The County Council on Tuesday passed a bill that will require more attention and planning from the county government when it comes to snowy and ice-packed sidewalks during the winter.
The Sidewalk Snow Removal Plan introduced by Councilmember Hans Riemer with initial backing from Councilmember Nancy Navarro will require County Executive Isiah Leggett’s office to come up with a plan for clearing snow from high-volume pedestrian routes, bus stops, school zones, urban districts and sidewalks along state highways.
It will also require the county to create a digital map that shows who is responsible for clearing snow and ice from each sidewalk in Montgomery County and a public education campaign encouraging property owners to clear their sidewalks within the 24 hours dictated by law.
Ice-packed and snowy sidewalks for days after snowstorms were a common sight last winter, when a more active than average winter hit the area.
County officials admitted to little enforcement of the 24-hour rule, despite multiple complaints to councilmembers about pedestrians forced to walk or wait for buses in roadways because of dangerous and hard to navigate sidewalks.
“We cannot claim to take pedestrian safety seriously if we ignore it for three months of the year,” Riemer said in a statement released Tuesday. “As global warming changes weather patterns all over the world, we cannot just assume that any snow will melt in time for people to get to work, school, or wherever they need to go. Like in so many other areas, government works best when we have a rational planning process and prepare for events ahead of time, rather than struggling to react after the fact. I’m proud that this bill will provide that planning process for pedestrian safety in the winter months.”
The bill passed by an 8-1 vote, with George Leventhal the lone councilmember to oppose the measure.
The county’s budget office estimated the creation of a GIS system to inventory county sidewalks would cost $350,000 and a public information campaign including direct mail would run another $100,000.
Most of the cost would come from clearing public sidewalks. The Department of Transportation, which is responsible for snow removal on county roads and streets, said the bill covers 600 miles of county-owned sidewalks. Clearing those sidewalks with either county employees or contractors would cost an estimated $6 million a year, based on the 10-year average of 20 snowfall events a year.
Each winter weather event would carry a cost of about $300,000. Last winter saw 31 winter weather events, according to MCDOT.
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