Early snow season causes sidewalk woes

Denver snow removal differs from one street to another

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Early snowstorms left residents navigating ice-packed streets.

Denver had its snowiest November since 1994, with 13.7 inches of snow falling, nearly double the average of 7.4 inches for the month. It was also the snowiest start to a winter season since 2009, with 26.2 inches of snow accumulating in Denver as of mid-December, according to the National Weather Service. All that snow made it tricky to get around the city, and by Thanksgiving time last year, people were wondering why many side streets were still covered in thick ice from recent storms.

Jody Jones, a Denver resident and real estate agent who works downtown, said that on her drives through the city she often sees side streets that haven’t been plowed. She added that for some of her coworkers it can make it difficult to travel.

“It’s amazing how different it can be from one side of the street to the other,” she said. “When it snows, I’m lucky, because the engineers in my office go out and shovel, but that’s not necessarily the case all around town.”

As for those who are walking and trying to navigate pedestrian walkways, Denver requires that property owners clear snow and ice from sidewalks, including adjacent accessibility ramps. Businesses are required to clear their sidewalks as soon as the snow stops falling and residents are required to clear snow by the next day. City inspectors may leave time-stamped notices on properties with unshoveled sidewalks.

Denver Public Works is responsible for snow response and removal in the city in order to ensure sidewalks are passable by all. Denver uses liquid and solid de-icer on major streets, the latter of which is a naturally mined product from Utah that is more than 90% chloride salts.

More often than not, Denver’s famous sunshine takes care of snowmelt, but that did not happen during the recent cold snap, when temperatures stayed below freezing and the city did not see as much sunshine as usual.

Denver Public Works provides snow response to approximately 2,050 lane miles of main streets — those with stripped lanes — including on-street bicycle lanes, using 68 large plows. Denver also has a fleet of 36 smaller residential plows that deploy to side streets after storms, covering about 1,260 center lane miles.

Unlike the large fleet on the main streets though, these smaller plows do one pass down side streets, not plowing to the surface of the road, nor having the ability to drop deicer due to their smaller size.

“The plow blades on the light-duty trucks float a few inches above the surface of the roadway to prevent the vehicles’ equipment from being damaged from catching on manhole covers or cross pans,” said Nancy Kuhn, marketing communications manager with Public Works. “The equipment is light duty and doesn’t provide a great deal of downward pressure able to cut through heavy snowpack as compared to our big plows.”

Snow Angels shovel for seniors, disabled

With plowing, the snow often gets thrown toward the side of the road or sidewalks, making it difficult for travel.

“All that plowing goes back onto the sidewalk and many times people just can’t move their cars,” said Jones.

This can be particularly difficult for seniors or disabled residents who can’t shovel their own sidewalks or use wheelchairs to travel unshoveled walkways.

The Snow Angel program was established in Denver in 2017 by the Agency for Human Rights and Community Partnerships and is aimed at helping residents who need assistance shoveling their sidewalks and driveways. This can be older adults, neighbors with a disability, residents who are ill, or those physically unable to shovel.

“I currently have 100 residents throughout the city and county signed up for assistance and just 50 volunteers,” said Kaylie Showers, a representative for Snow Angels. “We definitely experience a high volume of calls and emails when there’s a storm. We’ve had several major snowstorms already this year and are expecting more.”

Tava Serpan, another long-time Denver resident, recalled being involved in a similar program in Denver.

“My neighbor and I took turns helping our older neighbors and really enjoyed it,” she said. “We shoveled for my landlady, who was 98 at the time, and another 80-something-year-old neighbor.”

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