From the City of Edmonds Public Works Director: Winter weather tips

A City of Edmonds snow plow at work. (Photo courtesy Edmonds Public Works)

With the expected snow and icy conditions in the next few days, here are some tips to stay safe.

Please remember to drive carefully, and if possible, limit your travel to essential activities. Keeping our roads clear helps the city in our efforts to keep our roads safe for emergency services.

In addition to limiting your driving, you can also help by ensuring your vehicle is parked in a safe location to allow access for snowplows, preferably parked in a driveway. We would also like to ask for your help in keeping safe routes of travel for our pedestrians.

The city does not maintain sidewalks in front of private properties; this is due to two factors. First, per city code, keeping sidewalks clear is the responsibility of private owners. This is an ordinance in place in Edmonds and in cities throughout our state. Second, the city does not currently have the staff or resources to clear sidewalks and driveways. The sidewalks in front of city buildings will be cleared.

It is easiest to remove the snow right after the snow event before it turns into ice. Once the snow turns into ice, it makes it much more difficult to remove, and makes it very unsafe for pedestrians. If you have neighbors who are out of town or who have mobility issues, now is a great time to lend a neighborly hand in keeping their sidewalks cleared.

It is good to remember that conditions vary from city to city, and often vary within the City of Edmonds based on microclimates, elevation and storm response. City resources cannot reach all locations or address every situation. Community assistance and personal responsibility are necessary to be safe during winter events.

Frequently asked questions

How does the city select the streets that will be treated with deicing or plowed during a storm?

When it snows, Edmonds Department of Public Works and Utilities crews maintain a network of pre-selected key routes that provide safe routes of travel for emergency vehicles, public transportation, and commercial vehicles. The street crews operate three plows around the clock or as needed.

The priorities for the crews are:

1. Roads that support emergency services and transit, school buses and commuter traffic
2. Secondary streets
3. Local/residential areas

Due to limited resources (personnel and equipment) during severe events, the city might only be able to keep up with the first and second priority and local/residential areas might not be done.

How’s the snow plowing performed?

Snow is plowed to the side of the street so that when it melts, the water will be more likely to stay off the roadway. If temperatures drop at night, causing the water to freeze again, there will be less ice on the street. However, when snow is pushed to the side of the street, it may accumulate on sidewalks and in front of driveways, requiring residents and businesses to clear it from alongside their property. It is advisable not to park a car on a street that is a snow route because when plows pass by, the car may be buried in snow, requiring the driver to dig it out.

Who is responsible for clearing the snow of sidewalks and driveways?

Residents and businesses are responsible for clearing snow and ice from the sidewalks next to their property. They are also responsible for snow removal on their property, including driveways, parking lots, or other areas.

We appreciate your help while we respond to these winter conditions.

— By Oscar Antillon, Director
City of Edmonds Public Works and Utilities

  1. I don’t believe it is responsible to tell folks that they must clear sidewalks abutting their property. firstly, the code is shaky since the abutting owner did not create the problem, mom nature did. The more serious issue is that shoveling snow is very hazardous to some. It can cause heart attacks (physically demanding) and other injuries. Some of our fellow citizens just cannot and should not being doing it. This stuff will melt soonish. But I would hate to see someone get hurt because they believed this article telling them they are required to and liable for any injuries that result. The City misleading the public is just unacceptable. Everyone be safe, have a cup of hot cocoa and wait a few days.

      1. Yes, Their own sidewalks. Not sidewalks that they do not own and have no right to do anything to and that the city created and has maintained for before and during the property owners ownership of their own property that abuts that property.

        1. Deborah, if you read into the decision at that link, it is exactly the sidewalks created by the city that the AG said the city can require the property owner to maintain. “Abutting” in that decision refers to the property owner’s property abutting the sidewalk installed by the city. “These sections, we think, are sufficient to justify an ordinance requiring an owner or occupant to remove snow from the sidewalks in front of his property.” it states.

  2. This is a fascinating area of law that I believe more complicated than Edmonds City government’s claim that “per city code, keeping sidewalks clear is the responsibility of private owners”.

    Rivett v. City of Tacoma, 123 Wn.2d 573 (1994) is considered a very important legal case about sidewalks in Washington State.

    The Spokane Assistant City Attorney authored a discussion about “Sidewalks after Rivett” that can be found on the internet.

    Do a city’s police powers extend so far that the City can require abutting private property owners to remove snow from sidewalks? If so, how long do the private property owners have to do so? Our poor City Code fails to address time frame.

    Abutting property owners did not cause the snow to fall on the sidewalks. As such, can they be made responsible? What about snow plowed onto sidewalks by the City’s plow trucks?

    I’ve asked Edmonds City Government to review ECC 9.20 since February of 2019. That hasn’t happened and here we are once again.

    People can slip and fall plus heart attacks become more of a risk during strenuous snow-clearing. Why is Edmonds City government making people think they have a responsibility to do this?

  3. I moved here from the midwest. Every community has this ordinance requiring you to remove snow from the sidewalk in front of your property. Not everyone does it, but it’s a kindness to your neighbors who walk. The city just doesn’t have the resources to do it.

    1. Yes, I’m a transplant from the Midwest too. We always kept our sidewalks clear. And we helped clear the sidewalks of elderly neighbors who maybe were not able to. That’s what being a community is all about – helping one another.

    2. Yes that is right Bill, WE do maintain the sidewalk on our property which is just a small sidewalk not meant for citizens to walk along. We do not have sidewalks on OUR street. People here walk in the street. Our sidewalk and the one we own goes from our driveway to our front door. IT is for us and or the mail services. THIS is our private property and of course we keep that clear as best one can during snow storms or freezing rain. I have lived here for 32 years now Bill also from the midwest and yes in the midwest we did remove any snow from sidewalks on our property. BUT not the sidewalks that the city maintained and infact I don’t remember that the cities cleared the sidewalks either? DO you remember? Thank you BTW. I am sure you are just trying to be helpful. Remember if one accepts responsibility and some one falls on that sidewalk you also assume that responsibility. Maybe check with your property tax agency and your insurance co. I intend to do both and call my lawyer and find out what are my rights if I own that sidewalk.

  4. I love walking on snowy days. Please consider that leaving fluffy snow on sidewalks can offer more traction and safety than shoveling offf the snow which can expose ice on the pavement which is more slippery.

    1. Fluffy snow, when walked upon, ices where the footprints lie, making snow removal far more difficult. Moreover, in our climate, that snow may well lie on top of ice – a deadly mix. “Fluffy,” when the temps are around 32 degrees, rapidly experiences peripheral melting, forming crust.

      In colder climates, snow resists icing, and compacts. In Norway for example, people use the snow – the “Spark” (“kick”) is a dogsled-looking device that you ride with one foot, while propelling with the other. They’re everywhere, outside of cities, and are used for mundane things like shopping.

      But we are in the worst kind of climate for icing. Walking and driving at around 32 degrees creates ice, as does our typical freezing-melting cycle. Best to limit movement and wait for the inevitable thaw.

      (I spent all of my working life in the ski tech world, studying snow.)

  5. One thing not to be overlooked is the City employees ( you know the ones who actually do things) are and have been the most friendly, helpful bunch of folks ever even in really bad circumstances (weather, various messes). They truly do all they can given what their bosses tell them to do. The folks in the trucks freezing right now, the parks crews, the office workers, all those folks who just do what they do.
    Given a chance I am sure they would be helpful to those citizens who need help, or would do their darndest to figure something out to help. It is just who they are. Too bad it doesn’t flow upwards. A shout out to all of them. And lots of hot cocoa. Thanks.

    1. I do agree that the Public Works Department work very hard. I have never criticized them in any way. Its just this issue is as Mr Reidy says ” a fascinating area of the law” Mother nature brings snow is the truth. If snow causes damages to property it is not paid for by a persons home insurance for that very reason. SO ya know. I again say and said after our last storm what a great job Public Utilities does for our city. I continue to believe this.

  6. Edmonds roads were the worst in the Puget Sound area between here and at least Kent, East and West. This isn’t from a government study, it’s from personal driving experience. I almost took a video of the dramatic difference as I entered Edmonds. Salt, sand and de-icer were used in many other areas. Not everyone has the option of staying home and eventually someone will be hurt due to our ban on winter road care.

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