Set In The City

There's no excuse for their snow excuse

The impish behavior of snow emergency scofflaws

Winter in Minneapolis is always marked by city officials and representatives from the Public Works Department apologizing to the "victims" of a snow emergency who have been ticketed and towed. Local news stations get into the act with on-the-spot coverage down at the City Impound Lot. Invariably, they interview somebody who was unaware that a Snow Emergency had been declared or some guy who just moved here from San Diego, grumbling that they never declare snow emergencies there.

Going against the grain, I'm going to throw out the radical notion that adhering to snow emergency declarations is actually pretty simple and that the people who complain about them or get impounded (we'll call them "imps") need to get onboard so that our streets can get plowed properly. Snow emergencies are easy enough to understand -- and those who can't grasp them may even want to consider hanging up their car keys for the safety of everyone.

Many imps claim that it is difficult to know when a snow emergency has been declared. A good rule of thumb is that they always follow … well … snowstorms. Barely two flakes hit the ground when local TV and radio begin reporting on whether a snow emergency has been declared. The city broadcasts them on its Internet home page, as well as on a dedicated hotline, 348-SNOW. The city will now even send e-mail alerts to those who request them (this is also at their home page, www.minneapolis.mn.us). Unfortunately, the imp brain is geared to think that if they avoid hearing about a snow emergency, there won't be one.

Snow emergencies always last three days, and parking restrictions differ on each day. Perhaps it is these multiple instructions that imps are talking about when they say how excruciating snow emergency policy is to understand. But have no doubt: the instructions are simple and aimed at a pretty low-reading-level audience. Brochures even take pains to explain the difference between "even" and "odd" sides of the street (what's a street?). The brochures are available at all Minneapolis fire stations and libraries, as well as online.

Figuring out which streets are snow emergency routes can also make the impish brain ache, but the routes can be discerned easily enough by those big red signs that say "Snow Emergency Route" with the picture of a snowplow on them.

When confronted with how easy snow emergency policy really is, the imp will often employ the excuse of last resort: no available spaces. But, in fact, that excuse is no longer valid; this season, the city is providing "SnOasis" spots for free or reduced rates in ramps. Though dealing with getting back and forth to a ramp may be a drag, it really presents no more of a logistical burden than dropping off the car for a brake job.

Now, I realize that my attitude towards imps may sound a bit harsh, and there was a time when I was more sympathetic. My perspective changed during the last snow emergency. I went to a neighbor and informed him that a snow emergency had been declared and that he could park in my driveway until it subsided. Instead of taking me up on the offer -- and I keep a handsome driveway -- he pointed out that the street was still full of cars and that he would find safety in numbers.

Huh? That's right, a snow emergency had been declared, notification was hand-delivered, and he still decided to take his chances in the street. All I could do was watch the 10 o'clock news to see if they interviewed him down at the Impound Lot.

The rest of us who are able to follow simple instructions have had to put up with snow-rutted streets that are not only an inconvenience but also a threat to public safety. The city has held the hands of imps for long enough. It is high time to let them drift on their own.

Tony Harvath keeps a handsome driveway in the Nicollet-Lake area. His e-mail address is [email protected] Letters to the editor

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