We can learn a lot from snow. I had a lot of thoughts as I drove around during and after our instant winter (text is above photos).

This is Grand Avenue on Wednesday afternoon. Kind of a two mile long sneckdown. That’s almost 9′ width from the first car to clear asphalt and everywhere was over 6′. On each side. Yes, I think there might be room to reclaim a bit of Grand Avenue for people.


In a very brief drive through Roseville to lunch I counted 9 people walking in the street like this guy. There’s a sidewalk buried under the results of a snow plow next to him. If no snow plows had come along the sidewalk would have been quite useable as we didn’t get that much snow here. So, the sidewalk is made unusable for people so that cars have a clear road and then to add a bit of insult, Roseville doesn’t come behind the snowplows to clear their sidewalks of the detritus that their snowplows dumped on them.


Shoreview giveth and Ramsey County taketh away. Shoreview does a pretty decent job of clearing all of the city’s paths. There’s a reason we’re moving there. Unfortunately some plow operators (and some private residential driveway plow operators) undo it.


Like Roseville, Vadnais Heights is kind of slow. Yep, there’s a sidewalk underneath all of that.


And so is Ramsey County.


And this, mostly for some color. Utility trucks once considered these paths their private access. They’re all now doing a much better job of keeping the paths relatively clear.


Walker Angell

About Walker Angell

Walker Angell is a writer who focuses mostly on social and cultural comparisons of the U.S. and Europe. He occasionally blogs at, a blog focused on everyday bicycling and local infrastructure for people who don’t have a chamois in their shorts. And on twitter @LocalMileMN

23 thoughts on “Snowlessons

  1. Matt SteeleMatt Steele

    Those suburban streetscapes are so desolate compared to Grand Ave and even Roseville. It’s great that burbs provide MUPs and that some of them remove snow well, but we aren’t giving people a reason to be there in the first place.

  2. Matt Brillhart

    Anyone have data (or anecdata) on which suburbs do and do not plow sidewalks? As everyone knows, sidewalk snow clearance is the responsibility of property owners in Minneapolis and St. Paul. Richfield has a fairly limited sidewalk network, basically not expanding (though soon to widened along county roads), and the city clears all sidewalks and paths.

    What about places like Edina or St. Louis Park, etc. that also have partial sidewalk networks but seem to be expanding them? Is snow clearance public or private? Columbia Heights has perhaps the most robust sidewalk network in the first-ring, my intuition would be that sidewalk clearance is done privately there. What about the streetcar suburbs like Hopkins and Robbinsdale that have always had sidewalks in their older residential ‘hoods?

    Let’s hear it inner-ring! How is snow clearance done in your municipality?

    1. Joseph TottenJoseph Totten

      Edina clears all major roadways (MSA and CSAH) and the active routes to school sidewalks. But this depends on the funding stream to first construct the sidewalk, which gets confusing when some school routes are built as city sidewalk because the ARTS didn’t have the funding soon enough, or etc.

  3. Ben Franske

    Edina officially has an ordinance that residents must clear sidewalks but the city has traditionally cleared sidewalks, at least along the larger roads (Tracy/Vernon/Valley View/Gleason/etc.) and near schools. I’m not sure if the city does the neighborhood sidewalks in the country club area or some of the newer neighborhood sidewalks as the network is being expanded.

    It may be worth noting that though the city does many of the sidewalks it’s usually done after the snow stops falling (the next day perhaps) so in a significant snowfall there is some period when the roads are cleared but sidewalks are not yet.

    1. Rosa

      and in some cases – i say this as a homeowner who failed miserably at sidewalk clearing this week – early snowfalls like this, if you don’t clear early and often then there’s just solid ice there and it’s not going away easily.

      That’s also the main issue with the snowplow blockages – a lot of times it’s not a pile of shovel-able snow, it’s mostly slush that freezes rock hard.

  4. Wayne

    The Minneapolis/St Paul method of having residents responsible really does not work. Everywhere I walk people have shirked their responsibility or done an extremely half-assed job. There’s already plenty of blocks with ice slicks developing where a sidewalk once was.

    Even with that recent MPR story about the fines from last year, I don’t think the city has the resources to actually enforce it in any reasonable manner. Is it maybe time to just go ahead and have a yearly assessment based on sidewalk frontage and use the money to hire crews to actually shovel/plow sidewalks and make sure it’s done right? People obviously can’t be trusted to do it on their own, and the current system of maybe-fines-after-several-weeks-of-complaints-and-warnings isn’t working. Even the city obviously doesn’t plow sidewalks it’s supposed to, like several greenway overpasses (unless these are somehow someone else’s responsibility?).

    I’m kind of amazed there hasn’t ever been an ADA lawsuit about the completely impassable (by anyone with limited mobility) corners that develop at nearly every intersection every winter. Someone could point to a lack of enforcement to make a case that the city policy is negligent and renders most locations impossible to get to for anyone other than the very able-bodied. Is anyone aware of any ADA-related challenges to city snow clearing policies anywhere in the country?

    1. brad

      One thing I noticed being done last year (for the first time, as far as I remember) was an effort by Minneapolis to clear out the sidewalk corners with Bobcats. Not sure if anyone has more info on that–was it a one-time thing? limited to certain parts of the city? As a frequent bus commuter, it was nice not to have to scale minor mountains of snow at each intersection! (not to mention the accessibility issues brought up by Wayne)

      1. Ben

        I think that is done on an as-needed basis. I have seen the city use bobcats to clear those corners out before (in years other than last year). The snow just kept building up last year with no melting during the winter.

    2. Rosa

      Itotally agree with you about the ADA stuff – there’s a reason you see people riding wheelchairs in the street all winter.

      But as to the half-assedness – relying on (widely variable) homeowner ability is just setting neighborhoods up for failure. I’m moderately committed to snow removal and able-bodied, but every winter the sidewalks eventually defeat us. I have a neighbor who is way more committed to me but who ends up injured by shoveling at some point every winter, and then their bus-stop corner gets dangerous.

      By 7 am the second morning of the snow last week, after shoveling 2x the previous day, the snow on our sidewalks had been walked into ice. I probably could have chopped it in a few hours that morning before it set solid, but I had stuff scheduled to do all day – and by the time I got back in the evening, the ice slick was set. We’ve been chipping away at it ever since but it’s terrible anyway.

      And of course (we’re on a corner) when the city plows, they come along and make the ridges the block the curb cuts & alley edges, often right after we just shoveled them away. What we really need is a system like in Calgary and Vancouver where we pay more taxes and the city takes care of the sidewalks.

  5. Keith Morris

    It’s hit or miss in Roseville where I work and factor in that just about every other block has no sidewalk: suburbs are dumb.

    In the cities motorists still run reds on left turns with up to five vehicles: all pretending driving conditions are the same. I think some streets should be converted to bike-only in winter.

  6. Walker AngellWalker Angell Post author

    Thursday afternoon update. Shoreview have plowed the paths again so they are clear. However, my neighbor was going to ride down Lexington to Green Mill for lunch and found the once cleared path too clogged with snow plow detritus to be safe and so turned home (and ate at Paninos instead).

    Roseville seems to have plowed about half of their sidewalks including the one in the photo above.

  7. Matty LangMatty Lang

    Wayne makes a great point in regards to ADA compliance. However, it shouldn’t need to be only an ADA violation in order to be unsatisfied about current practices employed by, most likely, every jurisdiction in MN.

    I live close to Snelling Avenue (north of University) in Saint Paul, thus have a regular need to cross it. I have no physical disabilities, however, crossing Snelling at the most un-signalized intersections presents undue challenges, even to my able bodied person.

    The “curb cuts” on the medians at the un-signalized intersections are more a half curb than a cut which requires special care with a cargo or regular bike and (I can imagine) are a huge challenge for people in wheel chairs or people walking while being visually impaired.

    Adding to this design failure, the medians along Snelling certainly do not have the crosswalk areas plowed. Rather, the cross walks act as extra snow storage space throughout the winter leaving these intersections, in essence, unusable for people biking, people walking, and people with physical disabilities.

    1. Joseph TottenJoseph Totten

      So with the continuing curb in curb cuts, could we get a photo? I’m not picking up what you’re putting down… Is it like a bump right at the gutter line that’s significant? How significant (in centimeters? Inches?) ? Is it more like a driveway than a similar ped ramp at an intersection?

      1. Matty LangMatty Lang

        I don’t have a photo, but maybe I can go out there with an ice chopper to chisel away at it this weekend to get a photo.

        I would describe these median curb cuts as halfway attempts at creating a curb cut. They are roughly 1/2 the height of the full median. It’s laughable. It’s worse than a driveway. My estimate is a three inch bump.

      2. Wayne

        Check google street view at Snelling & Van Buren. I’m pretty sure that’s what he’s talking about. I can see how a lack of shoveling would make that (already dangerous) crossing into a nightmare deathtrap.

  8. Walker AngellWalker Angell Post author

    There’s an article in The Highland Villager this week about St Paul requiring property owners to clear snow from corners. It seems to me that most of what is piled up on the corners comes from snowplows.

    Is St Paul really saying, we’re going to plow the snow from the streets on to the sidewalks and then you dear citizens are responsible for taking it from there?

    1. Monte Castleman

      Bloomington clears what few sidewalks they have with city-owned equipment. It really does blow my mind that some cities force private citizens to maintain city property- do you have to patch a pothole if there’s one in front of your house also or replace a bulb that’s out in a city streetlight in your yard?

      1. brad

        I guess I grew up shoveling my own (and neighbors’) sidewalks, so that doesn’t seem so bad. Probably helps that lots–and therefore sidewalk lengths–tend to be smaller in the city than suburbs. Plus, with alleys, there’s less driveway to have to shovel.

        Speaking of alleys, in St Paul people have to directly pay for alley plowing. I have a friend who has to go around and collect from her neighbors.

        1. Rosa

          were you shoveling a lot last winter? There were days when I was out re-shoveling our curb cuts 2 or 3 times a day. And eventually it was just a goat path anyway, because if I missed doing it right away it became just about impossible without heavy equipment.

          Then in the spring when we get warm days, we’re out chopping the ice off the storm drains so there isn’t just a flat lake of meltwater that turns into an ice rink at night. Because the plows make an ice pack at the curb and in the gutter over time.

        2. Rosa

          The other difference between an actually used sidewalk and those giant suburban driveways is, people are using the sidewalk. I could get this sucker clear pretty easily if it weren’t stamped down before I even get out of the house in the morning – but then it wouldn’t really matter, because nobody would be using it.

  9. Betsey BuckheitBetsey Buckheit

    I’d love to know about cities which clear sidewalks and whether there’s a case to be made for Northfield to do so. When Northfield considers retrofitting street with sidewalks, the responsibility for shoveling snow is one of the biggest objections by property owners. And while Northfield has been named #1 place to retire by Money Magazine, climbing over the mountains at corners (yes, deposited there by the city plows) and traversing the lots where snow hasn’t been cleared start seeming more perilous the older I get and make my otherwise very walkable neighborhood only a 3 season benefit.

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