Monday, January 31, 2011

Kvetching about snow

So there was a big brouhaha over the city's response to the blizzard - and to some extent, the MTA's as well. Both organizations did make serious mistakes, and some people died needlessly, but for someone who can walk to shopping and take transit to work, and who can take a day or two off or work from home, it was not a big deal.

Even for someone who normally drives to Costco to shop, it wasn't that big a deal. If you drive to Costco, you buy in bulk and keep weeks' worth of food in your basement, right? And everyone knew there was a storm coming and had to stock up. But if you ran out of milk, even in the most Godforsaken part of Staten Island there are still delis within walking distance. And yet...

And yet, it was somehow a big deal to a lot of people. Whether it was the Times editorial board or that master of high dudgeon, Greg Mocker, the media angle was that this was not just an unparalleled disaster, but an injustice of the highest order.

City Council members thundered about the iniquity, and the loudest of them all was freshman David Greenfield, nicknamed "Kvetch" by Aaron Naparstek because of his ability to turn a stubbed toe into the Ultimate Showdown. I'm sure this guy is loving it: a few more Weather Emergencies and he'll be grandtweeting his way into Borough Hall in 2015.

I was mildly amused at first, but this kind of stuff has consequences. The squeaky wheel gets the grease, but sometimes it's not actually the squeaky wheel that's the problem. You can look at making things more efficient, but beyond a certain point if you're demanding more in city services, you need to either raise revenue to pay for them, or cut something else. The snow response was slow in part because the city had cut the sanitation budget, and that was in part because tax revenues are down and expenses are up. But one thing you hardly ever hear people like Greenfield say is that they'd be willing to pay more taxes to have adequate services. The money should come from "eliminating waste, fraud and abuse." Or else it should come from cutting someone else's city services. And that's where I started to get annoyed.

First, Greenfield made a speech about the Ocean Parkway bike lane being cleared before - what? Clearly the car lanes on Ocean Parkway had been plowed, but some side streets had not. Then the Post's anti-bike-lane crusader Steve Cuozzo got in on the act, filing a column about the Broadway bike lanes in Manhattan. Other media piled on, until it became clear that this was about priorities.

Okay, so all that was back in December, a little more than a month ago. In that month, the City Council has held hearings, and the Mayor's office released a set of recommendations for improved snow response (PDF). There have been two significant snowfalls, Not only has no one died, but the wags at New York Magazine point out that the snow may actually have saved a man's life. The politicians and the media have largely proclaimed themselves satisfied with the results.

What about me: am I satisfied? Turns out I have a lot more to say on this topic than I planned. Stay tuned for the next installment. In the meantime, though, are your crosswalks clear? Please let me know in the comments.

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