City discusses sidewalk snow removal, possible ordinance

Leaders ask people to clear walkways

By: Victoria Mitchell | Royal Oak Review | Published February 25, 2015

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ROYAL OAK — City commissioners agreed last week to begin a dialogue on how to manage unclear sidewalks throughout the city.

The decision came after resident Amanda Klein spoke before council during the Feb. 16 meeting about the snow-covered sidewalks along 11 Mile Road. Klein is a public transit advocate and uses public transportation every day from her Royal Oak home.

Klein said the sidewalks near the transit center and along 11 Mile Road are blocked, and she doesn’t feel safe walking along that route.

“I meet people every day that are coming into Royal Oak.” Klein said. “They are working at our businesses, our restaurants, our banks, and I just think that we should be showing them the kind of respect that we would show everybody that comes into our city.”

The city of Royal Oak does not have an ordinance regarding whether or not sidewalks are swept during the winter.

The section of 11 Mile Road between Woodward and Lafayette avenues was blocked by snow and ice buildup last week at the end of some residential streets.

Klein wondered if the city should enact an ordinance governing snow removal, considering the city’s master plan includes Complete Streets, which require walkability and different forms of mobility.

“I just don’t think we should be only walkable, you know, nine months of the year,” said Commissioner Sharlan Douglas. “I have been told in the past that there are liability issues, legal issues, money issues, practical issues, and I acknowledge that that may be true, but then again, I see other cities successfully requiring snow removal on their sidewalks, and I just like to see us not shut the door on this, but at least understand better what those barriers are and maybe look for solutions.”

Douglas said other larger cities like Chicago, Minneapolis and Ann Arbor have ordinances that require property owners to sweep sidewalks within a certain time period after snowfall.

But enacting a wide-sweeping, snow removal ordinance may not be economically feasible.

By requiring residents to keep their sidewalks swept, the city may also have to abide by the ordinance, which could be cost-prohibitive, as just clearing the sidewalks in its parks alone would be costly.

“So the question comes, if you’re going to require private property owners to clear their sidewalk, then you obviously have to do it, too; the city does,” said Commissioner Patricia Paruch.

Paruch questioned if the city would or should exempt itself from such an ordinance because of the impact on the city’s own resources.

Mayor Jim Ellison suggested the possibility of creating a tax increment plan along 11 Mile Road. He said that with such a plan, the city could build in some type of paid snow removal along the 11 Mile thoroughfare.

“That is how we do it downtown,” Ellison said. “The DDA pays it.”

The commissioners agreed during the meeting that more information would be needed to discuss the issue further and instructed City Manager Don Johnson to compile a report for consideration.

Mayor Pro Tem David Poulton said that in the meantime, he would like to see the city create a public information campaign that asks residents and business owners to keep their sidewalks clear.

He said those in charge of sidewalks should clear walkways after plows come through, especially at the corner cut-throughs. He would also like to appeal to private parking lot owners to consider the impact of piling snow into large banks that block right-of-ways.

Interim City Attorney Mark Liss said anything impeding the safe flow of traffic is a civil infraction and subject to a $175 fine.

Poulton said he has noticed people walking in 13 Mile Road and other city roadways because there is so much snow on the sidewalks.

What do you think? Should the city create an enforceable ordinance requiring all sidewalks to be cleared of snow? Sound off at www.facebook.com/RoyalOakReview.

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