GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Crews were busy across Grand Rapids on Sunday cleaning up the sidewalks after more than two feet of snow fell in parts of the city in the last three days.
It was a quick change for Grand Rapids Public Works. Just earlier this week, their attention was elsewhere.
“We were mid-leaf season collecting leaves,” said John Gorney, the public works director for the city of Grand Rapids. “We (were going) around the city picking up leaves off the streets.”
After the snow came, the city quickly switched gears.
“Most of our trucks can be switched over in a short amount of time,” Gorney said. “By the time the snow hit and we needed to be on the road, we were prepared and ready to go.”
That includes the city bringing back the Sidewalk Snow Support Pilot Program for a fourth year.
When more than two inches of snow falls, crews working back-to-back 12-hour shifts clear 180 miles of snowy sidewalks across the city. It’s nearly double what they plowed last year.
“Mostly, we focused on major streets, streets similar to Leonard Street or Eastern Avenue,” Gorney said. “We expanded those areas. So we’re out to the city limits.”
“If you’ve grown up here and you’re used to it, you find ways to get around,” Gorney added. “But if you’re not, and you’re new to the city, that can be challenging. If you have limited mobility, that’s certainly a challenge.”
The expansion came after the city decided to no longer use its own snowplows for the program. Because of staffing issues last year, the city is now contracting out all of the work to J&D and Lavelle.
Gorney said seasonal staff were supposed to run the sidewalk plows last year, but they struggled to find enough workers.
“We really struggled for help last year,” Gorney said. “Essentially, we ended up putting full-time staff in those sidewalk plows last year to fill in the gaps. That was tough. We need all of our staff on the streets in large trucks during a snow event.
Homeowners are still responsible for clearing their own sidewalks; the city is focused on cleaning up sidewalks on the busiest streets.
“The idea behind that is we focus a lot of our attention on the ‘first attention routes,’ as we call them,” Gorney said. “So there’s extra snow, extra slush, extra ice that builds up on those particular sidewalks.”
The goal is making Grand Rapids a “mobile” city, Gorney said.
“We want to be open, and we want people to be able to move around,” he said.
The pilot program costs an estimated $110,000. It’s up in the air whether the program will become permanent or continue to expand.
Doing so would bring significant cost. There are more than 900 miles of sidewalks across the city, and they cover about a fifth of that right now.
“Is it an increased cost to the city somewhere, to the residents, or do we drop off some services somewhere else?” Gorney said. “Which I don’t think is a good idea. I don’t see that happening. We’d be looking at where do we get the extra funding to expand.”
“Ideally we’d like to expand the program further,” Gorney added. “But again, it does come down to funding and how we’re going to make that happen.”
If you see the snowplows out on the sidewalks, Gorney asks you to stay clear.
“Give them room,” he said. “Let them do the work that they need to do. Be patient. This takes time to get through the amount of sidewalks that we have, especially the huge volume of snow we have right now.”