Greater City Providence

Updated sidewalk snow clearing regulations

Atwells Avenue overpass

Atwells Avenue over Route 95. Photo by Jef Nickerson

ProJo reports that the City Council has made some updates to the sidewalk snow clearing regulations.

Changes are:

  • In addition to the Police, Department of Public Works inspectors and supervisors can now issue citations.
  • The time to clear the snow has increased. Previously snow had to be cleared within 4 hours after sunrise after the end of snow, now it is 8 hours.
  • Fines now max out at $500.
  • The appeals process to the Municipal Court has been made more clear.

I have several issues with all this. One, Councilman Narducci was quoted in the Journal saying, “Obviously the reason we’re doing this is because the police don’t do it.” I don’t know about anyone else, but when I don’t do my job I get a talking to, I might even get fired. My boss does not find someone else to do my job for me. I’m fine with having more people authorized to issue citations, and I understand the police have other priorities, but it should be in addition to the police, not because the police seem to can’t be bothered. Unshoveled sidewalks are a very serious public safety issue and should be a priority for the police.

There’s also this from the Journal:

Peter T. Gaynor, city director of emergency management, acknowledged, however, that the DPW is not yet ready to discharge its new duty. For the time being, he said, it’s still up to the police.

Oh great, so excuses are already being made for why this will continue to not be addressed.

The fines, they used to max out at $300. Really, I see no reason for the increase. If we had been issuing citations and collecting fines all along and the fines were proving ineffective, then perhaps they should need raising. But let’s just try actually writing some citations before we go raising the fine.

Length of time to clear, this is what is really chapping my ass. So let’s say, it is snowing on the solstice. The sun sets at 4:18pm and it stops snowing at 4:30pm. According to regulations, you have until 8 hours after sunrise to clear your sidewalk. The day after solstice the sun rises at 7:10am, meaning the sidewalk does not need to be cleared until 3:10pm. The sidewalk has been uncleared for almost 24 hours, and this is legal. If the streets went uncleared for 24 hours what exactly would happen? This is completely ridiculous.

Sidewalks should need to be cleared within a much more reasonable amount of time after the end of the storm, accounting of course for when it snows overnight, people shouldn’t be expected to wake in the middle of the night to clear snow, but it should be cleared in the morning. This is not unreasonable in the least.

In other sidewalk news, the city did make an effort with the Atwells overpass today:

Salt on the sidewalk on the Atwells Avenue overpass

That is a pile of salt on the sidewalk on the overpass. All across the sidewalk are similar piles of salt. Really, this is not going to be terribly efficient if we actually get snow tonight, the salt really needs to be spread across the whole sidewalk (you know, like they do on the roads). But whatever, it’s a start I guess.

Jef Nickerson

Jef is Greater City Providence's co-founder, editor, and publisher. He grew up on Cape Cod and lived in Boston; Portland, Maine; and New York before settling in Providence. In addition to urbanism, Jef is interested in art, design, and ice cream. Please feel free to contact Jef if you have any question or comments about Greater City Providence.


  • Totally agree except for one point. Where we are the orthodox jewish community would have a hard time with the four hour deadline if it coincided with the sabbath.

  • I don’t think this ever should have been put in the hands of the police. Its just not an efficient way to tackle the problem. I would rather they spend their time doing more important things. It sounds like they only responded when someone called in.

    Public Works already issues citations for trash, dirty lots, and the like. They are already out in the neighborhood systematically looking for those violations so adding uncleared sidewalks to their responsibilities makes sense. My guess is that some of the same properties that they are citing for trash violations are probably the same ones they will cite for uncleared sidewalks. They are also in a better position to follow up on scofflaws or work with owners who may not be able to physically shovel their sidewalks. What would be nice is if Public Works can work with a non-profit to identify home owners who may need assistance with shoveling and get them the help they need. Then they can focus on the lazy.

    Its a shame that the council waited until February to change the ordinance. Had they done it in September, maybe there would already be a plan in place.

  • Though it barely snowed last night, the sidewalks were a mess this morning. One exception was the Atwells Avenue overpass:

    Atwells Avenue overpass

    I mentioned yesterday that salt was put down on it (though in weird intermittent piles, not spread evenly across the whole sidewalk). This morning there was more salt and sand spread on the sidewalk, and no snow or ice. I assume the city is responsible for this, I’ve seen them throwing salt and sand on the packed snow after the fact in the past (not helpful). This storm they seem to have actually got it right and the sidewalk was clear as a result.

    How were the rest of the overpasses in the city this morning? Any reports from the field?

  • OK. A few things I’m taking away from this. First, the trick to getting snow cleared is to overestimate the snowfall by an order of magnitude, and ask the storm to come fashionably late.

    Second, that the Police really have ‘bigger fish to fry’. Sure. Crime is at 40-year lows in Providence (give or take, statistics actually get jumpy when there’s -this little crime-). Are police man-hours at 40-year lows? I don’t think so.

    A police officer handing a ticket to a business or going in and giving a stern warning is just as much a deterrent to crime as an officer sitting in his car or driving around. The difference is that the former offsets his paycheck and makes the city run more ship-shape.

    I’m sorry, but I have some serious issues with the constant ‘not it’ from the Providence Police. Public safety and law enforcement are their jobs, and the sidewalk issue clearly falls under both. If the DPW has nothing better to do on a snowy day, they should help too. Providence Police only originate about 20-30 DUI arrests per year for the same reason, they have ‘bigger fish to fry’, like a murder every fifteen days. There are only about 28 crimes per day reported in Providence, we can get a -lot- more out of our officers. We should be giving bonuses to officers who step up to the plate to improve public safety in ways beyond responding to crimes already in progress.

  • A small diversion of manpower from overnight parking enforcement could write up more uncleared sidewalks in one night than have been written up in all history.

  • Coryndon: While I understand having religious or cultural issues like that, public safety is far more important. The law does not require the individual go out and clear snow themselves. You can have someone else do it. In cases like this, it should absolutely be done as per the law. Public safety should always trump religion. After all, you don’t want someone slipping on your sidewalk, breaking something, and suing you, do you?

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