Winter street and sidewalk maintenance are high priorities for the City of Ann Arbor. The City does not follow a bare pavement practice on roadways, but rather strives to provide traction control where needed. The goal is to provide a travel surface that is safe to traverse at reasonable speeds.
During the winter months, Ann Arbor's Field Operations Unit, in coordination with AAATA, Ann Arbor Public Schools, the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT), local and state law enforcement, allocate the appropriate resources and use a combination of technologies and methods to maintain the best possible traction on roads for vehicles. These efforts are not focused on producing bare pavement. Sidewalks must be cleared to bare pavement, which is the responsibility of residents, property and business owners as well as the city.
The City performs a variety of street winter maintenance activities, depending upon the amount of snow and ice. Generally, the categories are related to the severity of winter weather conditions and are described as "light snow", "heavy snow", and "snow emergency". While the City crews provide snow and ice treatments on major and local streets, the City is dependent upon its residents to provide snow and ice removal for sidewalks and sidewalk ramps which abut their property.
How can I get the latest information on snow plowing?
During heavy and emergency snow events, Field Operations activates the snow desk. Residents can also call the Snow Desk at 734.794.6367 with questions and for the latest information.
The snow desk includes a dedicated phone line, staffed 7:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m., in addition to on-line posting on the City's snow removal Automated Vehicle Location (AVL) webpage noting the progress of snow removal efforts throughout the City.
AVL information is updated live with time stamps to assist residents in planning and coordination of such items as removal of vehicles from streets and clearing of sidewalks and driveway approaches.
In the event a snow emergency is declared, the City will broadcast announcements and instructions on Cable Television Network (CTN) Channel 16, the City Website, Facebook, Twitter, and local radio.
When are streets plowed?
The Field Operations Unit maintains a command center and utilizes a professional weather forecasting service to gain adequate advance warning of an approaching storm. Field Operations has a variety of traction control and snow plowing equipment at its disposal, including snow plows, electronically calibrated and controlled salt/sand trucks with spinner pre-wet, our wheel drive pickups and front end loaders.
During winter months, street maintenance crews provide regular coverage with two daily shifts Monday through Friday. Schedule #1 is 6:00 a.m.to 2:00 p.m., and Schedule #2 is 10:00 p.m. to 6:00 a.m. During heavy snow events, schedules can be changed to two 12 hour shifts, providing around the clock coverage for snow removal and/or ice treatment.
In heavy snow events and in snow emergencies, crews across all Field Operations units will be brought in to assist in the maintaining roadways for travel. On occasion, crews that are assisting in snow removal and ice treatment may be called away to address other critical issues, such as water main breaks or sanitary sewer backups.
How are streets cared for during a light snow?
De-icing agents are spread over approximately 98 miles of major streets. There are eight salt routes within the City. These routes are comprised of the highest volume roads, roads that provide direct access to public safety and health infrastructure or locations with a history of documented traffic incidents. During periods when salting is required and extra personnel are available, more than one unit may be assigned to a route or trouble spots. The street maintenance crews may use salt in conjunction with plowing efforts to control a snowfall of up to four inches on major streets. There are several considerations used to determine the best application of de-icing agents including, total amount of snow or ice expected, time frame, temperatures, etc. The response starts when it begins to snow and takes four to five hours to complete salt routes after the snow has ended.
After major streets are cleared and treated, street maintenance crews move into residential areas with additional agents, such as sand, to provide better traction at hills, stop signs, and intersections.
How are streets cared for during a heavy snow?
When a snowfall of four inches or more occurs, local street plowing begins, utilizing all salt/plow trucks and available staff in a coordinated effort to clear streets in the City. While the regular street maintenance crews focus on clearing the major public streets, other crews begin plowing residential streets, beginning with the routes next scheduled for refuse pick-up if containers are not already out. A variety of smaller trucks and equipment is used to clear dead ends and cul-de-sacs in the residential areas once the through streets have been cleared. When the street maintenance crews have completed the major streets, crews and equipment are sent to assist in the residential areas.
All snow removal equipment is staffed on a 24 hour per day schedule (two, 12-hour shifts) until all City-maintained streets are cleared. The normal time required to open the priority two streets (see below) is twenty-four hours after the end of an average 4 inch snowstorm.
All schools and privately owned roads, parking lots, etc. are to provide for their own de-icing and plowing.
Drivers are encouraged to remove their cars from curbside parking so that plowing can be effective and their vehicles aren't buried in snow.
What is a Snow Emergency and how does it affect parking and travel?
City Code (Chapter 126, Section 10:143) empowers the City Administrator to declare a "snow emergency" on the "basis of snow, sleet, freezing rain, or on the basis of a weather forecast. . ." Where street parking is normally permitted, restrictions may go into effect on an odd/even basis. This limitation would restrict parking to one side of the street and would not apply during the hours of 8:00 p.m. to 12:00 midnight so that vehicles can be moved to comply with the next day's prohibition. If a vehicle is parked on a "snow emergency" street, it may be ticketed and towed.
All emergency requests will be directed to the Police Department and/or other specialty agencies which serve the community while City personnel continue in their snow removal efforts. When police, fire, or rescue assistance is called upon to respond to an emergency, snow removal crews will provide necessary assistance such as opening a street or driveway to give access to the emergency crews.
If the high need event is of such magnitude that City forces cannot be expected to sufficiently maintain the streets in a timely manner, private contractors may be contacted to provide the City with additional specialized pieces of equipment. The contractors' equipment is of a heavy duty nature and would be valuable in providing snow removal services where the City equipment is not sufficient.
How does snow effect trash and recycling pickup?
During heavy snow events, crews will plow residential streets based on which roads are scheduled next for curbside trash and recycling cart service. Residents should place their trash and recycling carts on flat ground, not on the snow bank, with snow removed from the tops and sides of the carts.
Residents should remove carts from streets and extensions as soon as possible after pickup so they won't be buried or blown over by the snow being moved by plows.
Which streets are plowed and treated first and why?
Snow removal efforts are prioritized as follows:
Priority One - Major Streets
Major streets are those arterial roadways that are considered to be the essential network that must be kept open to provide a transportation network connecting hospitals, fire stations, police stations and rescue squad units.
After the major street system is secure, the emphasis shifts to the local street network.
Priority Two - Residential Streets
The City currently maintains 197 miles of residential streets. The typical time required to open the priority two streets is twenty-four hours after the end of an average 4 inch snowstorm.
Dead end streets and cul-de-sacs may be plowed open as the through streets are plowed. Finish plowing of dead end streets and cul-de-sacs will occur after the through streets are cleared.
For plowing the residential streets, a rotation is used which schedules snow plowing according to the next scheduled refuse pickup day. In this manner solid waste services can continue, unaffected by the snow plowing operation, and the citizens of the community can be assured that the pickup of refuse will not be severely delayed due to normal snowfall events.
A standing exception to the starting rotation based on refuse pickup days is local plow sections 20, 21 and 22. These sections include streets such as: Pemberton, Waldenwood, Fox Hunt, Larchmont, Wolverhampton, Windmere, Bluett, Georgetown, Placidway and the Foxfire Subdivisions. These sections have a high density of cul-de-sacs and dead end streets. The equipment such as large loaders that are suited to clean the cul-de-sacs and dead ends are not as productive on normal streets. Thus when snow removal is started on local streets, the cul-de-sacs and dead ends in sections 20, 21 and 22 will be serviced early in the event providing the best overall productivity. The through streets in these sections may be plowed following the normal refuse day rotations. If there are other emergency needs within the City, the loaders may not start in these sections at the beginning of a snow event.
Each snow event is unique and the amount of personnel and equipment mobilized varies based on forecasting models. For example, if freezing conditions exist, a salting operation would be initiated to melt snow or ice accumulated in depth less than 1 inch, or to prevent the bonding of packed snow to the pavement. If the snow and ice accumulation continues, and if the de-icing of major streets ceases to be effective, then the process changes from a de-icing configuration to a snow plowing and snow removal operation. Back to back snow events less than 4 inches may cause the need for plowing, even though the events individually would not have warranted plowing all City streets including cul-de-sac and dead end streets.
During plowing operations it is an unavoidable consequence that snow will be moved into driveways as it is pushed by the plows. At times, sidewalks that are close to road edge may also receive deposits of snow from plowing. During major events Field Operations maintains an on-line snow desk to assist property owners in tracking the progression of snow removal.
Winter maintenance of on-road bike lanes is performed in conjunction with operations on the road they are part of.
How is de-icing performed?
The City uses a sand/salt mix when appropriate to minimize the environmental impacts. Since 1991 the City has recognized the impact of salt use on the Huron River.
The primary response to all snow and ice events is the spreading of de-icing agents on the major streets. This is done in an effort to keep the arterial and collector street network of the community open and passable to motorists. The intent is to apply de-icing agents during the early hours of a snow and ice event. This typically includes the treatment of all intersections, bridges, curves, and hills along local streets with sand.
The city reminds non-residentially zoned property owners or occupants that snow and ice that has accumulated on the adjacent public sidewalk prior to 6:00 a.m. must be removed by noon. Immediately after the accumulation of ice on such a sidewalk, it must be treated with sand, salt or other substance to prevent it from being slippery.
Within 24 hours after the end of each accumulation of snow greater than 1 inch, the owner of every residentially zoned property must remove the accumulation from the adjacent public sidewalk and ramps leading to a crosswalk. Ice must be treated as mentioned above and removed within 24 hours after formation.
During the winter, the city provides residents and/or property owners with one, five-gallon bucket's worth of sand and salt mixture, per visit at the maintenance yard located at 721 N. Main. The mixture pile is to the right of the drive before the gate and those picking up should use their own shovel and bucket and plan to load the material themselves. Please, no contractors, even if servicing sidewalks.
What if a sidewalk isn't cleared of snow or ice?
If a citizen has a concern regarding sidewalk snow removal 24 hours after the end of an accumulation greater than one inch, Community Standards is ready to help. Anyone can call 734.794.6942, Monday through Friday, 7:00 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. to report locations that may be in violation of the city snow removal ordinance. Callers should be prepared to leave their name and contact information in case staff requires additional information. Identifying information will be kept in strict confidence and only used to process service requests.
If an address is found to be in violation of the ordinance a "Sidewalk Snow Removal Notice" is issued. The notice serves as a reminder and gives the resident or property owner an additional 24 hours to correct the situation. If, upon re-inspection, the necessary action has not been taken, the City may clear the sidewalk and bill the property owner. Violations of the City Ordinance can result in fines of up to $500.
Field Operations is responsible for removing snow from 52 miles of City-maintained multi-use paths and sidewalks fronting City owned properties, corner ramps, refuse islands, and parks & recreation facilities. Priority is given to those areas with the highest volume of pedestrian traffic, (downtown area, recreation facilities, community centers, park parcels adjacent to Ann Arbor Public Schools, and refuses islands).
Visit our Frequently Asked Questions page to find out more about salt, sand, funding for road maintenance and much more.
Selected sources for sidewalk snow shoveling assistance
- Bill's Big Dig WXYZ for Washtenaw County Residents via the Sheriff’s office: 734.971.8400, ext. 78676. Since 2001, Bill Spencer of WXYZ Channel 7 has teamed up with the Washtenaw County Sheriff’s office to help elderly and disabled residents who cannot shovel themselves and cannot afford to hire help. Residents should call only once and their name will be on file all season for help clearing snow after 5+inch storms (small snowfalls will not be shoveled). This program will decline residents who can afford to make other shoveling arrangements.
- Neighborhood Senior Services—applies only to current NSS clients. Residents may call: 712.7775 or contact www.nssweb.org
To suggest other nonprofit sources of snow shoveling assistance to consider placing on this web page, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Snow-related video programs
Snow removal guidelines for Ann Arbor’s residential and commercial properties video link (2:45 minutes)
Snow parking guidelines for Ann Arbor video link (2:23 minutes)
Fire hydrant snow removal video link (2:30 minutes)
Snow plow safety guidelines prepared for residents and drivers by the Michigan Municipal League and Rochester Hills, MI. Video link (10 minutes)
Winter Safety Tips
- Always wear your seatbelt and be sure that your children are properly buckled up
- Be cautious of bridges that may be icy when the approaching pavement is clear and dry
- Do your best to minimize distractions so your focus can be on driving
- Slow down when visibility is low or when road conditions are snowy or icy
- Accelerate and brake slowly and avoid abrupt steering maneuvers
- Don't pump anti-lock brakes
- Don’t attempt to pass a snow plow vehicle while they are plowing
- NEVER attempt to pass a snow plow on the right.
- Plow drivers have limited visibility and they cannot see directly behind their trucks
- Make sure your windshield is clear of ice and snow before you start out. “Peephole driving” is unsafe for you and other drivers on the road
- Snowplow drivers need all the help they can get when it comes to maneuvering large trucks through traffic and along the roadways for the benefit of all of us. Please do your part and “Don't Crowd the Plow!”
For Property Owners
- Don’t plow snow across the road or shovel snow from your driveway onto shoulders or roadways
- Don’t pile snow high near intersections or driveways obstructing others vision
- Park vehicles away from the road and follow local parking ordinances related to snow removal
- Keep rocks, timbers, fences, basketball hoops, garbage bins, reflectors, and other items away from the road
- Keep areas around mailboxes clear in order to assist in safe mail delivery and to help prevent damage to mailboxes
- Maintaining the end of your driveway could decrease chances of getting plowed in, or having your mailbox damaged
- Never build snow forts, make tunnels, or play in ditches or snow banks by the road
- Stay away from the edge of the roadway as you wait for the school bus, get the mail, or watch the snow plow
- Stay away from the end of a driveway when a snow plow is approaching
- Keep sleds and toys away from the roadways at all times
- Remember, the plow driver can’t always see you