Shoveling is Hard Work

I walked to the grocery store on Sunday, pushing the jogging stroller all the way. I’m an able-bodied person and one of the things I like about taking the kid for a walk is that I get a greater appreciation for how others see the city: if you are mobility challenged, the winters must be full of challenges and frustrations, particularly when you hit ice and snow drifts along your way.

I’m lucky. I have a jogging stroller with big wheels and I can push the thing over the snow drifts at the crosswalk, and ease it gently over the several inches of snow that someone “forgot” to shovel, and that by now has become compacted or icy. Of course, if you’re in a wheelchair or just a little unsteady on your feet it’s harder. The frustration is that most people do a decent job of shoveling. But if even 5% of households do a bad job shoveling it can have a significant impact on mobility by making the route longer or even impassable.

In the space of a couple of blocks on Franklin all the benefits and problems of Minneapolis’ system of clearing sidewalks became clear.

Good and bad shovelers, side by side.

Good and bad shovelers, side by side.

Right at 31st and Franklin are the offices of Close Architects who always do a fantastic job shoveling and keeping their sidewalk clear. The residences immediately to their east are terrible, not just this winter, but every winter, all the way to the Franklin Avenue bridge. To be sure it’s a reasonably busy stretch of sidewalk and it’s north facing, so if you get out there after people have walked over the snow for hours it’s hard to get it right down to the concrete. I’m not sure that having the city clear all our sidewalks after snow is a great idea. But if we were to start city sidewalk clearance, places like this which see a lot of pedestrian traffic would be a good place to start. Why not have the city clear the sidewalks on streets that are bus routes, and therefore see more than normal pedestrian traffic?


On the western side of the 31st Avenue intersection is a restaurant that’s not open every day (they’ll remain nameless, I’m just illustrating a point here). The driveway has been cleared, but the sidewalk and the bus stop are a sloppy mess. For the most part consumer-oriented retail does a good job of clearing sidewalks, because after all who wants their customers slipping and falling outside. Bad advertising. Liability risk. Or even just customers tracking snow onto the carpet. The general problem is inattention to the sidewalk because the owners aren’t there every day. I’m sure we can all name a neighbor like that, traveling, “too busy” to shovel properly.


A block further on we have the corner problem. I used to live on a corner. It was bad. I recommend against it, solely on account of the double shoveling you have to do. Here’s one “solution”. Do a great job on one side, and basically forget about the rest.


Finally there’s the Cushman Motor Company. I wish they would sell the half-block of useless lawn they own to someone to develop into some town homes or apartments. But they sure do a great job of keeping their sidewalk clear, which figures since snow clearance is literally their business.

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And so this is the solution to our sidewalk snow woes, have every property in the Twin Cities owned by a company that makes snow removal equipment. Problem solved.

Evan Roberts

About Evan Roberts

Evan Roberts is an Assistant Professor of Population Studies and the History of Medicine at the University of Minnesota, where he teaches and researches demography, labor and urban issues. He counts it as a successful week if he has run more miles than he has driven. Connect on twitter @evanrobertsnz or now Mastodon