Comments on MassDOT Snow and Ice Control Program 2017 EEA# 11202

Comments on MassDOT Snow and Ice Control Program 2017 EEA# 11202

August 9, 2017

Secretary Matthew Beaton
Executive Office of Environmental Affairs, MEPA Office
Attn: Alex Strysky
100 Cambridge Street, Suite 900
Boston, MA 02114

RE: Comments on MassDOT Snow and Ice Control Program 2017 Environmental Status and Planning Report EEA# 11202

Dear Secretary Beaton:

WalkBoston appreciates the opportunity to comment on the Snow and Ice Control Program of MassDOT. We are commenting because pedestrian issues are not addressed in the Report. We provided similar comments in 2006, to the then Mass Highway Department.

While MassDOT has made significant strides to incorporate the needs of pedestrians into many of their project designs and safety programs, we are disappointed that the important accessibility, safety and mobility issues that un-­‐shoveled sidewalks, crosswalks and safety islands pose for pedestrians has still not been addressed in this document.

The Report covers many of the steps that the MassDOT will take to deal with the impacts of its application of chemicals on roadways. It discusses in detail the impacts that these materials have on pavement and the relative degree of effectiveness that the materials exhibit when removing snow and ice. It describes procedures that snow plow operators (whether state employees or service-­‐providers hired by the state) must follow, along with ways that the state will oversee the operations associated with snow plowing. In several of these discussions MassDOT comes tantalizingly close to describing potential impacts on pedestrian movement, yet there is no explicit acknowledgement that pedestrians have a stake in the way the state removes ice and snow from roadways and to the relationship between roadway and sidewalk snow and ice clearance. The only mention of pedestrians in the document is where MassDOT indicates that DCR has retained responsibility for sidewalks adjacent to a number of roadways where MassDOT has assumed responsibility for the vehicular travel way and that the MBTA has a plan for its facilities.

The impact of roadway snow and ice clearance on pedestrians
Pedestrians are clearly affected by the removal of snow from roadways and sidewalks and the effects of inadequate clearance that results in unsafe conditions for walking. After a snowfall in Massachusetts, it is possible to view city or town streets where the roadways are well plowed, but the sidewalks are impassable. Common public services such as postal deliveries or meals on wheels can be disrupted. Commuters and school children find their routes blocked. Un-­‐cleared sidewalks parallel to snow mounds can force pedestrians onto the street where pedestrian-­‐ automobile crashes are far more likely to occur. Even where sidewalks are cleared, pedestrian access at intersections is frequently blocked by roadway-­‐related snow mounds that impede safe walking through the intersection and un-­‐cleared snow mounds can prevent pedestrians and drivers from seeing each other clearly at intersection approaches.

The simple activity of walking is dramatically altered by the presence of snow. Snow mounds present a physical challenge to pedestrians, and walkers who are trying to cross mounds of snow to get to a safe walking route may have their attention diverted away from oncoming traffic. Intersections clogged with snow or snowmelt can challenge pedestrians trying to cross, again causing temporary diversion of attention from oncoming traffic. Drivers may not be able to see pedestrians forced onto roadways.

Sidewalks are found along many state roads throughout the Commonwealth, and some roads that were originally constructed without sidewalks now have them as a result of the continuing urbanization and suburbanization of the state. Adding sidewalks is now required for state roads as they are rebuilt and they are thus a standard element of the MassDOT roadway network.

The importance of providing safe pedestrian access in all seasons cannot be taken lightly. It is a matter of public safety, adequate transportation, social justice (many of our citizens who are pedestrian and transit-­‐dependent are lower income or elderly), and economic well being (we discourage elders and the disabled from staying in Massachusetts if they feel isolated and home-­‐ bound by wintry conditions).

The lack of sidewalk guidance does not seem to conform to the MHD Project Development and Design Guide, 2006 edition, which states:

“MassHighway, in its role as steward of our roadways, must consider a broad range of factors in maintaining (emphasis added) or improving this system, including:
• Safety for all users
• Functionality – the need for access and mobility
• Accessibility for people with disabilities…
• Input and participation from local constituents …”

The manual quotes state law:

“Chapter 87 of the Acts of 1996 requires MassHighway to ‘make all reasonable provisions for the accommodation of bicycle and pedestrian traffic…’”

(Section 1.2.1, p. 1-­‐3) The manual continues with this Guiding Principle:

“Multimodal consideration – to ensure that the safety and mobility of all users of the transportation system (pedestrians, bicyclists and drivers) are considered equally through all phases of a project so that even the most vulnerable (e.g., children and the elderly) can feel and be safe within the public right of way….”

Section 1.2 Guiding Principles of the Guidebook, detailed in Section 1.2.1, p. 1-­‐3. Citing MassDOT’s 2017 policies as reflected on the current website,

“MassDOT is updating the Massachusetts Pedestrian Transportation Plan to improve conditions for walking throughout the Commonwealth.”

One of the core goals noted is to

“Identify policies and model practices to improve maintenance, year-­‐round usability and state of good repair of existing and planned pedestrian infrastructure.”

We urge MEPA to require MassDOT to explicitly incorporate policies and practices related to sidewalk, curb ramp and crossing island snow clearance in its Snow and Ice Control Program. The Program should address the issues noted below (much of the text is copied largely verbatim from WalkBoston’s 2006 comment letter).

Safety for both drivers and pedestrians
The state has determined that highway safety and vehicle mobility are high priority reasons for snow and ice removal. Clearing only the road is insufficient as a method for providing safety. Pedestrians crossing roadways or walking within the roadway constitute significant dangers for both drivers and themselves. The extent to which pedestrians use roadway pavements for walking is greatly expanded when sidewalks are left un-­‐cleared or when roadside snow mounds force people to clamber over them to cross streets. Many miles of MHD (now MassDOT in each instance below) roadways are paralleled by sidewalks and are thus critical components of the pedestrian (and transit) transportation networks.

Development of a protocol for determining who will be responsible for sidewalk snow clearance on MassDOT roadways
Sidewalk clearance responsibilities may well fall to several different parties including MassDOT, local municipalities, other state or local agencies, or private abutters. In order to “ensure the safety and mobility of all users of the transportation system,” this responsibility must be assigned, managed and enforced throughout the state. As the owner and operator of this transportation network, MHD should assume the job of leading the effort to determine how and by whom the sidewalks will be cleared.

The right of way as a basis for snow and ice removal
Municipalities throughout Massachusetts remove snow and ice from local roadways and establish methods for removing snow and ice from sidewalks. Yet the state does not take on the same responsibility for its roadways. Thus, local jurisdictions must provide for snow and ice removal from sidewalks along state roadways without substantial state assistance. Without coordination between the state and the municipalities, several issues emerge:

  1.  Intersections. The maintenance of a safe pedestrian passageway is critical at street crossings. The crossings are often blocked by snow plowing procedures that simply pile up snow evenly along the road, covering sidewalks, handicapped ramps and street corners, and forcing pedestrians to walk in the roadways. The responsibilities of the state and its agents in clearing intersections – including pedestrian access through the intersection – should be spelled out. Attention to this issue can help municipalities cope with comprehensive snow removal for sidewalks.
  2. Roadway use by walkers. When the state or its agents clear roadways of snow, safe pedestrian passage must be maintained. If the roadway is temporarily used as a substitute sidewalk because sidewalks have not been cleared pedestrian and vehicular safety is compromised. Snow removal frequently results in substantial mounds of snow paralleling the state highway that, in many cases, block the sidewalks and driveways connected to the roadway. Snow mounding as a method of disposal may exacerbate the problem of clearing sidewalks because of the sheer volume of the snow plowed onto the sidewalks.
  3. Planning. Streets can be designed to make plowing easier. Sidewalks might be placed at a distance from the roadway that is sufficient to accommodate snow plowed from the street. Snow fences could be located to control snow buildup on pedestrian facilities and help reduce 4 removal costs. The state should establish guidelines for improved design. Pedestrian safety islands should be designed to remain snow-­‐free after plowing operations.
  4. Research. The Report contains documentation of lane-­‐miles plowed under state responsibility. Perhaps research is necessary to document pedestrian miles on sidewalks along state highways and to show how state snow plowing policies affect pedestrians and how those policies need to be amended or supplemented. In addition to providing a plan for ensuring the clearance of sidewalks, It would be useful to know what financial and technical assistance the state might provide for communities and pedestrians during snowy conditions along state roads through a variety of funding sources such as CMAQ, safety funds or hazard elimination funds.

Coordination of local and state efforts
The method by which state and local coordination takes place is described briefly in the 2006 GEIR. This issue has not been addressed in the 2017 report, but remains an important issue for pedestrian safety.

  1. Division of responsibilities. As noted above, MassDOT should determine sidewalk snow-­‐ clearing responsibilities and how state, local and private entities will divide the work. A detailed plan for coordination is essential to determine precisely how the responsibilities will be divided, especially at locations where different responsibilities will abut or overlap. For example, at intersections where there are sidewalk connections into intersections, pedestrian crossings through intersections, and sidewalks along the roadways and across driveways. It is important for MassDOT to include information about pedestrian issues for inclusion in the plow route schedule each fall and for information to be disseminated by the MassDOT Districts.
  2. Sidewalk snow removal procedures. Written procedures can help clarify how snow is to be removed from sidewalks along state roads by agents other than the MassDOT. The state, municipalities or other state agencies can establish priority sidewalks that must be maintained for walkers right from the start of a snow emergency. One model has been prepared by the DCR, which works with the MassDOT to clear certain of its roadways. The state clears curb-­‐to-­‐ curb, and the DCR clears the sidewalks according to a predetermined priority rating assigned to each sidewalk. Some communities (e.g. Concord) clear snow from sidewalks along state roads according to a plan that has been developed in conjunction with the school department to facilitate safe access to schools. Priorities may need to be established for sidewalks leading to schools, transit, hospitals and clinics, business concentrations, and public services such as police and fire stations, as well as based on the density of pedestrian use.
  3. Bartering. A bartering process was described in the 2006 GEIR (Section 2.5.3, p. 29) as an informal method of coordinating operations, with the state taking on some municipal responsibilities. This method of coordination could be used to establish procedures for local communities. Coordination might be embedded in written agreements between the state and the cities and towns that define responsibilities for the details of snow removal. This process is no longer included in the Guide and we are curious how it has been replaced.
  4. Communication with the public. The public should be informed of policy decisions concerning snow removal on sidewalks, streets and at intersections, so that individuals can plan routes to work or school or for other purposes. One method is to place information delineating responsibilities on-­‐line so that can be widely distributed. A good example of delineating agency responsibilities for snow removal is laid out in the Department of Conservation and Recreation’s website at: 97e5e443e798 By laying out snow removal intentions, it may be possible to avert tragedies involving pedestrians walking in roadways.

Thank you for the opportunity to comment on the Report. Please feel free to contact us for clarification or additional comments. We would be very pleased to work with MHD on this important issue.


Wendy Landman
Executive Director

Cc:   Stephanie Pollack, MassDOT Secretary
Sam Salfity Director of SICP Operations
Jonathan Gulliver, Acting Highway Commissioner
Kate Fichter, MassDOT Assistant Secretary for Policy Coordination
Jackie DeWolfe, MassDOT Director of Sustainable Mobility
Pete Sutton, MassDOT Bicycle and Pedestrian Program Coordinator

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