Bring on the heat.

In a city like Buffalo, where we love our winters (for the most part), it is a wonder that there are not more heated sidewalks in commercial districts. It is a rare occasion when I happen upon one, which is why I was surprised when I found out that a friend, Scott Huber, had installed one in front of his building at 491 Delaware Avenue. I called Scott to find out just what it took to pull off the project, and he told me that the hardest part was finding a contractor to take on such a small job*. That led me to wondering what it would take to pull off a large job – say Main Street or Allentown as new infrastructure is added and reconfigured.

It is interesting to note that Scott is the owner of an insurance agency (Allstate) called Huber Agency. Knowing that, it makes a lot of sense that he would install heated sidewalks leading up to his residence and business. “I don’t understand why more people don’t have heated sidewalks,” he told me. “At Bank of America, just down the street, there are heated sidewalks and when I walked over there Monday morning they were completely clear of snow and steaming. I am aware of other cities that have centralized boiler systems in order to implement the feature on a large scale. While installing a system on a small scale is not cheap, installing a centralized boiler system in a commercial neighborhood would bring the cost way down. The way I look at it, a city like Buffalo could have, and should have, heated sidewalks, crosswalks and streets in busy commercial districts. Just think about how many people would come to visit and all of the business that would be generated. Also think about all of the salt that would be saved from being flushed down the sewer systems.”

On his personal system, Scott added a high efficiency boiler that only kicks on if the temperature hits freezing and there is moisture in the air. As you can see (photo), there is quite a difference when you compare the heated walkway to the shoveled walkway.  I hope that The City is at least researching the cost/practicality as it moves forward redesigning and improving its commercial districts. If other cites are indeed initiating this practice, then there’s no reason that Buffalo should not be implementing as well.

*The contractor that agreed to do the work was Twin Air Heating and Cooling 

About the author  ⁄ RaChaCha

45 comments
C.K. Dexter Haven
C.K. Dexter Haven

My brother had a heated driveway at his house in southeastern PA. Problem was he didn't know it and turned on the switch in July. Huge bill in August.

This really makes sense in WNY. Can a hot water system be extended from a house or solar panels like is used for public trash boxes or parking kiosks?

Agree, this makes sense for heavily used public walkways. What will happen in the year 2000?

Daniel Sack
Daniel Sack

It's more important for the city to spend resources on clearing snow from streets rather than sidewalks. Cars use streets. It's just those silly pedestrians who use sidewalks and they are probably all tax evaders.

osirisascending
osirisascending

What does a 40 year-old ad from a home construction contractor that no longer exists have to do with this conversation?

N. Page
N. Page

Robert Berkum and his over zealous and litigous commercials scare the crap out of me. I can stand him and I hope he splits and falls on his own sidewalk

Jesse
Jesse

So we should never drive anywhere, and in the winter we should never have a safe place to walk either. Rock on!

buffjeff
buffjeff

Unfortunately in our litigious society one person falls on your sidewalk and you have a lawsuit from the person suing and his/her spouse (Loss of consortium).

This guy is an owner of a insurance company and I’m sure part of the reason he is doing this is for liability reasons.

Also, as I stated before, there is a cost to the city to have workers clear sidewalks and snow removing equipment as well. So you do eliminate that cost for clearing sidewalks once a system is put in.

Greg
Greg

They should have heated walkways at Canal Side.

MARIO SIMMS
MARIO SIMMS

People are freezing and without heat every night,and this ding dong wastes energy on his sidewalk.What a shame!

Pegger
Pegger

I would love to even have a heated driveway!

phrank
phrank

The large public plaza in front of Toronto's city hall is all heated. Of course, there is a large underground parking ramp below which makes it easier, but it's a smart feature for a cold city. We should have more of it here. I like the geo-thermal concepts too.

300miles
300miles

two days later it's business as usual - IS usually true. The problem is that some people expect it two hours later.

JM
JM

The 24 Store had heated sidewalks for a long time, I haven't been down there lately so not sure if they still use it.

I really think snow removal is an important issue in the City. People walking in the street in slippery conditions is crazy dangerous. I'm surprised more people aren't killed.

The thing is ticketing all day doesn't remove the snow. I'd rather see some kind of tax and just have an army of snow-blower bobcats or implement these heated sidewalks. The fee could be tied in to snowfall so if it doesn't snow much it doesn't cost as much.

When people dog Buffalo about all the snow, I used to say, "Sure we get 2 feet in a day but 2 days later and it's business as usual". I don't think I can use that response anymore.

Lego1981
Lego1981

I aggree, 311 is a joke. They have NEVER done anything but collect complaints. It's a waist of time and money. You'll have the same response as going to city hall directly. No one cares!!!

osirisascending
osirisascending

Does that price point remain steady across the board? Or is there a significant savings with more square footage?

LI2Northpark
LI2Northpark

I'd love to heat my damn driveway one of these years.

osirisascending
osirisascending

I agree that doing the entire city would be impractical, and would open the door to major bullshit on the part of the politicians, and less than scrupulous contractors.

It might be nice to start small and see where it went... maybe the Elmwood Strip, Allen Street and a chunk of Hertel? Perhaps the owners of the businesses that would benefit from such work could be persuaded to kick in a bit towards the overall cost?

*ducks and waits to be flamed*

NBuffguy
NBuffguy

I have consistently had the exact opposite experience with 311 complaints for snow covered sidewalks. Every time I have called, about a half dozen or so, I have checked the status of my complaint and found that an inspection had not yet been done. Then a couple weeks would pass, and the snow would melt. When I'd checked back I found that the inspection was done after the snow was gone, and the inspector found that the sidewalk was clear. And this was after it had been covered for a week or two just prior to the inspection. Then the snow would fall again, I'd complain, and the same thing would happen over and over again until I gave up. It was maddening.

sbrof
sbrof

Yeah I don't think it is really necessary overall, which is why I feel if done, it should be incorporated with environmentally passive systems. Truth is sidewalks like this, in a downtown or major commercial area would make the place very attractive, even in winter. We do things all the time in cities that are not always the best for our planet but may make for better, more desirable cities, which in the end IS better for the planet than sprawl... The devil is in the details.

Phyr
Phyr

It sounds like it's more set up to keep things from being icy and dangerous and not save you from doing any work at all. Which is a wonderful thing for people who walk. It would make the city much easier to navigate and keep people from walking in the street.

burbsarenotbuffalo
burbsarenotbuffalo

I encourage you to file a 311 request for unshoveled sidewalks.. every time I have done so, the results have been positive. The law in the city clearly states that all homes and businesses must clear the sidewalks of all snow and ice before 9am. If someone/place is not in compliance, call/email 311 and they will usually send an inspector out that same day, or the next day. They also do a follow up inspection. If they do not comply, there is a $75 fine for the first offense which only increases thereafter.

buffjeff
buffjeff

Taking an opposing position on the debate, Carlos Rymer ’09, president of Cornell’s Sustainability Hub and vice president of Kyoto Now!, feels the evidence shows no need for such concerns.

“Year after year the data show that the facility is not contributing to the degradation of the lake. I think it’s a great thing that people are thinking about potential problems but we have so much data showing no significant impacts on the environment,” he said.

Rymer said that speculations of any University cover-up of pertinent data are unfounded because the people monitoring this project — from Cornell administrators and scientists to contracted nonprofit groups — are professionals genuinely concerned about the health of the lake’s ecosystem.

“Everything I’ve seen as far as the phosphorous load from the lake source cooling facility is minimal, especially compared to other sources,” said Dave Matthews, a research scientist of the Upstate Freshwater Institute, a nonprofit research organization committed to the improvement of water quality and advancement of freshwater research.

“It looks like a good project, and we haven’t seen any significant impacts,” he said.

According to Matthews, development, agriculture and wastewater treatment facilities pose larger threats to the lake health.

“With time and more data on the lake, I think people will begin to see the facility really is no harm,” Rymer said.

Greg
Greg

How much would a system like that cost anyway? both with and without the geothermal?

Greg
Greg

There was a Buffalo News article saying how the city is getting a surplus of $4 million this year and has a total of $84 million in money just sitting around.

They can afford some part of this I would think.

Greg
Greg

haha doesn't that issue with Cayuga Lake have Ithacans fuming? no pun intended. They affected the lake's ecosystem by doing that.

grad94
grad94

thank you for making my point.

since it's all city property, why not make property owners liable for clearing their portion of the streets, not just their sidewalks? fair is fair.

N. Page
N. Page

Instead of promoting the use of petrol products to clear sidewalks, what the city needs to do is start ticketing people that do not shovel and salt. Give people 12 hours after the snow is over and if it's not clear ticket them. I keep my walk salted and shoveled, it's not that hard and it a serious PITA when not done

grad94
grad94

and then there is municipal sidewalk plowing, which rochester provides without bankrupting its taxpayers. i think the village of hamburg plows its sidewalks, too.

snowplowing really is separate and unequal in buffalo. get into your car and your streets are plowed at public expense. step out of your door and sidewalk clearance is left to the random compliance of a hundred or a thousand individual property owners. it is yet another way in which we reward driving and punish walking.

and what is the response of our pedestrian advocates, who should know better? they become vicious guardians of an unjust status quo and try to heap -more- punishment for not shoveling rather than demanding equal plowing under the law.

Lego1981
Lego1981

I had to walk down Allen Street yesterday and about more than half the streets sidewalks were un-shoveled. Almost fell a few times, not a good look when trying to lure people there (and not let them walk).

osirisascending
osirisascending

Sean, I really like the idea of geothermal, but my only question is how well would such a system perform in the event of a heavy (multiple inch per hour) snowfall?

buffjeff
buffjeff

Don't forget you have to factor in what your are spending to clear the sidewalks as a savings for the life of the system.

Also, Geothermal has a 30% federal tax credit and I don't know how that would work for the state.

300miles
300miles

very cool! Couple questions:

* Does the city regulate how and where people setup radiant heating on public sidewalks that connect to the street? It's seems like a gray area since technically it's all city property, but yet the residents are responsible for the sidewalks. Can owners really do whatever they want when replacing sidewalks? Do they need city permission?

* What kind of maintenance and repair is typical with radiant sidewalks? If something goes wrong does it create a water leak? Would the whole sidewalk need to be torn out to fix it?

JSmith
JSmith

Maybe not consciously, but it probably makes a difference on whether you would want to come back again. Most people are probably completely unaware that the Elmwood Village Association has a sidewalk plow that they use to clear the sidewalks in front of storefronts. But it definitely makes a huge difference in how shoppers feel about the commercial district if they can easily walk from store to store without having to clamber through ankle-high snow that hasn't been shoveled.

Mr. Pelham
Mr. Pelham

Also I believe the cost is anywhere between 15-20$ per square foot under concrete, not including the labor.

Mr. Pelham
Mr. Pelham

I'm all for the heated sidewalks in the business districts and shopping. However, I am not so sure how that would automatically have people visiting Buffalo. When I decide on what city to visit...heated sidewalks isn't on my list of attractions.

St Jimmy
St Jimmy

Where is the money going to come from to do this? I can think of a few more pressing financial issues facing the city than heating the sidewalks. Of course I guess they could take any monies they had planned for the Statler and heat those sidewalks so that when you walk around it you won't slip and fall on an icy sidewalk dodging falling debris from the building falling apart.

EWvillager
EWvillager

570 Delaware Ave (Benderson Development's office building) also has a heated sidewalk, although for the past several winters they have been shoveling and salting their sidewalk. Maybe someone there just doesn't know how to turn it on.

STEEL
STEEL

The side walks at Main and Court wrapping around the former Western Savings Bank building were (are?) heated.

Thing is - should we really be heating sidewalks? fire up a few more coal plants and we can do up the whole city.

al labruna
al labruna

What was the cost for this particular work?

johnnywalker
johnnywalker

Lets hope they do this when they reconfigure mainstreet in the downtown core. So much more civilized than slopping thru mush when your in a suit.

tommystanford
tommystanford

i would assume the two major hurdles are a) lack of knowing you can do this at all by most residents, and b) fear of expense. It'd be nice too if the City offered some sort of tax break (yeah right, i know) to those who put up the cost of this type of work.

But, knowledge and information first...

buffjeff
buffjeff

I like this idea!!! Cornell taps into the bottom of the Cayuga Lake for cooling and into the earth for heating.

Let's get with Cornell and divise a way to utilize this for the inner harbor as well. Think Big Go Green (or in Cornell's case - Go Red)

sbrof
sbrof

Systems like this I feel would make more sense if combined with geothermal systems. Instead of firing up a boiler, why not use free ground heat. 50 degrees is more than enough to melt snow.

Especially when they are already putting in large amounts of infrastructure, the excavation work is already done for you. It 'may' even be able to extract heat from sewers themselves as people flush hot water down the drains. The trick would be to making it simple enough to function for 50+ years. Complexity adds costs and maintenance.

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