Here in Chicago, it might not feel like Christmas in July, but believe it or not, it’s time to start planning, so we’re prepared for the first snowfall.
Nearly 600,000 Chicagoans are negatively impacted during the annual snowfall due to unplowed sidewalks. Due to inaccessible sidewalks, many of our most vulnerable residents are forced to stay in their homes and watch the world around them go by. They are unable to walk their own block safely, to go to school or to the corner store.
This problem disproportionately affects the elderly, people with disabilities and parents with small children. Often the only way these people are able to participate in the local business ecosystem and help create revenue for the City of Chicago is by paying additional fees and commissions to delivery apps like DoorDash, Uber Eats, or Amazon, just to name a few. some. Current policies and artful practices have barred many Chicagoans from participating in every aspect of what our world-class city has to offer.
Quite simply, it is our responsibility to care for people, maintain public safety, ensure equal access to transit and mobility for people with disabilities, and stimulate economic growth.
My proposed solution to pilot Plow the Sidewalks accomplishes this. Earlier this year, I filed an order at change our municipal code so that the city plows targeted areas. The level of need would be determined by the appropriate departments based on certain criteria.
At the same time, the city can use this pilot program to collect data in order to study the effects of this program on the affected areas. Other cities, including Toronto and Syracuse, have already developed successful tillage programs that we aim to mirror. Currently, my ordinance has 23 co-sponsors and has been referred to the Traffic and Pedestrian Safety Committee, which meets this week.
For context, Chicago Public Schools currently plow 30 million square feet of sidewalks, and Special Service Areas throughout the city plow their sidewalks so customers can support small businesses and participate in their local economy. That leaves the city with an estimated 180 million square feet of unplowed sidewalks. At the approximate rate of half a penny to a penny per square foot to plow sidewalks, this is an inexpensive and essential step for the city.
Additionally, this pilot program will create many entry-level positions targeting our city’s youth, another often overlooked population.
Ultimately, the cost to run a Plow the Sidewalk pilot program will be self-sustaining. Those who were unable to use the sidewalks and participate in the economy during the winter months will now have access to their local grocery stores, dry cleaners and restaurants, creating additional economic benefits in safety without the risk of slips and falls. As a world-class city, we must ensure that our residents and visitors can navigate safely every month of the year. The city must act urgently to ensure that all people can participate in and enjoy all that Chicago has to offer. It’s time the city plows the sidewalks and ensures that everyone can participate in our local economy at no extra cost.
I encourage anyone who believes this would be helpful in their community to contact their alderman before the full City Council votes on the pilot program on July 19, and I urge my colleagues to join me in creating a safer and more prosperous Chicago.
Ald. Gilbert “Gil” Villegas represents the 36th District.
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