City explores changes to snow emergency threshold with pilot program this winter

Water quality or snow plowing? When it comes to resident pride in city services, it usually comes down to how good the water tastes or how well the streets are plowed after a winter storm in Richfield. With winter on its way, city officials plan to keep its snow removal efforts at the same high level of quality, but are exploring an enhancement that will provide better outcomes for residents.

As the city ordinance is currently written and enforced, a snow emergency exists in Richfield after two inches of snow has fallen. At that point, all vehicles parked on the street need to be removed until the Public Works Department has plowed all roads, curb-to-curb.

On Tuesday, September 28, the Richfield City Council voted unanimously to approve a change to the ordinance, increasing the snow emergency threshold from two to four inches.

This ordinance change is part of a pilot program created by a cross-departmental working group that was tasked with finding ways to make snow emergencies less burdensome for residents who utilize on-street parking. The group included staff from the Police, Fire, Public Works, Executive, Community Development and Administrative Services Departments. Data will be collected throughout the pilot project, which will last at least one winter season, and the findings will be presented to the council to determine if the snow emergency threshold should be changed permanently.   

“The pilot program changing the snow emergency threshold will not change how or when our plow operators remove snow from our streets,” stated Public Works Operations Superintendent Chris Link. “If it is snowing and it is accumulating, they will be out there, just like in years past. The change only affects when cars need to be removed from the roads.”

The ordinance change will go into effect on October 28.

During snow emergencies, if vehicles are left on the roads they are liable to be ticketed and/or towed for being in violation of the city’s snow emergency ordinance. And while that might not be a cause for concern for residents with driveways and garages, it can become a crisis for those without private parking.

“Snow emergency parking can be a challenge for families throughout Richfield, but the problem is most acute in our higher density areas where access to lawns and neighbors’ driveways can’t provide a temporary refuge,” explained Assistant Community Development Director Melissa Poehlman. “I think it’s great that our Public Works and Public Safety Departments are looking for creative ways to help our residents manage this challenge.”

No two snow emergencies are the same, but depending on the duration and accumulation of snow, more than 100 cars can be ticketed during a winter weather event, with many of them being towed, as well.

“Many residents living in our apartment complexes are not as financially secure as our residents who own their own home, townhouse or condo,” remarked Equity Administrator Blanca Martinez Gavina. “Even a $30 ticket can have serious financial consequences for a person that is living paycheck to paycheck. If their vehicle is towed and it costs $171 to get it out of impound, that could be economically devastating.” 

In addition to changing the snow emergency threshold, the city has created parking refuge areas that will be designated for parking during snow emergencies. A total of 392 parking spaces will be available for 24 hours following a snow emergency. These spaces will be designated with signage along Cedar Avenue and 78th Street East.

Council and city staff are still seeking feedback regarding the pilot program. Residents are encouraged to contact their council member or Public Works Operations Superintendent Chris Link by calling 612-861-9174 or emailing   

“Our crews take a lot of pride in the work they do during the winter,” added Link. “We are confident that residents will continue to receive the highest caliber snow removal services in the metro.”

For more information about the snow emergency pilot program or winter weather parking areas, please visit: