Don’t put city’s pilot program to clear sidewalk snow on ice

Inaccessible sidewalks after snowstorms force many vulnerable residents, such as those with disabilities and the elderly, to stay in their homes. A City Council committee will meet on the pilot program proposal this week.

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A person shovels snow on the sidewalk in the Edgewater neighborhood, Tuesday morning, Feb. 16, 2021, after a snowstorm dumped over a foot of snow in Chicago starting Sunday night. Snow is expected to continue to fall until Tuesday night. | Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

A person shovels snow on the sidewalk in the Edgewater neighborhood on Feb. 16, 2021.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

Here in Chicago, it may not feel like Christmas in July — but believe it or not, it’s time to start planning so we’re prepared for that first snowfall.

Nearly 600,000 Chicagoans are negatively impacted during yearly snowfalls due to unplowed sidewalks. As a result of inaccessible sidewalks, many of our more vulnerable residents are forced to stay in their homes and watch as the world around them passes by. They are unable to walk down their own block safely, to go to school or the corner store.

This problem disproportionately affects seniors, people with disabilities and parents with young children. Often the only way these individuals are able to participate in the local business ecosystem and help create revenue for the City of Chicago is by paying additional costs and fees to delivery apps such as DoorDash, Uber Eats or Amazon, to name a few. Current ableist policies and practices have shut many Chicagoans out of participating in every aspect of what our world-class city has to offer.

Quite simply, it is our responsibility to take care of people, maintain public safety, ensure equal access to transit and mobility for persons with disabilities and spur economic growth.

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My proposed solution to create a Plow the Sidewalks pilot program accomplishes that. Earlier this year, I introduced an ordinance to amend our municipal code so that the city will plow targeted zones. The level of need would be determined by appropriate departments based on certain criteria.

Simultaneously, the city can use this pilot program to collect data in order to study the effects of this program on the targeted zones. Other cities, including Toronto and Syracuse, have already developed successful plowing programs that we intend to mirror. Currently, my ordinance has 23 co-sponsors and has been referred to the Committee on Pedestrian and Traffic Safety, which meets this week.

For context, Chicago Public Schools currently plows 30 million square feet of sidewalks, and Special Service Areas across the city plow their sidewalks in order for customers to support small businesses and participate in their local economy. That leaves the city with roughly 180 million square feet of unplowed sidewalks. At the approximate rate of half a penny to a penny per square foot to plow the sidewalks, this is an affordable and essential step for the city to take.

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Furthermore, this pilot program will create many entry-level positions targeted to our city’s youth, another population often overlooked.

Ultimately, the cost to run a Plow the Sidewalk pilot program will be self-sufficient. Those who have not been able to utilize sidewalks and participate in the economy during winter months will now have access to their local grocery stores, dry cleaners and restaurants, creating additional economic benefits safely without risk of slipping and falling. As a world class city, we need to ensure that our residents and visitors can navigate safely every month of the year. The city must act with urgency to ensure that we allow all people to participate and enjoy everything Chicago has to offer. It’s time the city plows the sidewalks and ensures everyone can participate in our local economy at no additional cost.

I encourage anyone who believes this would be helpful in their community to contact your alderperson before the full City Council votes on the pilot program on July 19 and urge my colleagues to join me in creating a safer, more prosperous Chicago.

Ald. Gilbert “Gil” Villegas represents the 36th Ward.

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