WTHR’s Report on Sidewalk Snow Clearance

This video was amazing to me.  Most of the time, local news crews seem to focus on any changes or challenges to driving conditions, but this report deals directly with the lack of sidewalk clearance within the city after a snowfall.  Not only that, the first part of the report mentions that snow should be cleared off before if freezes hard to the concrete, which is an important point:

13 WTHR Indianapolis

Last month I walked on the south side of Broad Ripple Avenue next to the Subway restaurant, and it was covered in old crusty ice.  There had been plenty of time to have cleared it when it was warm enough, but sadly it never got done.  It was dangerous, and there is no buffer between the sidewalk and moving vehicles.

I’m not really sure if enforcement of the city ordinance for sidewalk clearance is the answer, so I wish to highlight the civic duty in our readers to get out the message.  Doesn’t this following photo from last year look inviting?

Photo credit: Chris Corr

Comments 29

  • I will never forget the 2008-09 winter, when we were still living at Gardens of Canal Court and I tried to get them to shovel the city sidewalks. They have 6 blocks of sidewalk frontage on West and St Clair and they did absolutely jack shit in terms of clearing them (I can only assume this is still true, though 1 of those 6 blocks is now the Cultural Trail and gets special clearance efforts). My wife was pregnant at the time and was walking to campus for Med School, so clear sidewalks were especially important to me. They tried to claim that it was the city’s responsibility to clear the sidewalks, so I went and actually printed out the sidewalk clearing ordinance and put it in their hand. They still stuck to their guns, so I gave up and went to the city. I couldn’t get anybody, including code enforcement, to do anything for me. According to that WTHR video, code enforcement apparently has people who will come out and talk with businesses now. Wish I had that at the time.

    • Your apartment complex was right. You’re rcorrect that the ordinance exists, but the Court of Appeals has said it’s unenforceable, that Indianapolis and other municipalities can’t impose a duty on private residents to clear public sidewalks.

      • The Court of Appeals has not said that the ordinance is “unenforceable.” The Court of Appeals has said 1) there is no common law duty imposed on landowners to clear adjacent, city-owned sidewalks, and 2) a city ordinance that requires adjacent landowners to clear city owned sidewalks doesn’t create a tort duty from the landowner to a third party who slips and falls on the sidewalk. None of the cases you cite on your blog say that a city cannot require such action by ordinance or that a city cannot enforce such an ordinance by fining members who do not comply.

  • These basic things, like poor snow removal, tend to depress me about Indianapolis and I’m not entirely sure what the answer is. I used to think that issues like these were the fault of city leadership, and in some respects they are. In my opinion, this issue has more to do with the culture of the city and it’s residents believing that less is always more than with the city leadership. Spend less, always – nevermind if it’ll end up costing more in lost time, productivity, money, lives, etc later. And this doesn’t only have to do with the political divide of government spending the money vs private interests – it’s uniformly distributed. And although if that’s what most people in the area want – a lack of basic city services, crumbling infrastructure, yet having a $1 billion football stadium, then they have spoken. But a response by the city and citizens to a winter like this gives me great pause to reconsider if Indianapolis is the type of city I want to live in anymore.

    I used to believe Indy would be a vibrant, growing, and an increasingly modern city – and it still might happen. But the time horizon on this is now becoming clearer that it’s going to take decades to get there. I’d like to be proven wrong about Indy and I really want to regain my optimism, but I just don’t know where to find it anymore. Any other thoughts, especially from those still optimistic about Indy’s present and near future?

    • That’s a fair point Jim. Even dense, pedestrian friendly areas struggle with this. More video reports like this will probably help, if nothing else. They reach an audience that our blog does not.

      Indy is still Indy. A decent northern city that has some things working for and against it. It’s up to us to try to make it better, which is both empowering and frustrating at the same time.

      • Kevin, what keeps you optimistic about Indy and living here vs moving to a city like Chicago, Boston, San Fran which already have many things figured out (but are obviously far from perfect)?

        • For what it’s worth, this is a common issue in the far more “pedestrian friendly” Chicago. In my neighborhood most residents and businesses do a good job, but many landlords (especially the more large scale property owners) don’t do much or anything, so certain segments will never get cleared. I’ve heard the code is pretty much not enforced here either, though the reason I heard was fear that enforcing it might cause unhealthy people to have heart attacks or other medical issues from the extreme exertion of shoveling snow.

          By the way, I’d consider moving back to Indy but am so disheartened by the lack of any decent public transportation.

          • I think the fear of someone dying from shoveling snow excuse is pretty lame. Buy a snowblower and a bag of salt and you’re looking at no more physical exertion than mowing a lawn, which most everyone must do. Or hire someone to do the work, much like one would do for every other building/property maintenance activity that one isn’t physically suited for doing.

        • These types of conversations didn’t even seem to happen years ago. That’s about the best I can do at this moment. But, as Finn alluded to, there are no perfect places, and all cities are in different stages of striving towards a better city. Indy’s still in the “just figuring it out stage.”

        • Cost of living in relation to quality of life is what keeps me here. When that ratio gets too far out of whack, I’d more actively consider moving to a larger city. This type of citizen negligence in the snow and HJR3 are tipping the scale in that direction.

  • The ordinance is not enforced because the Court of Appeals has ruled that Indy’s ordinance can’t be used to impose a duty on property owners to clear sidewalks of snow and ice. A sidewalk is a) either in the public right of way; or b) an easement on the owner’s property. Neither makes it the owner’s responsibility. That doesn’t mean they shouldn’t clear it…just that government can’t legally require it.

    • That sounds like a ridiculous legal opinion. Does that also mean that the City can’t require property owners to mow the grass that grows between the sidewalk and the curb in areas where a tree lawn (snow storage zone) actually exists? If the word gets out, we can look forward to even more tall weeds lining the streets. Perhaps that issue needs to be addressed by a higher court.

      • Paul L., that area between the sidewalk and the curb is the property owner’s property and the property owner’s responsibility to mow. The situation you describe is where the sidewalk is an easement across the person’s property. The homeowner has a duty to not obstruct the easement, i.e. the sidewalk But it’s not the homeowner’s easement but the public’s. The homeowner doesn’t have a responsibility to keep others or God from obstructing the sidewalk. That’ the responsibility of the public (the owner of the easement) and not of the homeowner. That’s pretty basic easement law.

        • Paul K. does this mean if the ROW dissects your yard technically it’s the city’s responsibility to mow the grass?

        • The homeowner has a duty to not obstruct the easement, i.e. the sidewalk

          Whether it is by god or not, it seems that snow being an obstruction is the homeowner’s responsibility. Especially the cases where homeowners are specifically piling snow up to keep people off their section of the sidewalk.

          Also, if someone gets injured tripping on the sidewalk in front of my house because it is buckled or cracked, who is liable? The city or me?

        • Paul Ogden, your comment appears to make no sense. Who would believe that a homeowner can’t be held responsible for clearing the snow from the sidewalk, but can be held responsible for mowing the grass along the tree lawn (farther from their property) between the sidewalk and the curb? In most places, where the lots are platted, both the sidewalk and tree lawn are dedicated public rights-of-way and are not described as part of the adjacent lot owners’ property. It sounds like you are referring to rural areas where road rights-of-way are carved out of existing properties.

  • Here’s how a business could turn it into a marketing opportunity. 🙂 Suppose you have to have a mascot costume though…


  • For the street-adjacent sidewalks, what we need is a couple of those big jet dryers they use at IMS to just melt it all in one slow pass.

    Have Rolls-Royce build and sponsor ’em. Salt spreaders could follow.


  • Few property owners on my block have shoveled their sidewalks. I wrote the mayors office to encourage them to enforce the ordinance and got a very nicely worded, but very non-committal reply from the Communication Director.
    We’ll get there eventually I suppose.

    Until then, here’s a nice flier you can drop in the mailbox of that neighbor who refuses to shovel.


  • All I can say is, if you can, just shovel a larger stretch in front of your property. Help a neighbor out if possible and maybe round up a group of neighbors to clear some tough spots. It snows but a few times a year so it wouldn’t be that extreme. Not the best solution, but it’s action.

    As far as where the sidewalk is, I would say that the portion of many people’s lawns that are near the road are likely public right-of-way and the adjacent resident has no more responsibility to mow this area than to shovel a sidewalk.

    • On a normal year, that’s fine. However, with the consistent dumpings we received this year, it’s back-breaking enough to do my own property.

      I cleared the path for my neighbors during the first big snow (when it was -13F), but it gets old knowing they are fully capable of doing it (one neighbor clears a path from his house to the untouched sidewalk, but doesn’t clear the sidewalk itself, argh) but choose not to.

  • Most of the comments here express a lack of understanding of constitutional government. The City of Indy can’t compel people to perform labor without compensation. That’s akin to slavery. The City also commands citizens to clear debris from sewer grates. Just because the City passes a law about something doesn’t mean the law is legal.

    One comment mentioned mowing the grass near the street. The City of Indy doesn’t do this any more in most parts of town. Along Raymond Street all summer, there’s a strip of grass 20 feet wide by about a mile, that grows 2 feet high. The law about mowing one’s grass has as its basis the control of vermin and insects; the government has no vested interest in aesthetics. But even the City doesn’t mow. Nor do they clear sidewalks, come to think of it – the bridge on Shadeland just north of 38th Street has sidewalks, but it’s not cleared, and my god is that risky to get across.

    More perturbing are the comments castigating Indy residents as backwards, for not shoveling. To the contrary, only a fool would shovel their sidewalk, because that may invite liability. The rational response is to not shovel.

    There are many people like myself who cannot shovel their sidewalk for medical reasons.

    • Gene – I think that the commenters here have a better understanding of Constitutional Government (and particularly Indiana Government) than most. That said, I believe you’re missing the point. I think this thread went awry in discussing the legality of the issue rather than the personal obligation as a property/business owner to do what you can to make the area on and around you better. I get a LOT of pedestrians on the street that I live – patrons of nearby businesses, churchgoers, school kids, etc. – and I personally want them to feel that they have a relatively safe route. Is this at my own detriment for liability? Technically, maybe, but in practice I highly doubt it. As was previously suggested, I usually try to shovel 2 – 3 houses worth of sidewalk in either direction as well as there is an elderly couple and some (tired) new parents near my home.

      If I were physically unable to mow, shovel, or otherwise care for the area, I would still make sure it got done. For me, the rational response is to do what I am able to do for my neighbors and neighborhood.

    • So rationally you’re saying, I should not shovel and just sit back and watch the wheelchair-bound person who lives in our neighborhood struggle to get through the deep grooves of snow cut into the street after a storm. That would be so neighborly of me.

  • I understand that everyone is not physically able to clear their sidewalks. In those instances, the city should make provision to aid those residents in clearing their sidewalks. And I know, “there’s not enough room in the budget”. Well they need to make room. Take a subsidy from parking garage revenue or something. I know it’s not that simple, but if money can be found to expand I-69 north, surely there’s an untapped resource somewhere. And I understand why some may feel the city can’t force people to shovel their sidewalks, but not for the reasons stated here. The city doesn’t set a good example themselves, leaving sidewalks on bridges everywhere throughout the city. I looked at sidewalk ordinances for 3 other cities, Denver, Milwaukee, and Louisville. I think Milwaukee has the best written ordinance, because it addresses every different type of ownership, business, residential, and city. And they make provisions for those physically incapable of clearing their sidewalks. The links can be seen below. Surely, another winter won’t go by without some change being made to our snow removal municipal code.





  • I just went back and read the comments on the WTHR story. They aren’t very encouraging for those of us who’d like to see Indianapolis become a more walkable city. Frankly, the comments here, with what most would consider a fairly progressive readership, are not all that encouraging.

    As others said, we should all do what we can to make our community safer and more walkable without seeking to hide behind rationalizations about infringements on our constitutional rights or fears of increased liability. When was the last time someone was sued in Indiana for attempting to clear their sidewalk but not doing a good enough job? Seriously. When has that ever happened? For crying out loud, let’s show some basic human decency already and make life a little less agonizing for people who don’t have the luxury of jumping in a car in this weather.

  • Had a reality check of the dismal state of sidewalks in this city this morning at Vermont and Delaware. A blind guy got off the bus and was fortunately escorted by the bus driver up the snowbound curb and then directed be careful of the lumps and piles of snow all over the sidewalk. I hope he made it to his destination ok, but the attitude of this being a liberty or liability issue is despicable. It is a safety, social justice, and human rights issue and should be addressed as such.

    • Yep, that’s sad. I usually just think about how tough it would be for someone here in a wheelchair, using a walker, or just elderly and not as agile as us younger folks. I can’t even hardly imagine being blind and trying to negotiate Indy’s sidewalks and intersections. I’m no legal expert, but it would seem like a case could be made using the ADA as a basis to require some greater reasonable efforts to keep the City’s pedestrian infrastructure accessible for all, in all four seasons.

  • It was kind late (like really late), but I saw the city out with a frontloader and a dump truck scooping huge piles off the corners along Pennsylvania near the Indy Star building. Should have been done a month ago, at least.

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