SnowBuddy: sharing economy brings crowd-sourced sidewalk snow removal

Matthew Grocoff

December 16, 2014

By: Matthew Grocoff, Green Renovation Expert

In: Green Living

snow cleared sidewalk

A new crowd-sourced, neighborhood based program is about to revolutionize sidewalk snow removal.

What if you lived in a snowy place that never plowed the roads, even if there was three feet of snow? How many people do you think would still drive? Snow plowing is one of the few public services that has universal political agreement. We use millions of tax dollars to buy snow plows, stockpile sand and salt, and hire an army of employees to keep our streets clear.

Snowplowing our roads and highways is taken for granted. No one questions it as a public good.

Yet, what about those who don't or can't drive? What about those who walk, bike, or are in wheel chairs? Shouldn't our sidewalks and bike lanes be considered transportation corridors worthy of the same attention we give to our cars? It is undemocratic to fund one form of mobility at the expense of all others.


Most cities have laws that require businesses and homeowners to keep their walkways clear of snow and debris. But, even in a perfect world filled with perfectly responsible citizens, this system results in a patchwork of impassable sidewalks. After each snow event, the Fine & Punishment model relies entirely on the abilities and willingness of thousands of individuals to independently shovel snow or hire someone to do it for them. With communities that include the elderly, people who are sick, people who are on vacation during freak snowstorms, unreliable contractors, and a few who are just downright lazy, the current system fails us all.


In Ann Arbor, Michigan, Paul Tinkerhess is calling on the wisdom and kindness of the crowds to help. He started a community funded organization called SnowBuddy. Based on the model of public radio fundraising, SnowBuddy is asking for donations from folks in the Water Hill neighborhood where Paul lives. The idea is to use donations to provide free snow removal service for the entire neighborhood. Paul believes this will ensure that every person has access to clear, safe and continuous right-of-ways all year long.

SnowBuddy has a simple standard:

Our goal is to permit safe sidewalk transportation for our young, elderly, and physically challenged neighbors, knowing that others will benefit as well.

Our standard is set in guidelines for section 504 of the Americans with Disabilities Act:

"A public agency must maintain its walkways in an accessible condition, with only isolated or temporary interruptions in accessibility. 28 CFR §35.133. Part of this maintenance obligation includes reasonable snow removal efforts."

SnowBuddy also hopes to influence the city government to rethink the way it treats all transportation and determine "whether it might be persuaded through reasons of compassion, politics, or law to maintain the winter accessibility of its non-motorized pathways."

SnowBuddy has asked for $18,000 to help purchase municipal quality snow removal equipment. As of this writing, the community is strongly showing support. With three weeks remaining to meet SnowBuddy's target, they've already received $16,000. As a show of support, donations have come from people in neighboring communities who won't even benefit from this free service.

This is a great day for those who believe in democratic streets, sidewalks, and bikeways that are continuous, safe, and accessible to everyone . . . all year long.

Follow Matt on Twitter @mattgrocoff

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Check out http://snowbuddy.org/

Check out some creative ways cities around the world keep sidewalks clear:

Heated bike lanes in Holland - http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-20041522

VIDEO: Copenhagen's all weather bike infrastructure: http://www.streetsblog.org/2010/01/11/video-copenhagens-all-weather-bike-infrastructure/

Walking after a snow storm wasn't always this icy and dicy: http://www.streetsblog.org/2014/02/07/walking-after-a-snow-storm-wasnt-always-this-icy-and-dicy/


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