Snow and Icy Sidewalks of Cambridge

Authors: Desi Gonzalez, Stephen Suen

One interesting finding from looking at the data:

We choose to look at two open datasets from the city of Cambridge: the first documented unshoveled and icy sidewalk complaints since January 1, 2008, and the second recorded snow and ice sidewalk ordinance violations since December 1, 2007. Looking at the datasets, we noticed that snowfall complaints seem to be grouped around a day or a span of a few days. This made sense, considering that these entries likely correspond to major snowfalls. However, we noticed a few entries that are unusually out of the season—one in September here, one in May there—which might be due to human error when entering data.

Are schools more likely to be closed when there are more unshoveled/icy sidewalks?

Public school closures – We found this data by using Twitter search (which was recently updated to include all historical tweets) on the Cambridge Public Schools account for “Cambridge Public Schools will be closed,” the boilerplate language the CPSD uses to announce school closings. However, these results only go as far back as the Twitter account and do not cover the entire range of the sidewalk data set.

  • (2015) Jan 27-28; Feb 2-3, 9-10
  • (2014) Jan 3, 22; Feb 5
  • (2013) Feb 8, 11
  • (2012) Oct 29 – Hurricane Sandy (not relevant)

University closures – Once again, we used Twitter search on @MIT, but this time there was no standard template so we just searched for “closed” and manually went through the tweets to include/exclude dates as appropriate. This process could be repeated for every university; another option would be to use the Twitter API to automate this given a list of university Twitter handles.

  • (2015) Jan 27-28; Feb 9-10
  • (2014) Jan 2
  • (2013) Feb 8
  • (2012) Oct 29 – Hurricane Sandy (not relevant)

How does the frequency of unshoveled/icy sidewalks relate to weather data (temperature/precipitation)?

Weather Underground has tables of temperature, precipitation, and events (e.g. “snow”) going back to 1920. The maximum query is about 13 months from the specified start date, so 7 different queries would be required to get all the data since 12/1/2007. The tables can be downloaded as CSVs and combined into a single table. At this link, we tracked down a query from 12/1/2007 to 1/1/2009.

Are the major roadways that are deemed “snow emergency routes” more or less likely than smaller streets to have snow or icy sidewalk complaints or violations?The City of Cambridge has identified several major arteries on which, during a snow emergency, cars are not allowed to park. A quick Google search led to’s map of snow emergency parking restrictions. We also found a PDF of that lists the streets from the intersection where the restriction starts until the intersection where it ends as well as whether the sides affected are the odd-numbered buildings, the evening-numbered buildings, or both sides of the streets. Neither data is easy to access or plug into visualization tools like Tableau, so we would have to do some creative copy-and-paste work or research which building numbers are included within these parameters.

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