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Great idea or snow job?

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SW Siders react to mayor’s winter plan

By Tim Hadac

A new plan to remove snow and ice from city sidewalks was released last Friday by Mayor Brandon Johnson, prompting a range of reactions from Southwest Siders.

“Any time you see a politician announce something on a Friday, quietly with no press conference, you know something’s up,” said Ashburn retiree Martin Gaspich. “I’ve seen this so many times in my life, I know the drill. If [Mayor Brandon] Johnson was proud of this report, he’d have released it in a Monday morning press conference.”GSWNH CitySnowReportCover 060724

The 44-page report—”Plow the Sidewalks Pilot Program: Report of Recommendations”—is the result of work that began last September, city officials said in a statement. It “offers recommendations and direction for the design and implementation of a pilot program, recognizing that safe and clear sidewalks are essential for the mobility and well-being of all Chicagoans, especially members of the disability community, senior citizens and others with accessibility issues navigating hazardous, icy or snowy sidewalks in the winter,” the statement added.

The full report can be found by clicking here.

For decades, the task of keeping public sidewalks clear of ice and snow has been the legal burden of whoever owns the land adjacent to those sidewalks. Those who neglect that duty may be fined by the city, but rarely are.

The result has often been an uneven patchwork, making sidewalks difficult, sometimes dangerous and even impossible for people to navigate—especially for the elderly, people with disabilities, parents pushing children in strollers, postal workers pushing mail carts and others.

The new report is designed to implement a Plow the Sidewalks Pilot Program in 2025 through 2026. The report recommends that city government clear sidewalks of snow and ice, when at least two inches of snow accumulates in a 24-hour period, in four 1.5 square mile pilot zones across the city.

The pilot zone on the Southwest Side includes portions of West Elsdon, Brighton Park and Gage Park.

City officials estimate the cost of the pilot effort at up to $3.5 million.

“Chicago is a world-class city, and as a world-class city, it must be accessible for our seniors and individuals living with disabilities in the winter months during periods of heavy snow and ice,” Johnson said in a statement. “Our Plow the Sidewalks pilot program is an example of how our administration is committed to addressing the needs of all Chicagoans, and today is an important step forward in building a safer city where no resident is left behind.”

SW Side reaction mixed

Southwest Siders going in and out of the Lowe’s home improvement store at 79th and Cicero last Sunday had mixed reactions to the news.

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A small plow clears snow from a sidewalk in the 13th Ward. –Supplied photo

“I think it’s a great idea,” Dorothy Jordan said. “You can’t hardly walk outside in the winter. Somebody ought to keep these sidewalks clear, and the sidewalks are the property of the city, right? So the city ought to take care of them. If they plow the streets, they should plow the sidewalks.”

Steve Capaldo saw it differently.

“The report sounds like one big political snow job,” he said. “What ever happened to personal responsibility? Why does everyone have to whine for the government to do everything? Really, what next? Are people going to start demanding that city government walk their dogs or cut their grass?”

Karen Doyle wondered how city officials “can think we have any faith in their ability to plow sidewalks, when they don’t even shovel out something simple, like bus stops. I can’t imagine they’ll ever get the sidewalks shoveled. They have no competence.”

Her husband, Bryan, added his thoughts.

“These millions and millions of dollars are going to be one big slush fund for politicians to dole out our tax dollars to these so-called community advocacy groups, as well as politically-connected private contractors,” he said. “We’ve already seen that with the millions of pandemic relief dollars that went into the pockets of these community groups to ‘educate’ the public on COVID-19, when all anyone had to do was go online to the CDC or the state health department to find out everything you needed to know.”

Olivia Roa-Blanco said, “There are other cities that plow sidewalks. I hear Toronto does it. I hear Buffalo does it. Why can’t Chicago?”

Ramon Garcia suggested the mayor “just look at how the 13th Ward gets things done in the winter. My cousin lives there, and she says it’s great. The alderman takes care of the senior citizens and anyone else incapable of shoveling. Why not just use that successful operation as a model and tell every other alderman to copy it?”

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Every year, a crew of seasonal laborers is hired to shovel snow in the 13th Ward. –Supplied photo

Southwest Side chatter on social media every winter seems to agree, with many 13th Ward residents expressing gratitude, while others sometimes going as far as saying they wished they lived in the 13th Ward.

But it’s not an easy task, as 13th Ward Ald. Marty Quinn acknowledges.

“It’s a big job. Each year, we literally have to start [planning] in August [for the following winter],” he told the Greater Southwest News-Herald.

Through a combination of city tax dollars and what Quinn called “non-government funds,” his ward organization has purchased and maintained vehicles such as snowplows small enough to handle sidewalks. It also hires seasonal laborers to manually shovel spaces that plows can’t handle, like uneven sidewalks and steps. Each year, Quinn’s effort serves more than 700 households in the ward.

Quinn also expressed skepticism that city government can live up to the promise of the new report.

“I have real concerns about the cost,” he said. “I am concerned the cost will grow exponentially.” That’s a heightened concern to a city government already looking at a major budget gap, he added.

Quinn said the program could cost tens of millions of dollars to get up and running and that the city will have to hire an army of “thousands of laborers” to shovel walks by hand.

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