Advocates for people with disabilities ask city to plow sidewalks

Ald. Gilbert Villegas (36th) plans to introduce an ordinance to launch a pilot for the city to plow sidewalks to help those with mobility issues and disabilities.

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A person walks on North Greenview Avenue near West Howard Street in Rogers Park on the North Side as several inches of snow fall across Chicago, Wednesday morning, Feb. 2, 2022.

Mobility advocates and Ald. Gilbert Villegas are behind an ordinance that would require the city to plow sidewalks of snow to help those with mobility issues.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Mobility advocacy groups are calling for the city to take on the responsibility of clearing sidewalks of snow. Advocates say it would help those with disabilities navigate sidewalks during winter months.

The issue has now gained support from a Northwest Side alderperson, who is preparing to introduce an ordinance this month that would establish a pilot program.

“There is a huge mobility issue here where people with disabilities can slip and fall, or motorized wheelchairs can get stuck, or they have to go onto the street with cars driving by,” said Kyle Lucas, co-founder of Better Streets Chicago, a transit advocacy group promoting safe streets.

“There are also people with limited vision or who use a white cane, and they won’t be able to feel the curb because snow is covering it. The sidewalks can be very dangerous for some when it snows,” Lucas said.

Lucas said the pilot was estimated to cost $750,000 to pay for staffing, materials, equipment and an impact study.

Advocates hope to test the program in 15 zones before it’s implemented citywide. Each zone is about 2.5 square miles, consisting of business corridors and residential streets.

Property owners are responsible for removing snow and ice from any public sidewalks near their property. Those who don’t shovel their sidewalks can face fines from $50 to $500.

But Lucas said the punitive approach has had little success in ensuring that sidewalks are cleared of snow.

“There are also a lot of valid reasons why people aren’t shoveling when it snows,” Lucas said, “like a homeowner may be out of town when it snows, or the homeowner is a senior or disabled.”

Other cities across the country have implemented similar programs, including Wilmette and Forest Park, according to Access Living.

Ald. Gilbert Villegas (36th) said Chicago is a “world-class city” and there isn’t a reason why sidewalk snow removal couldn’t be implemented here.

“Just looking at the data, there are over 330,000 seniors in Chicago, 170,000 people with mobility issues and 70,000 residents with blindness,” Villegas said. “This feels like something we should at least try, given the fact other municipalities are already providing this service.”

Villegas said he was working with his team and advocacy groups to develop an ordinance that he plans to introduce this month. It will serve as a litmus test for the program for which he is sure to find allies on the City Council.

“A pilot is very important, as it allows us to identify challenging areas to focus on, and while $750,000 is what is being proposed, we still need to really flesh out the overall cost of things,” Villegas said. “I envision us working with Streets and Sanitation and the Chicago Department of Transportation to determine where the best place would be to do this type of pilot.”

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