Winter Walkability through Community Based Snow Removal

As we slog through another Michigan winter, transit agencies are calling for community-wide aide to ensure that all stops remain clear of snow and ice.  We have already witnessed a few heavy snow storms that have proven a barrier to all forms of transportation. Marquette and Grand Rapids both had their snowiest Novembers on record, with 53 inches and 31 inches respectively. Those totals signaled merely the start of the winter season! Although most of us fight and trudge our way through knee deep snow when we have to, clear sidewalks are especially important for certain segments of the transit using population who are unable to drive due to age or disability.

For some of these larger transit agencies, snowfall means heavy increases to basic operational costs. According to CATA’s website, Lansing alone incurred nearly $43,000 in costs to maintain public bus stops between October 1, 2013 and March 19, 2014. CATA has more than 30 fixed routes and has seen consistently increased ridership since initial operations in 1972. The larger the service area, the harder it is to ensure that all stops are equally well-maintained.

Downtown Lansing CATA Bus Stop lightly dusted with snow

Downtown Lansing CATA Bus Stop lightly dusted with snow

Dependence on easy, reliable access to transit doesn’t stop just because of the weather. Many use public transit everyday, from important doctor’s appointments to basic grocery shopping trips. When the snow flies, transit agencies–especially larger ones with widespread stops–face an increased burden to fully clear every stop. Individuals can take action to ease the burden and improve the quality of winter transportation for everyone in the community.

When a stop is unreachable, seniors and people with disabilities–those who need the bus most on a daily basis– face additional obstacles. When a stop is unclear, riders are encouraged to wait at the nearest cleared zone and flag down the bus when it comes by. Those who use wheelchairs are less likely to be able to reach another area or to successfully garner the attention of the bus driver to stop. Snow can block access to valuable areas of shelter at official transit stops as well. Shelters provide necessary protection from fierce winds and extremely cold temperatures for all transit users.

Volunteer efforts at snow removal can be extremely effective, but face the danger of unreliability. The more individuals who contribute their time and abilities, the more reliable these programs prove. The Grandville Snow Angels are an organized effort of volunteers in the Grand Rapids area who keep bus stops clear throughout the winter. The group is coordinated in part with help from The Rapid Transit Authority, Grandville Mayor Steve Maas, and Trans4M member group Disability Advocates of Kent County (DAKC). A little bit of extra effort from one person can make a big difference in mobility for those who use a wheelchair, or even just a student walking to class daily. With the recent spate of snowstorms, Kent County Emergency Management is renewing the call for Snow Angels to keep all public areas clear and free of snow. To be a Snow Angel one needs just to head outside and contribute to the effort!

A young Grandville Snow Angel clears a stop after school

A young Grandville Snow Angel clears a stop after school. Photo courtesy of Grandville Mayor Steven Maas via the Grandville Snow Angel Facebook.

Similar to transit agencies, municipalities responsible for snow removal rely on the community to ensure removal in a timely fashion. Traverse City created a public service announcement reminding residents it is local law to keep sidewalks adjacent to their property clear. The City’s reminder encourages a group effort: “Let’s make Traverse City safe and accessible for everyone!” Quoted by the Disability Network of Northern Michigan, City Manager Jered Ottenwess asserts: “Almost all of us travel by foot for a portion of our daily trips. As a community, particularly when we have a winter like we had last year, we need to work together to keep those sidewalks and crosswalks clear to help us all get around.”

A larger community effort can make a big difference in the lives of those who depend on reliable public transit. Similarly community based action, such as that facilitated by Traverse City, decreases the burden of snowfall on community walkability. The action of one individual can make a big difference for the community at large. So pick up a shovel this winter and act as a Snow Angel or Buddy.

Written by Elle Getschman, Trans4M Fall Fellow and Alex Gravlin, Trans4M Intern

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