I had plans to meet Marcelle Lewandowski at her four-plex, but I had just missed her. She was out shoveling. I looked down the block and saw her, shovel in hand. She was busy clearing off curb cuts near her house. 

“One of the access issues is all these curb cuts,” Lewandowski said. “So I was going around these four corners. People had done them, but I was just expanding.” 

Lewandowski organizes the Lowry Hill East Neighborhood Association’s Wedge Snow Time team. “I want to contribute something to the neighborhood,” she said. “Here’s one little thing I can do.”  

The Snow Time team put out a survey this winter, asking neighbors to identify sidewalks that are problem areas.  The survey helped organize an additional five volunteers to help shovel notorious trouble spots, based on neighbor input. Right now the team is focusing on W. 26th Street because “there is a lot of walking, from Aldi and around the neighborhood, so it’s important to keep clear,” Lewandowski said. Plows come down W. 26th Street often which creates plow berms and inaccessible curb cuts. 

Even though the responsibility of clearing the sidewalks and curb cuts is on the property owner, the snow team wants to keep areas clear “no matter who’s at fault.” The snow team wants to figure out the best way to engage property owners regarding good shoveling etiquette to ensure everyone can access the sidewalks, including people who utilize strollers, mobility scooters and wheelchairs. 

The team’s three major goals are: improving the walkability of the neighborhood, pairing shoveling buddies with people who need assistance shoveling, and reducing salt use. 

During snow falls, the team encourages people to promptly shovel and be sparing with salt, grit and anything else you use. 

“Don’t dump willy nilly,”  Lewandowski said.

Lewandowski is also the Senior Research and Extension Coordinator at the Water Resources Center at the University of Minnesota so she knows first hand the destruction salt can have on local waterways. 

Lewandowski has a lot of helpful tips on how people should and shouldn’t be adding things to the sidewalks. She encourages people to think about where the salt is going once the ice has melted. 

“More is not better,” Lewandowski said. Using too much salt can result in the extra salt getting into the lakes, streams, and soil. 

“[Salt] doesn’t go away, Lewandowski said.” “We can’t undo it.” Salt mixes aren’t a great idea, either. Depending on the outside temperature, “only a third of it is working at any given time,” Lewandowski said.

Salt that gets into the storm sewers produce problems for fish and aquatic life, a claim that is supported by numerous scientific studies

One reason people over salt is that they are concerned people will slip and fall. Business owners can be especially concerned about lawsuits from people who slip and fall on their property. Minnesota House Rep. Peter Fischer of Maplewood authored a bill to protect businesses. According to MPR, the legislation would offer businesses protection from “slip-and-fall lawsuits if they get trained and certified in better salting practices.” The Pollution Control Agency has “smart salting” training for business owners to take. These businesses can then advertise they are “Smart Salting" certified. 

[Editor's note: after publication, Rep. Fischer's office let us know his bill was reintroduced to the House on Jan. 31.]

Salt use is necessary in our climate so to minimize environmental impact, salt needs to be used smarter. Lewandowski suggests sprinkling salt granules two to three inches apart. And do not put salt on snow. Remove the snow first.

If you are looking to avoid salt whenever possible, you can try sand. “Sand and grit is awesome,” Lewandowski said. “Sometimes the grit is all you need.”  The City is currently supplying free sand for sidewalks at locations around Minneapolis including Harriet Ave. at West 60th St.

Of course, nothing is without consequence. Sand can clog up storm sewers and get into the lakes but Lewandowski doesn’t know how big of an issue that really is for Minneapolis. 

“I think judicious sand use is even better than judicious salt use,” Lewandowski said. 

For more information on sidewalk shoveling, check out the Minnesota Department of Health’s Sidewalk Snow Clearing Guide [PDF].