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Albany snowy sidewalk violations issued winter 2017-2018

This map does not depict multiple violations for a given property. (Of the 203 properties issued violations, 18 were tagged multiple times.)

Albany snowy sidewalk violations issued for winters 2014-2015, 2016-2017, and 2017-2018

yellow: 2014-2015 | green: 2016-2017 | magenta: 2017-2018

Albany winters: snowfall and snowy sidewalk violations issued

Albany snowfall snowy sidewalk violations 2014-2015

Albany snowfall snowy sidewalk violations 2016-2017

Albany snowfall snowy sidewalk violations 2017-2018

Albany tightened its rules for shoveling snowy sidewalks last winter -- so how'd that work out?

fully shoveled sidewalk

It should look like this.

If winter ever gets its act together and drops more snow on us, there will be sidewalks to shovel.

And shortly after that, Albany will no doubt engage in another round of its annual discussion about the fact that some sidewalks don't get shoveled.

It's an important quality of life issue for everyone in the walkable city, and it's even more important for people who have some sort of disability that makes it hard to get around. (Also: Shoveling is the neighborly thing to do.)

At the start of last winter the city of Albany tightened its rules so that the Department of General Services can now issue violations for unshoveled sidewalks directly after the 24-hour grace period following a snowfall. Ahead of that change we looked at violations the city had issued in previous winters to get a sense of where violations were being handed out, and to what sorts of properties.

Now we've had a whole winter with the new, stricter rules. So, was there a blizzard of violations issued?

Let's have a look.

(Yes, there are graphs and clickable maps, because of course there are.)

What are the rules again?

The city of Albany requires property owners to clear the sidewalks along their properties within 24 hours of the end of a snowfall. If a property owner doesn't do this, they can be fined according to an escalating scale that takes into account the number of violations over a given period of time:

+ First violation: $100

+ Second violation within three months: $200

+ Third violations within three months: $300

+ Each violation after that within six months: $300

The city can also charge the property owner for the cost of the labor for clearing the walk, and by law, that amount is no less than $75.

For many years the process worked like this: The city got a complaint about a property, the Department of General Services checked the property and if the sidewalk wasn't cleared DGS issued a notice. Then the property owner had another 24 hours to clear the sidewalk. If DGS returned after the second grace period and the sidewalk was still not cleared, the property owner could be fined and charged for the labor to clear the walk.

But the city changed the rule last year. As of December 2017, DGS is now allowed to issue a violation immediately after the end of that first 24-hour period. There's no second grace period.

So, did the new rules mean the city ended up fining a lot of more properties?

Albany snowfall snowy sidewalk violations 2017-2018

There are graphs for snowy sidewalk violations issued and snowfall at the top in large format -- click or scroll all the way up.

The short answer: No, it doesn't look like that.

Here are the total number of violations the city issued for uncleared sidewalks over the past three winters that had snow*, along with the snow totals for those winters:

+ 2017-2018: 227 violations - 74.9 inches of snow

+ 2016-2017: 69 violations - 57.4 inches of snow

+ 2014-2015: 273 violations - 68.4 inches of snow

* The winter of 2015-2016 was the exceptionally weird one that was warm and had very little snow. According to city-reported data, there were no violations issued that winter.

So 2017-2018 doesn't really look all that unusual. If anything, 2016-2017 looks like the outlier.

Of course, overall snowfall totals for winters are a blunt frame of reference for comparison when we're talking about a bunch of events within a winter that would require shoveling sidewalks. So we also looked at the number of days in each of these winters that had snowfalls of 2 inches or more and calculated the number of violations issued per the number of these days.

+ 2017-2018: 21 violations per each 2-inch day

+ 2016-2017: 14 violations per each 2-inch day

+ 2014-2015: 30 violations per each 2-inch day

Again, the number of violations issued in 2017-2018 doesn't appear to be unusual compared to recent seasons.

Where were the violations issued?

Albany snowy sidewalk violations map three winters animated
yellow: 2014-2015 | green: 2016-2017 | magenta: 2017-2018

There are maps of violations issued at the top -- click or scroll all the way up.

What does appear to be different for 2017-2018 compared to those other two winters is the geographic distribution of the violations. The neighborhood hot spots (cold spots?) for the 2014-2015 winter were Pine Hills and West Hill. But in 2017-2018 the violations had mostly shifted to Pine Hills, Woodlawn/New Scotland, and Melrose.

Some of the change is probably related to the fact that we're only comparing a few winters and the overall number of violations isn't super high, so a handful of violations one way or the other can make a difference. But it is remarkable that West Hill, and the South End to a lesser extent, had a bunch of violations in the 2014-2015 winter and almost none in 2017-2018. (Why? Good question. Maybe property owners are a doing a better job. Or maybe people are filing fewer complaints. Or maybe fewer complaints are being followed up on. It could be a combination of many things.)

Along with that shift in geography, there was also some difference in type of property. As we noted the last time we looked at this issue, based on property tax records a large majority of the properties issued violations -- 73 percent -- had a different billing address from the property address, suggesting they were not owner occupied.*

But for the 2017-2018 winter, 56 percent of the properties were landlord-non-same-address properties.

The percentage of single-family properties was also up a bit, from 23 percent to 30 percent. (Two-family homes continued to be the frequent property type issued a violation at 37 percent.)

* This is a very imperfect method of inferring owner occupation and probably ends up including properties where the owner does not live. The last time we looked at this issue we also used claims of the STAR deduction to infer status, but after listening to some criticism of that method we believe that probably under counts owner occupation, so we used the other method.

Strings of violations
As in past winters, it was common during the 2017-2018 winter to have strings of violations along the same street. In the past city officials have said that when responding to a complaint for a single property DGS will issue violations if nearby properties also haven't shoveled. And it looks like that continued last winter.

Woodlawn
One quirk from the mapping of violations for 2017-2018: It appears that someone -- or maybe multiple people -- were keeping a close eye on snow shoveling along Woodlawn Ave at Ontario Street. That was a hot spot for violations -- across multiple dates there were 29 violations issued just within a one-block radius of the intersection.

Is the city pouncing on properties right after the 24-hour grace period?

Even with the new rule allowing violations to be issued at the end the 24-hour period, the violations data suggests the city was not issuing violations right away. Violations were often dated multiple days after a snowfall, sometimes a week or longer. In fact, only a handful of violations -- 12 out of 227 -- were dated to the next day after a snowfall of more than an inch.

unshoveled sidewalk 2015

This is complaint driven

City officials have said in the past that the process for issuing snowy sidewalk violations is driven by complaints from the public, and that very much continued to be true for 2017-2018: 87 percent of the violations issued were marked as being prompted by a complaint to DGS or via SeeClickFix, according to the city data.

It is important to note that the list of violations issued is just that -- instances in which someone complained (usually), DGS checked it out, and then issued a violation. It is not a record of all the complaints the city received, which as we understand from the response we got the last time we looked at this issue, there are certainly instances in which people do complain and, for whatever reason, the city does not end up issuing a violation.

To recap

1. Shovel your sidewalks, or arrange to have them shoveled.

2. If a neighbor isn't shoveling and you're comfortable talking with them about it, ask what's up. Maybe neighbors can lend a hand. Another 10 or 20 yards of sidewalk isn't a whole lot to shovel and helping someone in need will make you feel warm inside (as will the exercise from shoveling).

3. If you need help shoveling, the city of Albany has directed people to the United Way of the Greater Capital Region and the 2-1-1 service to get connected with help.

4. If there's a problem property in your neighborhood that's not shoveling, pick up the phone (518-434-2489) or file a ticket on SeeClickFix. The city's system of issuing violations is almost entirely driven by complaints.

As with anything like this, if you think you've made a worthy complaint and don't get action, complain again (politely). And if that doesn't work, contact your Common Council member.

The fine print on these numbers

+ The violations data for winter 2017-2018 is via a FOIL request to the city of Albany for all such violations from October 2017 through November 2018. (The city did not report any snowy sidewalk violations for the current winter to that date.) Data for previous winters was from an earlier FOIL request.

+ Snowfall data is via the National Weather Service Albany monthly climate data summaries.

+ Property characteristics are via the city of Albany's 2018 tax roll.

+ Thank you to Ettore from the OpenRefine discussion group for a key bit of code magic that helped AOA with this project and a few others.

Comments

On Woodlawn, we have someone who walks to and from the Stewarts next to the Fountain every day who has appointed himself 'mayor' of the Neighborhood. Looking at the map should give you a clue to his route. Doesn't take snow melt into consideration when the temp drops below freezing.(Wouldn't be a problem if home owners didn't shovel). Keeps a close eye on when trash goes out for collection as well. Too bad he doesn't pick up the litter in the street, which seems overabundant. But that would be a real community service.

Sneaking in one more Thank you to Greg and Mary for all aspects of AOA. I particularly liked the regional approach to entertainment and economics, the links to other blogs and articles, the nerdy dives into zoning, gondolas, road diets, troy's waterfront etc etc etc, and the personal perspectives on architecture or nature shown in your photos and commentary.

and if you EVER re-visit the idea of continuing AOA, consider having it staffed (for academic credit) for a variety of students: journalism (natch!), business(marketing) students, art. they could gain valuable experience in writing and developing a business, and you could get paid for supervising--no more chief cook and bottle washer role. :-)

Know as you shelve AOA, that you've made a difference. a GENUINE difference in how people view the capital region by both "natives" and "transplants" like me.

Thank you.

jsc

The city complaint driven system just doesn't work. I often report 10-30 properties on my blocks shortly after the time has expired and over 75% of the time those properties are never posted and never shoveled. The rate of response by the city has dropped in recent years.
This is similar to the lack of response to the complaints for trash in the yard, unmowed lawns, and other violations. Violations reported by See Click Fix definitely have a lower rate of response.

I'm not surprised to see it's about the same. There's a frequent flyer that I report every year after every storm and it looks like they have never been find. Some others in the area were though, so now I'm wondering if they have a connection that lets them get away with it.

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