City Cast

How to Walk, Bike, and Drive in Madison This Winter

Abby Becker
Posted on December 7, 2022   |   Updated on August 31

It’s winter in Madison, and whether you just moved to Wisconsin’s capital city or have lived here for decades, you might need to brush up on tips to help you thrive.

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It just snowed. Am I responsible for clearing my sidewalks?

For owners: Yes! If you own or live in housing that is immediately located next to a public sidewalk, you’re required by the city to remove any snow or ice that accumulates by noon of the day after the snow or ice stopped.

If you live on a corner lot, budget extra time to clear all the sidewalks around your residence. Don’t forget snow plows may push snow into the driveway you just cleared. It’s not personal, but it is frustrating. Ask friends who owe you a favor to shovel your sidewalks (or make other plans) if you’re out of town during a snowstorm. Don’t put your shoveled snow in the street (that’s illegal).

Why? The goal behind the city ordinance is to make public sidewalks safe for pedestrians. It also specifies that the sidewalk should be clear from edge to edge. Unshoveled sidewalks can be reported online, but in the spirit of being good community members, knock on your neighbor’s door and ask them to remove the snow first.

If the sidewalk hasn’t been cleared in time, the property owner will be notified, fined and receive a bill for the cost of city crews from removing the snow and ice. Unpaid bills will be added to the owner’s property tax. These fines can be paid online.

If you’re unable to clear snow because of age or disability, you can request an extension by calling Building Inspection at (608) 266-4551 and providing your address. This gives single-family, owner-occupied homes an additional 72 hours to clear sidewalks and driveways.

For renters: If you’re renting, check with your landlord to see who is responsible for snow and ice removal. A lease should state if the tenant is responsible for shoveling the sidewalks and clearing the ice. But sometimes it doesn’t. Here’s a brief guide from the Tenant Resource Center:

  • If you lease grounds in addition to the interior of the rental unit and have “exclusive possession” of the yard, sidewalk or exterior, you’re likely responsible for snow removal.
  • If you’re responsible for mowing the lawn, you’re likely also responsible for shoveling snow and removing ice.
  • If you rent in an apartment building that has common spaces and your lease doesn’t specify rules about shoveling snow, then you’re likely not responsible for shoveling snow or removing ice.

Should I use sand and salt?

If ice is too difficult to remove from sidewalks and driveways, tenants can use sand to prevent the ice from being dangerous. This should also be done by noon on the day after the ice has stopped. Sand piles are found at these locations throughout the city (bring your own shovel and pail!). Barrels of sand can be found around the city at heavily-used crosswalks.

Salt use should be done in moderation. Any salt on Madison’s roadways spreads into local lakes, waterways, groundwater, and soil, and it is difficult to remove. Also, salt doesn’t work when the temperature drops below 15 degrees, according to Wisconsin Salt Wise.

According to an ordinance amended in 2022, the city now requires residents to remove excess salt and chemical melting agents following ice or snow melting. These materials also should not “unreasonably accumulate,” according to the ordinance.

Failure to do this could result in fines ($124 for a first offense and $187 for subsequent violations), but the city plans to educate residents first before issuing fines.

The City of Madison, Dane County Land & Water Resources Department, and Public Health Madison & Dane County partner with Wisconsin Salt Wise to reduce salt pollution. For a guide to using salt, watch this Wisconsin Sea Grant video.

Key takeaway: A coffee mug of salt is enough to treat a 20 foot driveway or 10 sidewalk squares.

It’s winter. Where do I park my car?

Tl:dr Sign up here for daily alternate side parking reminders.You’ll get a text every day at 5 p.m. telling you what side of the street to park. You can also use the “Where do I park?” function on the city’s website.

From Nov. 15 to March 15, Madison follows alternate side parking rules. This means that on even-numbered calendar days, drivers are required to park on the even-house numbered side of the street from 1 a.m. to 7 a.m. On odd-numbered calendar days, park on the odd-house numbered side of the street during the same timeframe.

But if you live in the Snow Emergency Zone, alternate side parking is only in effect during a snow emergency. This zone (see map here) covers the downtown isthmus area and several of the surrounding neighborhoods.

Madison will declare a snow emergency when all residential streets need to be plowed. This typically occurs when snow accumulates to three inches or more. During a snow emergency, people who park in the Snow Emergency Zone must follow alternate side parking rules for a minimum of the next two nights.

The city will always declare a snow emergency before 9 p.m. on the night it will start. Snow emergencies are usually 48 hours long, according to Bryan Johnson, the city’s recycling coordinator and public information officer. Sometimes the second night is canceled, and in other cases, the snow emergency is extended past two days.

Other parking notes:

  • It’s best to park off street when it snows. Plows will push snow right up to the curb. If that’s where your car is, you’re likely to get snowed in.
  • During a snow emergency, you can park for free between 9 p.m. and 7 a.m. in the city-owned parking garages that have cashiers. Some lots do not have cashiers, like the Buckeye Lot near State Street, for example. These are not free during snow emergencies.
  • Alternate side parking rules do not apply on streets where parking is restricted to one side of the street at all times.
  • If you live on a cul-de-sac, you have to follow alternate side parking rules unless your home is listed here.
  • If you got towed, call the Madison Police Department at (608) 266-4075 to get the location of your car.

How can I stay up to date on these winter rules?

I bike to work. Will my path be cleared after it snows?

Madison will plow arterial bike paths as needed after it snows and when a general plowing is underway. The city will also send plows on the bike paths after street plowing is finished to clear any snow buildup.

Biking in on-street bike lanes is tough after a snowfall. Parked cars present challenges for plowing, snow removal is expensive and places to store snow are limited. The city will clear snow from on-street bike lanes when a street significantly narrows. Bike path concerns can be reported to the city online.

Check out this guide from Madison Bike Winter and these tips from the city for biking in the cold.

Will my bus route be affected during a snowstorm?

Buses can fall behind during a snowfall. Metro Transit recommends being prepared for longer wait times and disruptions in service. Plan extra time for your commute, and track your bus before heading out.

Sign up for text or email rider updates and follow Metro Transit on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram for the latest information.

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