How Well is Cambridge Handling Unshoveled Sidewalk Complaints?

How Well is Cambridge Handling Unshoveled Sidewalk Complaints?

  • Posted on: 29 January 2011
  • By: stannenb

Cambridge has received 1345 complaints of uncleared sidewalks and, in response, issued over 600 tickets for violation of its snow clearance code as of Friday morning, January 28th according to data released in response to a public records request.

Violations issued are mapped below. Blue dots represent violations. Yellow dots represent tickets that are being contested. The approximate 20 tickets that were voided - generally because address was on the exemption list - were not mapped.

The full list of violations, with voided tickets redacted, can be found here.

In its busiest day of issuing tickets, January 19th, Cambridge issued 119 tickets.

While this analysis shows that only about half of the complaints result in tickets, it is difficult to draw any conclusions from those data. According to Commissioner of Public Works Lisa Peterson, the complaints database and the violations data are completely separate and enforcement offices need to reenter all information that has previously been entered in the complaints database. Thus, it's difficult to analyze the disposition of any individual complaint. It may, for example, be a duplicate complaint. And, over 10% of the complaints include phrases like "Enter Missing Street", which indicate a problem with the City's web tool for reporting uncleared sidewalks. The record of complaints show some other interesting behavior. A range of more than 20 addresses on a single block, for example, were reported within a matter of minutes, and repeated over the course of the next few days. The busiest day for complaints was January 13th, with 144 complaints received by the DPW during the course of the day.

Cambridge's response to snow complaints has been improving over time. As of December 30th, average time close a complain was over 5 working days. By last week, the average time to close a complaint had been reduced by almost half, and most complaints were being closed within 2 working days.

Update: Feb 2, 2011 17:00 Underlying data for the above table was adjusted to take into account the two holidays (New Years, MLK Birthday) during which no inspections took place. Graph relabeled to clarify it represents work days, not calendar days.


So this is just DPW data - what about the tickets the PCOs issue?

Several complaints that I entered into the DPW web site aren't on the list, which makes me wonder what's going on.

"...the complaints database and the violations data are completely separate and enforcement offices need to reenter all information that has previously been entered in the complaints database." I am surprised about this quote (above) from Cmsr Peterson. I have been told repeatedly that the reason for the DPW website reporting form (and for ceasing to promote the DPW sidewalk snow reporting phone number which is 617-349-4903) is precisely that complaints CAN be tracked from report through ticket to final resolution. AND that the website form permits the DPW to identify repeat offenders. The DPW website reporting form IS cumbersome. If tracking complaints is NOT, after all, the DPW reporting form's raison d'etre, why keep it? One of its problems is that in some cases, it lists multiple dwelling units for the same building (85 A and 85 B, for example) or 97-1, 97-2, 97-3. The pedestrian slipping on an icy sidewalk is in no position to choose an dwelling unit to report. It is the city's job to identify the building's owner. Those distinctions should be removed from the sidewalk snow reporting form.

It's pretty clear to me from looking at the DPW form that they get the building data from the property office. Because streets where there are no properties (e.g. Galileo Galilei Way) don't appear on the form at all.

While the data come from the DPW, it's all the violations regardless of who wrote the ticket.

On the full list of sidewalk snow/ice violations, there is a column labeled "Contested" and each entry has the word FALSE or the word TRUE in that column. What does that mean?

This project is a wonderful public service.

The violations database comments column includes notations including whether the violation is being contested. Based on the comments, the reasons for contesting the ticket can include things like "it's not my property" and "no, the sidewalk was cleared". I created the "Contested" column to indicate the violation was being contested so I could display the marker in a different color on the map because maybe there wasn't a violation there in the first place.