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Should the city of Minneapolis clear the sidewalks? Some say 'yes' but the project needs funding

After this week's major snowfall, there's a renewed push for the city of Minneapolis to create a "municipal shoveling program."

MINNEAPOLIS — Like all Minneapolis property owners, Janet Tripp shovels the sidewalk outside her home as a civic duty.

"We have to clean this up," Tripp said after clearing her path on Wednesday, "so that people can walk on the sidewalk."

She fully understands the consequences if she fails to do so. 

"Once, I got a note from the city that my sidewalk wasn't good enough. They were going to come and clean it up and charge it for me," Tripp said. "I got out there really fast with my grit and my sand and my shovel. So, if [the city] wanted to do it, fine with me!"

That's not out of the realm of possibility.

Some Minneapolis City Council members, with encouragement from the group Our Streets Minneapolis, have been talking lately about a "municipal shoveling program," which would offer relief to property owners by putting the city in charge of snow and ice removal on sidewalks. According to city data, more than 23,000 properties in Minneapolis have been the subject of sidewalk complaints since 2016, with 8,000 of those properties receiving two or more complaints.

José Antonio Zayas Cabán, the advocacy director for Our Streets Minneapolis said it's "unacceptable" that city crews do not handle shoveling, given the size and climate of Minneapolis.

"The current system doesn't work. It's punitive," he said. "It's also a huge inequity toward elderly people. We feel like it would help business owners, it would help landlords, it would help community members who cannot afford to own cars and are transit-dependent."

Sidewalk shoveling programs are common in large Canadian cities, including Toronto, Montreal and Ottawa. Meanwhile, in northern parts of the U.S., cities such as Rochester and Syracuse, N.Y., have created "supplemental" services to help property owners. 

Minneapolis Ward 2 Council Member Robin Wonsley said the Public Works and Infrastructure Committee plans to learn more Thursday about a pilot program, which would cover shoveling on parts of the city's "Pedestrian Priority Network." A sidewalk shoveling initiative for that network could cost up to $6 million, Wonsley said, at least according to an estimate provided several years ago.

Wonsley expects to receive updated figures on Thursday and plans to advocate for the funding in the 2023 budget cycle.

"We know snow is not going away. We know residents are facing tons of mobility issues in getting around their neighborhoods, accessing public transit, or even going to the grocery store," Wonsley said. "We're making headway on this, wanting to keep our streets safer."

Wonsley hopes a pilot program could ultimately lead to full municipal shoveling services. While an exact price tag is not known, a broader program could cost up to $20 million.

"We're really excited to hear about the pilot, and recommendations for how we are going to use existing resources," Wonsley said, "while we're working out a larger program."

Mayor Jacob Frey has not said whether he supports a full shoveling program for sidewalks. The city of St. Paul, it should be noted, also requires property owners to clear sidewalks. 

"Our Public Works Department recently presented a litany of planned actions they will take over the next several years revolving the removal of snow and ice in Minneapolis," Frey's office said in a statement to KARE 11. "The administration will continue to identify opportunities to further reduce these seasonal barriers and keep our residents safe."

If the city can find the money, Janet Tripp considers herself a fan of the idea.

"I'd be fine with them doing a little work," Tripp said. "Saving me some!"

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