By now sports writers across the nation will have collectively written a flurry of columns, each heaping scorn by the shovelful upon the Detroit Lions – a football team that yesterday completed the first 0-16 winless season in National Football League history.
If only a bit of that shoveling could be harnessed in service of clearing the snow from Ann Arbor’s sidewalks and roads. The headline to this piece reflects the fact that according to National Weather Service statistics through Dec. 28, the date of the Lions’ historic loss, 16 inches of snow have fallen on the city of Ann Arbor this season. The headline also reflects the opinion that we, as a city, are losing the battle against the snow.
Sure, there’s bright spots in our snow removal season. On Dec. 17, at 2 p.m. a city plow truck paid a visit to Mulholland Avenue, one of the more obscure side streets in the city. And Friday, Dec. 19, a guy who lives at the bottom of the hill on Mulholland wrassled his snow-blower first up the east-side sidewalk and then down the west side of the street, even stopping to clear each driveway entrance onto the street. On the same day, the neighbors who live on the west side of Soule Boulevard collectively cleared enough of their sidewalk that I was able to complete my regular delivery service for ArborTeas via bicycle cart.
Or if you’ve followed Stopped. Watched. items filed by Chronicle correspondents, you’ll have noted the apparent stellar snow-removal performance of Republic Parking employees. At 8th & Liberty, I saw a guy clearing the bus stop of snow, but failed to file a Stopped. Watched. item. But such efforts by ordinary citizens did not go completely undocumented here at The Chronicle.
Still, all this is akin to observing that Kevin Jones, running back for the Detroit Lions, gained over 100 yards in any one of the Lions’ games this season. The Lions still lost. And Ann Arbor will continue to lose the battle against the snow, unless we can start measuring our well-swept sidewalks and roads in terms of miles, not yards. With apologies to Robert Frost, we’ve got miles to go that we must sweep.
On the whole, we’re not getting the job done so far this season – on the sidewalks or on the roads. When Liberty Street, a major east-west artery, is still snow-covered the day after a five-inch snowfall (except for tire tracks in each lane), that’s not a win. When downtown Ann Arbor streets are covered in a layer of “cookie dough” two days after the same snowfall, that’s not a win. When, on Christmas Eve, 20 percent of the sidewalk distance between 7th Street and 5th Avenue downtown reflects no attempt by anyone to remove the accumulation of a week’s worth of snow and ice, that’s not a win.
And the season so far is no exception. It’s uncontroversial that Ypsilanti outperforms Ann Arbor on snow removal. It’s not accidental that in response to a prompt on the 2007 National Citizen Survey about what one thing they would change about Ann Arbor, one citizen wrote:
Improve snow removal, which is still a joke compared to any other place I have lived. And I would say this in July as well.
The working document of the Community Success Strategy for the Ann Arbor Region includes the results of a focus group of young professionals, who were asked what things the community should stop doing. One example:
Refusing to plow snow on Sundays and holidays
I doubt that a moratorium on holiday plowing is actually a city of Ann Arbor policy, but it’s easy to understand the perception that it is. On a list of rankings for top cities for snow removal, Ann Arbor doesn’t make the cut. Madison, Wisc. does, though. Damn those snow-removing badgers. Sure, I’m a little dubious about how ServiceMagic came up with those “scores,” but that sort of quibble never seems to bother us when Ann Arbor is included in a list of rankings. We can surely find a way to get better results from our street-clearing efforts.
As for sidewalks, Susan Pollay, executive director of the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority, got it right at the most recent meeting of the DDA’s transportation committee, when she said, “Everyone at some point is a pedestrian.” So it is not just those who walk longer distances, but all of us who should take umbrage, when a fellow citizen comments on the 2007 National Citizen Survey that Ann Arbor should …
Relax code enforcement. My first winter here I got a note to clear my sidewalk of snow even though all but one inch or two was cleared. That is a bit over aggressive.
On the contrary, if our strategy for providing safe walkways for citizens during the wintertime is to require property owners to clear the sidewalks, then what’s called for is more aggressive code enforcement. Why should anyone need to call the city to report a possible violation, wait for inspection by city staff, then wait for the property owner (who is given 24 hours to act) to correct the situation? If citizens are expected to clear their sidewalks, I’d suggest sending out crews with brooms and shovels – if a residence is in violation, they get their sidewalk cleared and a bill from the city for the service.
But until we develop a different approach, it’s pretty much in citizens’ hands. The city does make a pile of salt-sand mixture available free of charge to city residents at 721 N. Main St. Take your own 5-gallon bucket and shovel – it’s a self-serve kind of deal.
And it’s still early in the season. It might even be considered pre-season. When the real snow comes, let’s try not to fumble the (snow)ball.
[Editor's note: HD is Homeless Dave, a.k.a. Dave Askins, editor of The Ann Arbor Chronicle. ]