Pilot program will make city clear sidewalks, which people with disabilities say impairs mobility

Leah Hope Image
Monday, January 30, 2023
Should the city clear its snowy sidewalks?
Snowy sidewalks can cover grooves and markings that help people with disabilities travel safely through the city. Should the city being clearing its sidewalks everywhere?

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Winter in Chicago means something different for people with vision and mobility issues.

Even a small amount of snow can pack and freeze. Snow covers grooves in the sidewalks for those using a white cane, and the masks warnings that an intersection is coming.

Ashley Eisenmenger said a Good Samaritan warned her Monday morning she was about to walk into the street.

"I had no concept of where I was because the snow dampens the sounds and obviously the packed snow impacts my ability to feel my surroundings," she said.

Atta Zahedi said if the corners are passable with his wheelchair, they can be icy. He said he has even fallen out of his chair into the street, and said it keeps him from going out.

"It's very isolating, it makes me feel very isolated from my community," Zahedi said.

Both work for Access Living, which is hosting a town hall Monday night on getting Chicago sidewalks cleared of snow for everyone.

"We believe it would be a key step to make sure our most universally used infrastructure is usable 24/7, 365 days a year," said Alex Nelson of Better Streets Chicago and the Plow the Sidewalks campaign.

Alderman Gilbert Villegas plans to propose a pilot winter sidewalk clearing program in some neighborhoods, which would eventually expand to include all city sidewalks. He pointed out that cities like Toronto, Rochester and Syracuse already provide sidewalk clearing services.

"We have to take into account the revenue we are losing because people can't get out of their house and participate to go to a theater or restaurant," he said.

"It would mean a lot to me. It would make me feel very cared for by the community if I could actually traverse the neighborhoods I care about and live in," Zahedi said.

The alderman and advocates hope to have a pilot program in place for next winter. For now, there are fines up to $500 for not removing snow.