Walking downtown New Buffalo this time of year is a challenge since many of the property owners don’t clear the snow from their sidewalks, either because there is no place to pile it or they aren’t around in the winter. But whatever the reason, it’s safer to walk down the middle of Whittaker than struggling over the snow and ice. But it doesn’t have to be that way. If you ever have the opportunity to escape to Grand Haven, Holland or Grand Rapids this time of year, the sidewalks clear of ice and snow makes walking and shopping a pleasure.
‘The snowmelt system is made up of a series of tubes beneath the sidewalks and roads in the first three blocks of Downtown Grand Haven. Water diverted from the Grand River and nearby Board of Light and Power runs through the tubing, warming the substructure and preventing the surface from accumulating snow and ice. As a result, people can wander around without worrying about slips and falls. The next time the weather threatens to shut down your excursion, head on down to Downtown Grand Haven where the sidewalks and streets are always clear!’ https://downtowngh.com/walkability-snowmelt/
When the downtown sidewalks and streets in Holland, Michigan were torn up in 1988, it was decided a snowmelt system made sense to the city on the shore of Lake Michigan. Expansion over time continued due to the success. From a radio interview from a past Holland mayor ‘Imagine, in the wake of a big snowstorm, city sidewalks and streets that never get caked with snow and ice. No salt, no slopping your way through slush or gingerly walking on ice.’ Holland Radio Interview
The residents of Grand Rapids made shutting off of the snowmelt system an annual ‘rite of spring’ event. From a MLIVE article ‘The 16-year-old snowmelt system works with heated water that flows through tubing laid beneath the brick pavers on downtown sidewalks. The cost of the system is borne by a special assessment district funded by downtown property owners who benefit from the system. There also are several privately owned snowmelt systems in the downtown area.’
Although the costs are substantial, cities with snowmelt systems generate more revenue due to the increase in year round accessibility. Since the Downtown Development Authority (DDA) captures all increases in taxes in the downtown district through Tax Incremental Funding (TIF), these taxes can be used for maintenance and operating costs for a snowmelt system.
If green technology isn’t part of the master planning for New Buffalo’s downtown, as it continues to be more accessible and financially viable, it should be. Solar and wind are clean energy sources of the future that are capable of heating and lighting the entire DDA district at a much lower cost. Winters are harsh but with the environmentally friendly aspects of solar energy, it could make New Buffalo a welcoming green city destination for everyone all year round.