RE: Why does the City plow alleys anyway?

February 28, 2013

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100 block of Front St. in winter of 1918 via History Center of TC

Interesting comments coming in regarding Tuesday’s post about plowing, or not plowing alleys.

J.R.Williams took it in a lot of directions, part of his message is loud and clear and ends with an option to help downtown:

…the city requires many more sidewalk machines than street machines.  The city is for PEOPLE, made up of PEOPLE. Not cars.  The cars have no say, they are just dumb machines we have to make considerations for…Walks should get first, not last priority…no wonder kids get driven to school. Clear it and they will come….We have over 200 able bodies, sitting and doing nothing productive in the jail downtown…let’s have them provide some community service and get some fresh air, exercise and feel the joy of giving back to the community…

Richard Miller points to the speed of the plows as a real issue:

As for sidewalk clearance in general, I have sent photos similar to yours above to the DPW on numerous times over several years. The result is a slight, temporary improvement. The sidewalk snow dump is the result of excessive speed and zeal in residential street plowing (“shaved” concrete curbs exposed in the spring gives testimony to that) and a distorted priority one which puts pedestrian access at the bottom of the list.

In a nod of agreement, Brittni Fuller approves of reducing alley plowing and hits on something key, infrastructure and design are critical to providing more transportation choices:

No, I don’t think most alleyways require plowing. There may be a few downtown that provide access to parking lots, but the majority are private drives. We shovel our driveway. Also, I would love to be able to get on my bike more often in the winter, but with the tart and sidewalks being completely covered in snow and ice it makes it nearly impossible. I see bicyclists and pedestrians risking their lives, riding and walking on busy roads. I just resort to driving my car throughout the winter.

Dan Pearson finds disagreement though:

I’m strongly in favor of continuing to plow alleys.  Obviously it’s much more convenient for me to drive down my alley when it’s plowed but I could probably navigate unplowed alleys much of the time with my AWD vehicle.  I’m not sure if that would be the case with a 2WD vehicle.  However, if the alleys are plowed only once or twice a season and are otherwise only kept clear by being driven on by “massive trucks,” the alleys would periodically become impassable whenever we had one of our increasingly frequent thaw/freeze cycles.  Imagine the January thawing of a packed accumulation of a 30-40 inches of snow into slush, vehicles driving in that slush and then the slush re-freezing.  The alley would not be driveable.

I also have a non-vehicle-related reason to want the alleys plowed.  I agree that the sidewalks become very difficult to safely navigate when they haven’t been regularly cleared (in part because of the freeze/thaw cycle I mentioned).  When that happens, the safest, easiest places to walk in the city are the alleys.  And that’s because they’re plowed (and have less traffic than the roads, which are usually walkable in the neighborhoods, although that’s certainly not a good, safe option most of the time).  Not all areas of the city can be accessed by alley, but a lot of them can be and I see people walking the alleys all the time.

Another reader, is looking at the big picture:

Agree, but this is part of the bigger question of what we as citizens want our tax dollars spent on.  Prioritization and all.

Of interest, saw today that Chicago does have policy to not plow alleys (CBS) and intentionally uses garbage trucks to make tracks.

Previously discussed snow removal posts: Here, here, here and here.


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  1. March 2, 2013 at 9:29 am
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