Could SnowBuddy work in your neighborhood?

February 12, 2015

After yet another snowstorm, what are the sidewalks in your neighborhood like? Chances are, even if they have been shoveled, there is a thin layer of packed snow on most sidewalks. Some residents, especially the elderly or disabled, are unable to clear their sidewalks at all. This creates a situation where, even if most sidewalks are clear, pedestrians must walk in the street occasionally to reach their destination, which is increasingly dangerous due to streets that are narrowed by snow and slick from snow and ice, which may prevent motorists from slowing or stopping.

The residents of the Water Hill neighborhood of Ann Arbor, MI do not have to worry about impassible walkways due to SnowBuddy, a volunteer-oriented snow clearing service conceived by Water Hill resident Paul Tinkerhess. SnowBuddy uses a signature tractor to clear sidewalks continuously, a welcome alternative to relying on residents and business owners to clear small segments. The SnowBuddy tractor clears sidewalks in the Water Hill neighborhood as well as several blocks of walkways that connect Water Hill to downtown Ann Arbor. The complete circuit takes about eight hours. They have 12 volunteer tractor drivers, in addition to other volunteers that have signed up to shovel snow pushed against the ends of sidewalks by plows. The goal is to create a continuous walkway network that will allow all residents to maintain their walking commute during the winter months.

Most municipalities, including most, if not all, in the Boston area, require residents and business owners to clear snow in front of their properties, as municipalities typically do not have the funding necessary to clear miles of sidewalks after every snowstorm. In the Boston area, where a majority of residents either walk to work or walk to a transit station to commute to work, this reality puts the commutes of thousands of residents and workers into the hands of their neighbors, who may be elderly, disabled, or out of town. Many municipalities do crack down on those who do not clear sidewalks using written warnings or fines, but residents and businesses often aren’t required to clear snow for a day or more after a snowstorm ends.

SnowBuddy hopes that its volunteer effort will show Ann Arbor and other snowy cities that snow removal can be a municipal responsibility. While volunteers and independent donors have made the Water Hill neighborhood walkable year-round, its model is not likely sustainable on a large scale. Would a program like SnowBuddy work in your neighborhood?



Leave a Comment