Let’s cut through the snow job we’re getting about snowplowing. Minneapolis is no center of excellence among snowbound cities. There are reasons, but that’s the truth.
I’ve spent many winters living way out in the country, miles from the nearest highway, yet I never needed my SUV so desperately as when I moved into urban Minneapolis and had to traverse the 20 feet from my garage door to the end of the alley. Woe to all ye without all-wheel drive, within these city limits.
If we define “snowplowing well” as clearing all the city streets swiftly and competently, Minneapolis flunks. Yeah, yeah, we get it: there isn’t enough money or personpower on the plows. Yeah, yeah, it’s easier to plow streets devoid of cars, but city residents have nowhere else to park. There are concrete reasons (some of them curbs) why the city can’t get the roads cleared. But it’s still unreasonable for city leaders to act wounded when residents whine.
We can’t get out of our alleys to get to work. If our tires slip out of the half-foot-deep ice ruts that define our side streets, we ping and pong off of our neighbors’ parked cars like ricocheting snowballs. The snow is being cleared too rarely, too late, too slowly and too little. The plain fact is that what’s being done is simply not good enough. Bad snow clearing is bad for business, bad for tourism, bad for growth, bad for residents, bad for productivity and bad for our health. Let’s agree to say that everyone is doing the best they can. No blame, no shame, stop the defensiveness, already, and let’s move on to solving the problem.
Time for City Hall and Minneapolis residents to wake up and smell the cocoa on this one: there isn’t ever going to be more money, fewer cars or less snow, on average. The city isn’t doing this job well and probably will never get any better at it, constrained as its efforts are by geography and resources. So maybe it shouldn’t be the city’s job any more.
As Minnesotans, we know the best time and way to clear snow. Clear it while it falls, not days after. That way, your job is easier, the snow actually moves and you minimize the formation of ice and ruts. Clear slush while it melts, and you not only minimize ice and ruts, but you might even see the blacktop before May. Can’t change the laws of physics, even if you are a politician.
Whaddaya say we let the pros driving the big plows clear the city arteries, and leave the capillaries to the folks who live along them. Freed of trying to deal with residential streets, the heavy equipment can concentrate on keeping the main drags cleared often, promptly and well.
As for those streets where we live, let’s give one vehicle per block a plow blade. Snow falls, Harvey starts up the truck, and the block residents move their cars for an hour. The block (and alley!) is plowed, and Harvey puts the truck back in the garage. Since cars only have to be moved for an hour, even renters without garages can find somewhere else to be for 60 minutes. Entire blocks drive on over to Sunnyside for French toast and when they go home — amazing! They can get home!
How do we fund this? Maybe block residents pay into a block slush fund that funds actually getting rid of the slush. Maybe each block buys its own blade. Maybe Harvey gets a tax break from the city and a few casseroles from the ladies across the alley. If there’s no one on the block who wants to do it, maybe a block hires another block’s Harvey.
Flaws in my plan? You bet. Just as there are flaws in the plan that hasn’t worked well for years. You don’t have to like my plan, but you should agree that it’s time for fresh thinking and solutions that actually work. Residents aren’t criminals for wanting safety in the streets. It’s time for thoughtful citizens to get together, brainstorm a flurry of possibilities, survey the cities that do this well, and ask City Hall why Minneapolis can’t be good at digging out from under.
Pamela Hill Nettleton lives in Whittier. At least, we think she does. She can’t get out of her garage.