St. Paul wants fresh ideas for clearing snow

The city of St. Paul hopes the private sector will have new ideas to improve one of its most basic public services: snow plowing.

As part of a pilot project, a non-profit startup called Civic Consulting Minnesota is helping the city develop ways to measure “what a good outcome for a winter driving experience looks like.” It’s expected to make recommendations before, hopefully, the first flakes fly in November.

At a budget committee meeting Wednesday, city council members also urged the public works department to come up with a plan to improve the winter walking experience.

Private property owners are responsible for clearing snow from the sidewalks in front of their buildings, leading to an uneven landscape for pedestrians. Snow plows often make matters worse when they heap icy mountains at the corners of residential streets.

“We have snow piles that this year someone will fall off and break their hip and die. And their relatives ought to sue us,” Council Member Dave Thune said, at the end of a lengthy rant on the subject.

“Dave, stop digging,” Council President Kathy Lantry interrupted, trying to move on to other parts of the agenda.

“We’re not digging. That’s the problem,” he shot back.

“Then find four votes and find the money,” Lantry retorted.

Exactly how much it would cost the city to clear snow from the corners of sidewalks isn’t clear, but the answers seems to be: A lot. The public works department says there are about 40,000 intersections in the city. Clearing them all would mean a doubling the city’s workforce, Lantry said.