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Minneapolis looking at new shoveling rules as snow season nears

Dozen of Minneapolis snow removal trucks stand at the ready.
MinnPost photo by Karen Boros
Dozen of Minneapolis snow removal trucks stand at the ready.

The problem of unshoveled sidewalks in Minneapolis neighborhoods is just as likely to be solved by the arrival of spring as it is by the arrival of a city clean-up crew.  But the city is working on the problem.

“It’s a long process,” says Mike Kennedy, director of transportation maintenance and repair for the city’s public works department.

He’s right about the process: first, a warning letter, followed by a second letter and then an appeal that finally leads to a work order, which finally gets the snow shoveled.

Sidewalk shoveling
To speed things, Council Member Sandy Colvin Roy has suggested a $75 fine that she thinks will get property owners’ attention faster than a warning letter.

But there’s no agreement on taking that step.

Council Member Gary Schiff, for example, points out the limitations of a flat $75 fine for all offenders. That’s a lot more money than most senior citizens could pay, he says, but not enough to get the attention of absentee landlords or banks holding property in foreclosure.

Seniors, landlords and banks apparently are the major sidewalk offenders in Minneapolis.

“We are currently in the middle of policy discussion,” says Kennedy.  With snow season looming, the city still has a little time to come up with a solution — but not much. 

In St. Paul, getting the city to clean a sidewalk is a much smaller problem.

Steve Magner, the city’s new code enforcement manager in charge of snow removal, explains that a letter is sent to the property owner the same day a complaint is received at 651-266-8989. An inspector is dispatched to the property 48 hours after the letter is sent. If the sidewalk is clean, the case is closed. If the sidewalk needs to be shoveled, a work order is written on the spot and the walk is cleared. 

The muscle in the plan could be the $415 fee the city charges if it cleans the sidewalk.

Magner says St. Paul issues about 6,000 work orders a year for sidewalk shoveling.

Snow season in the Two Cities

Here’s a look at how Minneapolis and St. Paul handle a variety of winter issues.

Topic Minneapolis St. Paul
Snow removal budget $7 million $550,000/Snow Emergency
Free sand Yes — 4 sites No
  (Bring your own bucket)  
Miles of road 1,040 street 1,874 lane miles
  57 parkway  
  400 alley  
Snow crews 39 dump trucks with sanders and plows; 15 trucks with plows; 10 smaller trucks with plows; 3 graders; 12 front end loaders 80 employees on 80 plow routes with 80 pieces of equipment; 40 snow tagging crews in 40 vehicles; 14 supervisors
Phone alerts Yes No longer — tried; didn’t help
More info Minneapolis St. Paul

Street plowing rules
St. Paul may win the prize for sidewalks, but Minneapolis seems to have a better handle on plowing the streets.

New this winter is a change in the Minneapolis rules that allows more flexibility to impose Winter Parking Restrictions. Usually this means there is so much snow that residents and visitors can no longer park on both sides of a residential street.

In the past, this declaration could only be made during a Snow Emergency, but under the new rules, the decision can be made anytime.

Both cities kick off their Snow Emergencies at 9 p.m. to allow overnight plowing of the busiest streets. In Minneapolis, the first night is for Snow Emergency Routes. Same deal, different name in St. Paul, where the first streets cleared are Night Plow Routes.  Both cities mark these streets with red-and-white signs.

After that, it gets a little vague in St. Paul — maybe you have to live there to understand. The Snow Emergency lasts 96 hours. During that stretch, you cannot park on any street that has not been cleared curb to curb.

A few of the 39 trucks with sanders and plows Minneapolis will deploy during a snow emergency.
MinnPost photo by Karen Boros
A few of the 39 trucks with sanders and plows Minneapolis will deploy during a snow emergency.

If you need more of a plan than “look before you park,” welcome to Minneapolis.And if you love rules, Minneapolis is your city.

Comes the dawn of Day 2/Snow Emergency, you know you may park on the odd-numbered side of any non-Snow Emergency Route and on both sides of any Snow Emergency Route, but don’t even think about parking anywhere on a parkway. The rules are also spelled out for Day 3, but I’ll spare you repeating them here. 

Differing alley policies
Minneapolis also plows the alleys. In St. Paul, residents are on their own for that, and in some areas, neighbors band together to hire a private contractor to do the plowing..

Vehicle towing
Getting towed in either city comes out as a draw. St. Paul might have an edge, because it does allow the tow truck operator to release a car if the owner shows up and is willing to pay a $75 drop charge, as opposed to $189 at the impound lot. 

In Minneapolis, 80 tow trucks haul in about 1,500 illegally parked cars during any given Snow Emergency. That might sound like a lot of cars, but it is only 20 percent of all the cars illegally parked, officials estimate. If you are towed, it means you did two things: You ignored the rules, and you got caught.

And you don’t want to wait too long to get to the impound lot to retrieve your vehicle, because it will cost you:  A standard tow is $138; and a heavy-duty tow for a large vehicle runs$ 175, plus $45 for a winch.  Daily storage will set you back $18.  If they send a letter, that’s an extra $6.  And don’t forget the ticket. That’s $52 — for a total of at least $190. The city will accept cash, a check or a credit card.

In St. Paul, they will take a credit card but charge $4.31 for the service. Storage there costs $15 a day.

Word to the wise: Don’t throw snow in street
Minneapolis and St. Paul both have rules against shoveling snow into the street.

This comes to mind because both cities acknowledge that their plows will leave a ridge of snow across your driveway or alley.  As satisfying as it might be to shovel that stuff back into the street — unto Caesar all that is Caesar’s do not be tempted.  Caesar lived in a warm climate. The evidence of your crime might not disappear as quickly as the plow that left it in your driveway.

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Comments (4)

  1. Submitted by scott cantor on 11/14/2011 - 11:38 am.

    Perhaps Minneapolis could have some sort of snow shoveling service folded into the monthly utility bill. First offense, you get a fine and a letter proposing you sign up. Second offense, you get auto-enrolled.

    It could be modeled as a flat fee subscription service or pay-per-event. The former is probably better, with all the nuisance snowfalls.

    Fees wouldn’t have to be that high. The city could have reverse-auction online bidding by address/block/neighborhood, attracting many teens and others with idle time on their hands. Heck, a lot of people would sign up at low rates just for exercise, to give their snow toys more action, or to be helpful to their block.

    Now, you could say that I could shovel my neighbor’s sidewalk for free right now if I was feeling nice. True, but there’s a big difference to being neighborly when I occasionally have time/energy versus having a contractual responsibility to the city. And that well of generosity only goes so deep.

  2. Submitted by Pat McGee on 11/14/2011 - 12:25 pm.

    I think you mean neighbors “band” together instead of ” neighbors ban together”.

    That said, I don’t know who think Mpls does a better or even a decent job with streets. They don’t even attempt to get anywhere near the curb. If they came within 3 feet of the curb that would be an improvement.

  3. Submitted by Ben Reichelt on 11/14/2011 - 12:49 pm.

    6,000 work order at $415 apiece? I wonder if many of those go unpaid, that seems like a lot of revenue from a seemingly small issue. If St Paul can charge $415, why is Mpls balking at $75?

  4. Submitted by Ian Bicking on 12/11/2012 - 10:46 am.

    Sidewalks need to be cleared, even if you are a senior. Any senior who walks has a much harder time when people don’t clear their walks, and unfortunately it’s an unusual block that doesn’t have at least one uncleared sidewalk.

    I think in most places some neighbor would be willing to help a senior with that task. Maybe someone could respond to the letter claiming it was a hardship, and neighbors could be notified? That might mean a couple dozen letters, but it would probably solve the problem not just for that incident but for the next few years once a neighbor steps up to help that person out on a regular basis.

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