Not even Thanksgiving, and already the city of Duluth is fielding complaints about snow removal, including an email to city councilors Sunday that Kenwood hadn’t been plowed despite receiving 6 to 7 inches of new snow.
Also, following a winter storm a week earlier, the note read, “the streets were extremely slippery and no salt or sand was laid down.”
Following similar complaints about plowing and snow removal in recent years, a couple early snowfalls this year already, and the news that a plan had been curtailed by COVID to finally start declaring snow emergencies in Duluth, it’s no wonder that the timely clearing of streets and other public passages is on Duluthians’ minds.
Duluth residents can recall, however, that they play a big role in ensuring our collective ability to get around in the wintertime, no matter how much snow is dumped on us or how icy and slippery it gets out there. It’s not all on the city.
For one thing, we’re all responsible for making sure our cars are parked on the correct side of the street and are moved on Sunday nights, in accordance with alternate-side parking rules. If we don’t, vehicles parked on both sides can block plows, graders, sand trucks, and other equipment, preventing streets from being cleared in a timely manner — or, in some cases, being cleared at all.
As another reminder, we’re all responsible for shoveling or snowblowing the public sidewalks in front of our properties. Not only is it neighborly and necessary for public safety, it’s the law in Duluth. Has been since 1935. The city ordinance requiring snow removal within 24 hours has never really had any teeth — and shouldn't need them. Rather than threatening fines or penalties, the city has always opted to work cooperatively with residents. As partners. With reminders like ones already issued this late fall/early winter.
Be warned, though, Duluth Fire Chief Shawn Krizaj said in late October that city staff would be more actively watching for those who are failing to keep their sidewalks clear, particularly those who are just being lazy or irresponsible. A flyer is to be sent to every address in the city advising residents and property owners of the city's expectations, the News Tribune reported. The flyer is to include the names of contractors who can be hired to help.
Need help but can’t afford to hire a contractor? The city announced last week the second year of a program that connects volunteer shovelers with disabled residents older than 60 who meet income requirements. “Last year’s program was a great success,” Duluth Human Rights Officer Carl Crawford said in the city’s statement. Although quite limited at only 25 participants, the program should be just as beneficial this year.
One thing that could be different this winter: the city could temporarily suspend its requirement that vehicles parked on city streets be moved at least once every 24 hours.
“Like many Duluthians, my partner and I are currently working mostly from home,” Shana Aue of Duluth wrote to the City Council on Friday. “We are also following city and state COVID-19 recommendations that we go out only for essential trips. This means that there are many days when we (do) not leave our home. Thursday … was one of those days. This Friday morning … we received a parking ticket for not moving our car in 24 hours. …
“As I took a walk around my neighborhood today, I saw many, many cars with tickets. So many families in Duluth are struggling right now. So many families are counting every dollar. A parking ticket may not seem like much, but for many families it will mean buying fewer groceries or not being able to pay a utility bill in full,” Aue’s email continued. “And let’s be honest: in previous years, in many neighborhoods, this regulation has been enforced minimally at most. Why step up enforcement now, when everyone is being encouraged to stay home and so many people are struggling?”
Good question. It would not be at all unreasonable, during such an unprecedented moment, for the city to suspend this requirement. It could be put back in place once the city’s plan for declaring snow emergencies is implemented. That plan — which included a city investment of $500,000 to install some 2,800 signs along 120 miles of snow emergency routes that would be cleared of cars and plowed first after major storms — was wisely curtailed, given other spending needs, severely shrinking revenues, and rapidly tightening budgets as a result of the pandemic.
We can all do our part — the city of Duluth and its residents alike — in recognizing that snow removal to ensure the wintertime safety of streets and sidewalks is a shared responsibility. Committing to it is certainly more productive than complaining.