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What obligation does a public agency have regarding snow removal in its walkways?

A public agency must maintain its walkways in an accessible condition, with only isolated or temporary interruptions in accessibility. 28 CFR §35.133. Part of this maintenance obligation includes reasonable snow removal efforts.

What day-to-day maintenance is a public agency responsible for under the ADA?

As part of maintenance operations, public agencies’ standards and practices must ensure that the day-to-day operations keep the path of travel on pedestrian facilities open and usable for persons with disabilities, throughout the year. This includes snow removal, as noted above, as well as debris removal, maintenance of accessible pedestrian walkways in work zones, and correction of other disruptions. Identified accessibility needs should be noted and incorporated into the transition plan.

When weather conditions such as snow and ice limit or prevent access to services, programs, and activities, a town that houses programs in an accessible facility will have to maintain access to ensure that those programs are accessible. Maintenance of accessible features would include the removal of snow from accessible parking spaces, parking space access aisles, the accessible route to the accessible entrance, and accessible entrances. Although temporary interruptions in services due to bad weather are expected, alternate services should be provided if snow and ice cannot be cleared in a timely manner.

How a jurisdiction handles snow removal from sidewalks and paved shared-use paths is also an ADA issue. Snow removal is treated differently because of its temporary nature and because responsibility for clearing the snow is diffused. However, there is a legal obligation to remove snow within a reasonable period of time. Most jurisdictions need to have a plan in place to do it, and snow removal programs must include clearing curb ramps. Snow-blocked curb ramps due to plowing are an ADA issue. ADA complaints and issues related to snow removal involve response times and proper clearing:

  • Many complaints are received when snow is plowed into handicapped parking spaces for storage.
  • Many snow removal complaints come from residential areas, such as apartment buildings. If management does not clear sidewalks or parking lots, disabled individuals may be imprisoned in their apartments. Many more do not complain because they are afraid of possible negative repercussions.
  • Snow-blocked curb cuts due to plowing are an ADA issue.

Most businesses know they are responsible for clearing the sidewalk. But they draw the line where the sidewalk ends and the street begins. “The City is responsible for clearing the streets.” After a major snowstorm, the dividing line between the street and the sidewalk gets confusing. The snow plows create the problem by pushing the snow away from the center of the street toward the sides.  As a result, a pedestrian may safely traverse an entire sidewalk only to find crossing the street near impossible. Invariably a 3 to 8″ thick and up to 6′ long section of slush, frozen ice and snow exists between the end of the sidewalk and the center of the street where the snowplows have cleared. Although no one really addresses this directly in the regulations, the homeowner, landlord, business owner should consider this part of their pathway/sidewalk, and maintain a clear pathway.

The ADA generally does not require a State or local government entity to provide additional services for individuals with disabilities that are not provided for individuals without disabilities.  Ex:  ADA does not require a city government to provide snow removal service for the private driveways of residents with disabilities, if the city does not provide such service for residents without disabilities.

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