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December 23, 2004

Why Doesn't the City Shovel my Sidewalk?

We've had 16 inches of snow over the past couple of days. My wife asked me a good question yesterday:

Why doesn't the City shovel our sidewalk when it snows?

The City wants the sidewalks cleared of snow; Bloomington just strengthened its ordinance requiring property owners to shovel their walks. The fine is $75 now, I think. Why do cities generally (always?) require citizens to shovel the sidewalks rather than taxing them and having it done my machinery?

Note that cities do not require citizens to plow the streets in front of their property.

One reason is that shovelling the sidewalk is not too onerous for the property owner. He has his driveway and front steps to shovel anyway, so he has a shovel or a snowblower (as appropriate to his property and latitude) already.

But there would still be economies of scale in having the city do it.

I bet in some subdivisions the neighborhood association hires someone to plow the walks, just as in some of them the lawns are mowed for the owners (who pay a sort of tax for it).

In most cities any ordinance the city has requiring shovelling is not enforced. Maybe the result is that people only plow if it is efficient to do so, because of traffic in front of their home and their own desire for a cleared sidewalk. If the city did it, the city, with less information, might plow everywhere, including places where it does not matter.

But that answer does not satisfy me.

Posted by erasmuse at December 23, 2004 08:45 AM

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You don't walk much do you Eric? ;^) If you did, you'd realize that who shovels snow and who doesn't has nothing to do with efficiency. You'll be walking along a neatly shoveled sidewalk and all the sudden BLAM: the path dead-ends on you. The only way to go forward is to clamber over a mountain of snow left by the snow plows along the edge and get your pants covered in snow.

Really, why do some shovel and some don't? I'm sure age and physical condition has something to do with it, as does tendencies to altruism, whether the person walks him or herself, and overall feelings about the city and the community.

Posted by: Chris Atwood at December 28, 2004 11:29 AM

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