Urbana council snow removal expansion

A proposed expansion of snow-removal districts in Urbana. On Monday, Nov. 4, 2019, aldermen approved the expansions, except for the portions of University Avenue and Green Street connecting them.

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URBANA — Aldermen voted to expand the two districts subject to sidewalk snow-removal rules on the University of Illinois campus and downtown on Monday but decided to take a “wait-and-see” approach to doing the same for sections of two of the biggest roads connecting them — University Avenue and Green Street.

The expansion to the University District includes the area bounded by University on the north, Springfield Avenue on the south, Lincoln Avenue on the east and Wright Street on the west, and the one to the Downtown District includes the area bounded by University on the north, Water Street on the south, Vine Street on the east and Race Street on the west.

But with infrastructure improvements like MCORE work underway on Green and safety fixes planned for University, aldermen held off on including the portions of those roads between the two new districts, preferring to address that proposal in the future along with one that would extend the rules city-wide.

Under the current ordinance, owners of properties within designated districts must clear public sidewalks of snow and ice within 24 hours of a declaration from the city’s public works director. Those who fail to do so must pay the bill sent to them by the city or its contractor, along with a $55 administrative fee and fines starting at $25.

The thought of having a tax for city-wide snow removal didn’t sit well with Alderman Bill Brown.

“I understand people are older and may not be able to clear snow, and I think the city could work on increasing options or giving people connections to get things done,” Brown said. “But I think there’s a danger, too, when you start talking about the city doing it or charging a fee or coming up with a tax. There’s already on my block 80 percent compliance. You’d be penalizing them to pay a tax because a minority of people don’t plow.”

Brown also defended the plan to expand snow removal because of safety concerns, citing multiple fatalities and injuries along University and Green.

Evan Alvarez, planning and outreach coordinator with the Champaign-Urbana Mass Transit District, read a letter to the council voicing MTD’s approval.

“This will help close the gap in access to sidewalks for pedestrians and transit riders,” Alvarez said.

Cynthia Hoyle, an adjunct lecturer in urban and regional planning at the University of Illinois, said she also supported the expansion and talked up the Snow Angels program, which is a group of volunteers who shovel sidewalks after major snow events.

She also said she would support an extension of the ordinance to the entire city, but she thinks the initial proposal was a good start.

“We do require people to mow the grass all summer, and mowers are more expensive and more dangerous than snow removal,” she said.

But Dan Newman and Steve Ross, who live on Green, said they wouldn’t be happy being singled out for the possibility of a fine if they can’t remove snow from their sidewalks.

“The norm to clear sidewalks is being selectively enforced,” Newman said. “Some don’t face penalties, while others face $150 if snow is not removed in 24 hours. Why shouldn’t it be equal among streets?”

Newman also disagreed with a plan for the city to contract out snow-removal work in favor of a single contractor that would be responsible for clearing sidewalks all over the city.

“This is the best approach by far because it would ensure the entire length of a sidewalk is clear at once,” Newman said. “In all seriousness, the costs recouped by having a small increment in taxes to pay for snow removal is well worthwhile to pay a contractor after every snowfall.”

Reporter

Aldo Toledo is a reporter covering local government at The News-Gazette. His email is atoledo@news-gazette.com, and you can follow him on Twitter (@aldot29).