Boston is testing a snow-clearing program on sidewalks. A city councilor wants to plow ahead.

"The spot check, whack-a-mole approach to this doesn't work."

Workers clear sidewalks during the snowstorm in downtown Boston on Jan. 29. Craig F. Walker/Globe Staff

Boston has tested this winter how quickly city workers can clear certain, heavily-used stretches of sidewalk, crosswalks, and ramps of snow soon after a storm slams the city.

The effort came together rather quickly last year after Councilor Kenzie Bok called on officials to consider how city workers — not residents — could work to clear the city’s sidewalks in the aftermath of huge winter storms.

And now Bok, the councilor for District 8, is looking to plow ahead with a more aggressive operation.

At a council meeting last week, Bok filed a hearing order to bring together city departments and city councilors to talk over what a comprehensive approach to shoveling out the city’s pedestrian thoroughfares would take.


The filing is the second year in a row Bok has taken up the idea, encouraged by cities like Rochester and Syracuse, New York, where city-sponsored sidewalk snow clearing services have become staple practices of city departments each winter, no different than how those cities plow their streets.

“A big snowstorm can trap our folks with disabilities, our elders, you know, anybody who needs that passable, 42-inch lane that we’re supposed to have … it can trap some folks in their houses for multiple days, for a week,” Bok said during the council’s Feb. 2 meeting.

“I think as a city that prioritizes and is proud of the fact that a lot of our people move around on foot, on public transit, on bicycles, that we have a snow clearance program that takes that into account,” Bok added.

According to Bok’s hearing order, the city this winter has added “additional skid-steer loaders to clear crosswalks and ramps in areas with heavy pedestrian traffic” on a trial basis. The initiative followed a hearing on the issue last year.

But Bok said last week there is a difference between “throwing some resources at it and trying to hit hotspots, which is what we’re currently doing, and really re-imagining our systems such that we’re prioritizing people and all the ways that they get around the city.”


“The spot check, whack-a-mole approach to this doesn’t work,” she said.

Moving forward, Bok wants the city to get serious about determining what staffing, funding, and equipment it will need to make the effort into a more robust initiative, particularly as officials begin to consider the budget for the next fiscal year.

Bok’s filing appeared to be well received by her fellow councilors last week: Several councilors signed on as co-sponsors.


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