Bracing for the snow season

Now, while the skies are blue and autumn gold streams through the ruddy leaves of maples, we ought to think about getting snow off the streets.

Minneapolis has a lackluster-to-downright-dangerous track record of snow removal. As in not doing it well, doing it very slowly, and sometimes not doing it at all.

The city website’s language on snow removal is vague, promising only “appropriate” snow clearance “as necessary”— and if you happen to live on a street that was unnecessary last winter, you know the plows did not come for many days, and when they did, they didn’t clear much. Talking to the Star Tribune in 2009, then street maintenance and repair director Mike Kennedy admitted that snow removal on some streets would be delayed or simply never happen. And that happened all over again in the winter of 2010.

When the mayor talked about the snow-clogged streets last year, he chuckled and suggested that we all have to work together. I’ve already written here about how I did what I could with my dust buster and garden trowel, yet, amazingly, I didn’t get much of my street cleared. If only I could do something like pay taxes in a large community of people who might then fund equipment and experts to keep the roads cleared. Hmm.

Over the years in news articles of Minneapolis snow removal woes, snowfalls are described as unprecedented so often that it’s clear big snow is pretty darn precedented. “Storms of the century” are blamed for poor snow removal in 1987, 1991, 2000, 2007 and 2011. That’s one centennial storm every five years. Maybe it’s time we start calling these what they are: regularly occurring seasonal events.
It snows in Minneapolis.

Yet funding cuts to snow removal occur as regularly as, say, storms of the century. Between 2004 and 2009, snow removal dollars melted by $1 million dollars; in 2009, by a quarter of a million dollars; in 2010, plans were to cut another $1.15 million, the StarTribune reports in 2009. Less money never makes inadequate service better.

So now, before the snow flies:

Let’s hear about the city’s new plan for better snow removal this year. Surely there must be one, after last year. And the year before that. And the year before …

Let’s hear smart, respectful, non-patronizing talk about how to tackle this challenge, scrubbed free of silly “but there’s so much snow!” and “parked cars are a problem.” Snow falls on lots of cities where people park. If this stumps our leaders, let’s gather wisdom from cities that do it better than we do and implement their best practices.

Let’s get transparent communication from administration about who gets snow removal services and who does not, who is first and who is second and who is lucky to see a plow, and let residents offer feedback on those hard choices.

Snow removal in a vital, vibrant, diverse city is a serious, important, and life-sustaining issue.

Let’s talk before we’re snowed in.

Pamela Hill Nettleton lives in Whittier. After the snow falls, she might get out by spring.