Clearing Ithaca’s Pedestrian Walkways in Winter

Eric Lerner



Common Council meets next on September 7.  We need Ithacans to call or email their Council representatives to support pedestrian snow clearing, or come make a three-minute statement at the Council meeting.  There’s contact information & details here -- 


City Budget.  We’ve been invited to do a presentation to a City budget review meeting on October 13.  We’re awaiting details. 


We’ve just started a Facebook discussion group. 


Read Ithaca Voice’s coverage here --



On Foot in Winter.  It’s really hard to get around Ithaca after a snowstorm for pedestrians, bicyclists, and other active transportation users.  It’s even harder for people with disabilities, mobility challenged seniors, and people with baby carriages or grocery carts or luggage.  PlanIthaca, the city’s comprehensive plan, explicitly prioritizes pedestrians and active transportation over motor vehicles.  The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires the city to make walkways accessible.  But Ithaca’s local law and DPW policy on snow plowing embody different priorities. 


PlanIthaca excerpts

ADA information


Coalition for Snow-free Sidewalks & Crosswalks.  In 2022, I’ve joined with Bike Walk Tompkins, Finger Lakes Independence Center, Tompkins County Office for the Aging, and a growing number of concerned Ithacans, to urge city government to take pedestrian snow clearing seriously,

Bike Walk Tompkins

Finger Lakes Independence Center

Tompkins County Office for the Aging

On August 22, 2022, our Coalition hosted a public Zoom meeting for Ithacans to discuss pedestrian snow.  You can watch the recorded meeting here --

and read Ithaca Voice’s coverage of the meeting here --

You can join the new discussion group on Facebook here –


Sidewalks.  Ithaca requires property owners to clear snow from sidewalks and curb cuts down to the curb line.  Many property owners, for good reasons or bad, are unwilling or unable to do so.  Absentee landlords and vacant properties are especially problematic.  After many storms, there are hundreds, if not thousands, of properties not in compliance.  When one property on a block is unplowed, the entire block may be impassible.  Traveling on foot after snow can mean navigating a complex labyrinth to find walkable stretches of sidewalk.  Sidewalk blockages can last for many days, long after the streets have been cleared.  Most trails and City park walkways are not cleared at all. 


City Charter & Code excerpts


Crosswalks.  Worst of all is crossing the street at intersections.  DPW’s street plows routinely leave a ridge of uncleared snow and frozen debris at the ends of crosswalks, blocking the way to or from the curb cut ramp.  DPW’s plows dump new snow onto curb cuts that owners have already cleared – until the owners learn not to bother.  Crosswalks are often blocked by icy ridges days after both the driving lane and the sidewalk are clear.  DPW does not regard it as part of their job to clear crosswalks and make them passable.  In the photo below, note how both sidewalk and street are clear and dry, but the end of the crosswalk is badly blocked. 


Photos of more winter crosswalks & pedestrian challenges


Survey.  In 2019, Matcom conducted a survey of Ithacans on pedestrian snow removal.  There were 800+ responses.  Large majorities were not satisfied with Ithaca’s snow clearing for pedestrians.  A large majority supported city government doing more to make the city walkable in winter. 


Matcom Survey Final Report


Matcom Survey PowerPoint summary


Matcom Survey complete responses


Enforcement of the current law is muddled and ineffectual.  The charter creates two separate enforcement mechanisms, one in Public Works Dept’s Streets & Facilities Division, and another in the Planning Dept’s Building Division.  Both are unsuccessful.  Note that there are about 5500 properties in Ithaca.  So if just 10% are uncleared after a storm, that would be about 550 violations.  Even the best enforcement program could only reach a small fraction of those. 


          Background & details on enforcement


Alternatives.  Ithaca can and should do more.  DPW should include clearing crosswalks in its workplan after snow storms.  Ithaca recently shifted sidewalk repair to a City responsibility instead of property owners.  We could do the same for sidewalk snow clearing.  The City of Rochester does citywide sidewalk snow clearing after 4 inch snowfalls.  Rochester uses short-term contractors to provide additional labor & equipment as needed.  Ithaca could do that.  The City of Syracuse clears sidewalk snow on priority pedestrian routes.  Ithaca could do that.  Ithaca’s enforcement of the current law is haphazard and ineffectual.  Real improvements are possible. 


          More links for local resources, best practices guides, and other cities


Public Works Dept.  Ithaca’s Department of Public Works has been unwilling to explore these options.  The Public Works Superintendent says he has other budget priorities.  DPW has declined to create GIS maps of Ithaca’s sidewalks.  They have declined to provide cost estimates for clearing sidewalks or crosswalks.  They will not review my own attempted cost estimates, which suggest that these options may be quite affordable.  They have been unwilling to discuss alternatives.  That has made it challenging to develop detailed proposals for change.  Based on available information, my questions and recommendations for policy change are here –


Questions for DPW


I wish I had a GIS map of the City of Ithaca’s walkways


Sidewalk snowplowing cost estimator


My Recommendations


Changing Priorities.  I believe DPW will only re-evaluate their priorities if they are required to do so by the Mayor & Council.  And the electeds will only create that requirement if it is clear to them that there is public demand for it.  We’re recruiting volunteers to communicate to city government that there is broad public support for Ithaca to clear snow from sidewalks and crosswalks as effectively as it clears snow from the traffic lanes for motor vehicles.  We’ll plan more public information meetings, organize public comment speakers at Council meetings, draft articles & pics to circulate to news media & social media, and more. 


Subscribe to our email list for the latest plans & news.


Complexity.  The topic of pedestrian snow removal can be surprisingly complex.  There are 1000 details to understand about snowplow specs, enforcement procedures, DPW staffing patterns, NYS law on user fees, and more.  There’s far more information than I can fit on this page.  Follow the links for more.  I expect to continue adding new pages.  What’s missing?


How you can help.  We need to let Ithaca City Hall know that Ithacans care about cleared walkways in winter.  Here’s what you can do –



Updated August 30, 2022