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  • Marybeth McGinnis

Winter Walking: Keeping the Sidewalk Clear


Man in coat shovels sidewalk
Photo by Karolina Grabowska (Pexels)

Welcome to our Winter Walking series -- we're focusing on pedestrian safety and comfort during the cold months!


Whether you embrace winter with enthusiasm or prefer to curl up under the covers, cold weather is a part of Milwaukee life. Winter means snow and ice -- and a responsibility to clear sidewalks and crosswalks.


Keeping walkways clear is important for many reasons, including:

  • Fall prevention - although everyone is at risk, falls can be very dangerous for seniors.

  • For people who use mobility devices or who are visually impaired, icy or snowy sidewalks may turn a visit to a friend or to the grocery store into an impossible or dangerous task.

  • Everyone is a pedestrian, whether you walk to the bus stop, take your dog for a walk after work, or just want to get from your parking spot to your home.

What are the requirements for clearing sidewalks?

Milwaukee requires property owners and occupants to clear the sidewalks adjacent to their properties (116-8).

  • You must clear the entire sidewalk and crosswalks adjacent to your property of all snow within 24 hours after the snowfall ends, at the latest.

  • Renters: you may be the responsible person for snow removal. Check your lease and ask your landlord for a shovel and sand. If you live in a bigger building, communicate with your property managers if snow/ice are not removed.

  • Clear the whole width of the sidewalk -- not doing so impacts people using wheelchairs, strollers, walkers, and more.

  • If ice has formed and you can’t move it from the sidewalk, you are still responsible for applying sad, abrasive material, or any other product that melts the ice.

  • When a snowplow comes through, some snow may end up on sidewalks or in crosswalks. Expect to clear this again as needed.

Who clears bus stops?

The City will generally clear bus pads (when its snows more than 4 inches) but not stop shelters. If there is a bus stop near your home, just a few extra minutes of shoveling can help the people who rely most on walking and transit.


What about alleys?

In Milwaukee, the city doesn’t plow alleys. Many neighborhoods will have groups who pool money to hire a snow plowing service. Talk with your neighbors about this, contribute to the pool, and make sure that when alleys are cleared, sidewalks are cleared as well.


Shouldn't the city clear sidewalks?

We know that dealing with icy sidewalks and snowy curb cuts can be frustrating and dangerous. It’s also true that pedestrian infrastructure is often funded through special assessments to property owners. In comparison, car vehicle lanes and their maintenance, including plowing, is often funded through general budgeting processes. Even roads that won’t be plowed completely to the pavement will be plowed using city resources, whereas sidewalks are unevenly cleared by private property owners and occupants.


The city does plow some sidewalks in the downtown area (when there is more than 4 inches of snow), and it is also responsible for clearing sidewalks on its properties. Other units of government, like County Parks, are also responsible for clearing their properties' adjacent sidewalk.


It is unlikely that the city will adopt city-wide sidewalk clearing anytime soon. The city is already in a crunch to hire and retain plow drivers. While city-wide sidewalk plowing would be nice, it is all our of responsibility to keep the sidewalks and crosswalks clear and safe throughout the winter.


Got more questions? Want to get involved?

Look out for more Winter Walking posts as we provide more information about how winter impacts pedestrian comfort and safety.


Want to get involved in the MilWALKee Walks program by volunteering at crosswalk actions, becoming an Ambassador, or just have other ideas for promoting pedestrian safety? Reach out to Marybeth McGinnis (marybeth@wisconsinbikefed.org), MilWALKee Walks Program Manager. We would love to hear from you!



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