we’re all aware of is that in this last snow storm, and also in previous years, residents have been told to go out and shovel quickly – in this case because it was going to get very cold – and many of them did. They shoveled Thursday evening, late, after the snow stopped. And then the plows continued to plow snow, and in many cases on a number of streets in my ward the plows had shoveled up and over onto the sidewalk, and when they woke up the next morning there was even more snow than when they had shoveled the previous evening.”

Niedergang went on to point out that some of the affected residents are elderly or disabled, and that they may have made arrangements to have someone shovel for them – either a neighbor or someone they have paid – but then they would have to do it again.

“They are understandably upset,” said Niedergang, “There has been a lot of back and forth with the administration about this and this particular response with this snow storm, but the reason I filed the order was because I feel that if this is going to happen able-bodied people can shovel a second time. But elderly and disabled people simply cannot.”

Niedergang said that if the city is going to plow over people’s sidewalks that it should mitigate that damage and put in place some kind of program where people can sign up to have somebody shovel them out, if they “have been buried” by city snow plows.

Additional related orders submitted to the Board included a request that the Director of Communications coordinate the messaging about when to shovel with the Commissioner of Public Works so that residents are not told to shovel their sidewalks when snow plows are still plowing snow over curbs and burying sidewalks.

Also, and order was put forward asking the Commissioner of Public Works report to this Board why snow plows cannot go at a slower speed to avoid throwing snow over curbs and onto sidewalks.


19 Responses to “City seeks improvement on snow removal procedures”

  1. Not just the city says:

    It’s not just the city that does things like this it’s the private contractors they hire. I walk along Washington st. everyday and after the blizzard I walked from sullivan square T stop to Union square when two trucks from carli fence buried the already shoveled sidewalk with snow again. The city needs to tell this company to slow down when plowing. You can’t tell people they have to shovel the walks and then bury them again after they’re shoveled.

  2. LindaS says:

    I really hope that this issue can be solved once and for all. It’s been going on for years now.

    It’s not fair for even able-bodied people to have to go out and re-shovel a walk they already did, especially after severe snowstorms. In many cases it takes more than an hour’s worth of work to clear snow.

    The City is getting this labor done for free by saying it’s the responsibility of residents to clear sidewalks that are owned by the City and not by them. Can you imagine how much money it would cost to have this work done by a service?

    It’s simply not fair to put the burden on residents by telling them they must clear sidewalks within a certain time frame and to a certain requirement to avoid a fine, only to have plows undo the work.

    After the last recent storm, the plows threw so much snow onto the sidewalk that it went right up to my front gate, and so there was over two feet of snow blocking entry to both the front gate and the yard. Imagine if there were a medical issue or a fire and no way to get out or into my home.

    I have been fortunate enough this winter to have a neighbor that was kind enough to clean my sidewalk, but I have gone back and forth over several years with Alderman Neidergang about this issue. While he has been very helpful in trying to mitigate the situation, nothing yet has been done to a satisfactory extent by the DPW. Every time there is a storm due I have to send an e-mail reminding them of my situation, and even then nothing seems to be done.

    Perhaps if the City provided tax reductions for residents to cover their labor costs in clearing sidewalks it would be easier to bear, but as it stands we are risking our health and sanity in being forced to clear sidewalks more than once due to the inconsideration of plow drivers who ARE getting paid for their work and can sit in a warm truck with no regard for those of us who have to repeatedly go out into the cold.

    If this situation cannot improve, then perhaps they should not fine residents for not clearing sidewalks if they can prove they have done them at least once before the plows have covered them over again; or loosen the time frame to give us at least 24 hours to clear snow after plows have come by for the last run.

    It just seems that the City’s priority is to keep the roads clear, but in doing so they forget that people need to be able to get out to the streets, and after severe storms it seems next to impossible when we are barricaded in by plowed snow.

    Maybe if they didn’t plow as close to the curb as possible, but leave at least a foot or two of room from the curb, it will lessen the issue. During snow emergencies cars can’t park on that side anyway, so more snow can be piled up on that side of the street without creating a problem.

    In any case, I hope that this issue can be addressed to some kind of satisfactory conclusion. Residents need to feel we can be heard and not have to worry every time there is a snowstorm that we will not be able to get out of our homes during an emergency.

  3. Annie says:

    Linda, I totally agree. You would be the perfect person to test the right of the city to require residents to clear sidewalks belonging to the city. Other than when covered by snow we have no rights to do anything to a sidewalk other than walk on them. The city is not fulfilling their responsibility to fix them, as you can see by the many sidewalks that are uprooted to a 90 degree angle and totally unpassable as well as dangerous. I clear my sidewalks only so I can come and go safely. If you receive a ticket and have the time and energy to fight it in court you would have to win. Many snowstorms I’ve cleared my sidewalk then looked around at the ‘city-owned’ sidewalks around parks and schools which are sometimes left unattended for days, and I don’t think they are ever salted for ice. What about the businesses? Many of them don’t clear sidewalks, but everything always falls back onto the residents, maybe because they are easy targets.

  4. billy says:

    First place they shovel right after a snowstorm or during with full force is the hockey rink . last time I counted about 10-15 workers and 3-4 plows and snow blowers. they push all the snow from the rink turn around right in front of the house that’s across from rink covering the driveway. the mound is huge then the owner of the house gets stuck digging out. Carlli Fence is terrible they need to slow down and not throw all the snow onto shoveled sidewalks. I remember one time when I was shoveling the sidewalk I noticed that the Carli fence worker kept driving around the block but wouldn’t put his plow down then once I went inside I watched him come around the corner at full speed and throw all the snow back on my side walk.

  5. Matt C says:

    If you want more services, be willing and able to pay for them. This stuff doesn’t come for free.

  6. #thanksnothanks says:

    Thanks for the tip, Matt C, but I already pay for the maintenance of the roads and public ways as well as for public safety, which includes snow and ice removal. I pay for them through state and city taxes, property taxes, excise taxes, residential parking permits, and guest parking permits, along with all of the other miscellaneous fees collected by the city. It’s not our fault if the Mayor chooses to spend that money frivolously on street festivals, road races, developers, etc.

  7. Matt c says:

    I’ve never heard of a town or city in the state that plows residential sidewalks… I’d love to know who does and what the pay in property tax.

  8. Jim G. says:

    The point is being missed. We’re not debating whether residents are responsible for clearing sidewalks, we’re calling out the city and private contractors for slopping snow back onto sidewalks while plowing and not taking responsibility for it. This is wrong.

  9. Genie Geronimo says:

    If by “back onto sidewalks” you mean you put your sidewalk snow on the street to begin with then you should be ticketed. But for a 36” wide access path all the street snow should be ON the sidewalk if the city is doing its job properly. That way people can walk on sidewalks and cars can park safely.

  10. BMac says:

    “If by “back onto sidewalks” you mean you put your sidewalk snow on the street to begin with then you should be ticketed. But for a 36” wide access path all the street snow should be ON the sidewalk if the city is doing its job properly. That way people can walk on sidewalks and cars can park safely.”

    The problem is you can only stack it so high.

    On some of the side streets, the sidewalks barely make the 36″ with out snow. So, of all the snow from the street is pushed over the curb and onto the sidewalk, there is no way you can pile it in such a way to get a 36″ path and not have some of it spill back into the street.

    I do not throw snow from my sidewalk back into the street, but at some point, the pile needs a wider base and part of that is going to be snow that is on the street side if I am going to keep the minimum path open on the sidewalk.

    As for no town removing snow from sidewalks, several do. This is from Winchester’s DPW site.

    After a storm: Please be aware that it takes approximately four to six hours to complete snow removal operations even after the snow has stopped. Salting may continue as needed. Once the storm tapers off and more vehicles become available, the DPW then proceeds with plowing schools, parking lots, and train station lots. Plows will continue to clean and widen roadways and sidewalks. Please keep in mind it may take 24-48 hours after the storm to complete all sidewalks in Town, with the priority being school routes, the Town Center, and then the remainder of sidewalk routes. The last item of plowing is to push back the edges which widens the road and allows for future snow storage. We apologize for any snow this may place into driveways that may have already been cleared.

  11. MarketMan says:

    Matt C: There are places that do that. Maybe not in MA though. In any case, it would be cheaper and safer and more consistent for everyone to pay into a fund that clears all sidewalks. Imagine if we expected each resident to clear the road section in front of them.

  12. BMac says:

    Anyone think Amazon would spring for solar powered heated sidewalks that would charge your phone while you walk?

  13. Matt C says:

    Marketman – put together a ballot initiative – I’m sure it would pass

  14. The problem says:

    Implementing this is tough and I speak from experience. If a senior citizen has family living there, in their unit or separate do we pay someone to shovel? Their family can take care of it. Being old doesn’t mean you have no money, So what criteria are we using? If your grandchildren live upstairs free, etc. Not as easy as it sounds

  15. but is it says:

    Currently every property owner in the city is required to shovel the sidewalks surrounding their property. They can either do it themselves, pay someone to do it or, petition the city for assistance. If you ask the city for assistance you should be willing to present proof that you cannot afford to pay someone. If you are unwilling to present your previous years tax filing or something similar – I have no remorse for denying you city services intended for those who cannot afford it.

    While there will be some that cheat the system, the majority will be honest.

  16. ritepride says:

    #thanksnothanks is correct. Snow comes every year Some years snow storms are bad, other years average or below average. Any monies not used for snow removal that fiscal year should be frozen and placed in an account to assist in snow removal in future years.

    Perhaps we should be looking into brine or beet juice solutions made available to the residents to spray on their sidewalks at the start & when needed, to help reduce the amount of snow on their walks.

  17. Not just the city says:

    The idea of the city plowing all the sidewalks is unworkable from a logistics and expense standpoint. However they can and should be much more active regarding the main street sidewalks. It is reasonable for them to be done by or at least partially done by the city. The dpw has spent a great deal of money on equipment for clearing snow on the streets in this administration but it looks like very little on the sidewalks judging form the results of the last ten years. They have done a better job with bus stops so I give them that.

    Here’s what they could do for starters, clear the main street sidewalks on streets such as Highland ave, Somerville ave, Broadway and Washington street.

    If the city was responsible for clearing these walks it wouldn’t tolerate their subcontractors plowing them in at dangerous speeds (see my first post about Carli fence) particularly AFTER they cleared them.

  18. Old Taxpayer says:

    I know in NH where my brother lives the sidewalks are done by the city. And very well too. They only come down once after the storm. I don’t know the cost of this but it is a fairly good size city. This city as I remember never allows enough money for snow removal. It usually runs out after the first couple of storms then they go looking for it somewhere else.

  19. The problem says:

    As someone said some years we get whacked by snow. Other years, nothing. Question is what happens to the snow funds when we get no snow? Answer:it gets spent. Departments NEVER return money that’s been budgeted to them. It legally could be carried over, but that’s no fun.

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