Shoveling your sidewalk is more than the kind thing to do—it's required by law in Chicago.

Shoveling Sidewalks in Chicago: It’s the Law

What’s worse than the seemingly unrelenting snow that has hammered the Chicago area this winter? Perhaps it’s trying to walk where you need to go and being stymied by snow-covered sidewalks.

Making sure that the sidewalk in front of your building is shoveled is more than just a neighborly thing to do: It’s the law in Chicago. According to the City of Chicago Municipal Code: “Every owner, lessee, tenant, occupant or other person having charge of any building or lot of ground abutting upon any public way or public space shall remove the snow and ice from the sidewalk.”

People who don’t follow this rule can face fines of $50. Businesses can be fined $250 to $500 per day. Read on to learn more about the city’s recommendations for timing, clearing paths and reporting uncleared areas.

When should I shovel?

If the snow stops before 4 p.m., the city says your sidewalk needs to be cleared within three hours, unless it is Sunday. After 4 p.m. or on a Sunday, the sidewalk needs to be cleared by 10 a.m. the next day.

How much should I shovel?

The city’s municipal code requires a 5-foot-wide path, where conditions allow. Both snow and ice need to be removed. The width allows room for people in wheelchairs, parents with strollers and people who use other devices to help them get around. You should also move the snow to your yard or the grassy area across from the sidewalk. Do NOT put the snow in the street or block crosswalks or alleys.

What if is a sidewalk is not cleared?

You can report uncleared sidewalks to the city’s 311 service line. This is only for snow on sidewalks, not for streets or parking lots. Make sure to have a specific address when you make a report.

How else can I help?

Consider volunteering as a shoveler for the city’s Snow Corps program. Some elderly or disabled people may not be able to shovel snow, so Snow Corps tries to pair volunteers with blocks where people have asked for help. And, if you’re a senior or have a disability and need help clearing snow, call 311. The city also has an Adopt-A-Sidewalk program. The program has website where people can “claim” a sidewalk and agree to keep it clear during the winter. There is also a section that allows people to share snowblowers, salt and other supplies with neighbors.

How do I shovel safely?

Shoveling snow can be hard, heavy work. Northwestern Memorial Hospital offers the following tips to stay safe while shoveling.

  • Wear warm layers of clothes and gloves.
  • Start early to get to the snow before it builds up and gets harder to shovel.
  • Work slowly, take breaks often and stay hydrated by drinking water regularly.
  • Don’t pick up heavy loads of snow—this can strain the heart, back and neck. Push instead of lifting, and use a small shovel to make sure you don’t take on too heavy a load.
  • Understand the risks for heart disease. If you’re at risk, check with your doctor before shoveling.

The above guidelines for clearing sidewalks are specific to the city. If you live in a suburb, check the rules for your area, and remember that in a winter like Chicago is having, we need to look out for each other. Keeping your sidewalk clear is one way of helping.

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