Council rejects 24-hour snowplowing

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August 26, 2002 // UPDATED 2:25 pm - June 28, 2007
By: Kevin Featherly
Kevin Featherly

For now at least, the city is abandoning its idea of 24-hour snowplowing.

The City Council voted 8-4 on Aug. 23 not to investigate ways to fully plow Minneapolis' streets 24 hours after snow emergencies, an idea that had been a theme of Mayor R.T. Rybak's election campaign last year.

Instead, the council asked the Public Works department to find ways to improve the current three-phase, 48-hour snow removal plan.

Rybak was not present at the Aug. 23 meeting due to other commitments. But he was present a day earlier at a "Committee of the Whole" meeting, during which the entire council debates issues before voting on them.

There, Rybak made clear he wanted to continue examining ways to make 24-hour snowplowing work in Minneapolis.

"I would urge folks to delay this [vote] so that we can have the proper discussion on it that I think we want to have," Rybak said. "My feeling on this is quite strong."

Nonetheless, the council voted "to discontinue work" on a 24-hour snowplowing plan. They directed Public Works staff to investigate ways to let cars park on streets more quickly after a snowplow has passed, to assess whether more alleys should be plowed, and to share school and church parking lots during snow

emergencies.

Those ideas didn't satisfy Rybak, who said that during public hearings on plowing, citizens wanted a better plan.

"This represents in my mind a well-intentioned but fairly paltry version of what good thinking we got from citizens," he said. "I believe we could strengthen this quite a bit with another cycle of discussion. And I think it's worth it because this is a basic core service that citizens of Minneapolis want."

A report from the Public Works department head David Sonnenberg contradicts the mayor's assessment, however.

"For every voice asking for 24-hour plowing," Sonnenberg wrote, "there is equal sentiment that the current system is satisfactory, or preferable."

Discussion among councilmembers seemed to verify Sonnenberg's position. Dan Niziolek (10th Ward) said many of his constituents favor a faster, 24-hour plan. But several other officials said the sentiment in their wards is for more thorough plowing that gives people time to find a new place to park without getting towed.

"I represent an area where people really aren't concerned about snowplowing," said Councilmember Barb Johnson (4th Ward). "They get good service."

"I certainly would see a 24-hour system being a disaster in a neighborhood such as Stevens Square, where you can't find a place to park even in the summertime," said Councilmember Dean Zimmermann (6th Ward).

Councilmember Lisa Goodman (7th Ward) countered that Minneapolis' lack of 24-hour plowing is disgraceful.

"We are a winter city. The fact that we can't get this right is an extreme embarrassment to me," she said. "I can live with not doing it in 24 hours if we can implement some changes that would be less punitive. But I cannot live with not doing it in 24 hours if we leave the system as is."

Councilmember Gary Schiff (9th Ward) chided the mayor and others who had turned 24-hour plowing into a campaign promise.

"I know it's difficult as politicians to look our constituents in the eye and say, 'You know I campaigned on this topic, but now that the facts are in, I can't deliver,'" Schiff said.

Niziolek proposed continued study of 24-hour snowplowing. His motion failed 8-4, with only councilmembers Goodman, Paul Ostrow (1st Ward) and Paul Zerby (2nd Ward) joining him in support.

An additional proposal by Zerby to research ways to plow streets without choking off driveway entrances and crosswalks also failed in a 6-6 vote.

The main issue, a vote to discontinue work on 24-hour snowplowing while improving the current system, eventually passed 11-1. Only Niziolek voted no.