Monday, January 31, 2011

Snow, kvetching and the many New Yorks

In my last post I observed that the city has changed the way it does snow removal, and that the politicians and the media have proclaimed themselves to be largely satisfied with the results. Well, I'm not satisfied, and I'm not annoyed any longer, I'm pissed. The city may have implemented its recommendations, and even "gone overboard," but that's not all they did. They changed their priorities as well.

The Prospect Park West bike lane, which has been the target of some politicians' rage, was left half-plowed for several days after the December snowstorm, and since the January 20th snowfall it still hasn't been completely plowed. Of course, this affects pedestrians who want to cross the bike lane too. The Second Avenue bike lane was not plowed quickly after last week's storm. Entitled motorists are still hampering snow removal.

The worst part, I first heard from a retweet by Stu Loeser, the Mayor's press secretary, of all places. "The worst part of the snow? You can't jaywalk," wrote Stephen Kamsler on Friday morning. I thought he was exaggerating and tweeted back, "You just don't have the right boots!"

When I went outside I discovered that Kamsler was actually understating things. Not only was it hard to jaywalk, but it was hard to just plain walk. At the corners, there is usually one path shoveled to cross the street east-west and one north-south. At my corner there are only east-west crosswalk paths, and no north-south ones - and it's still that way, on Sunday night.

That's the pattern all across the city. I've seen it all over Queens. Ben Kabak and BrooklynSpoke have noticed it in Brooklyn. Some guy in Astoria has pictures.

This is not a new pattern; it happens in Boston, Providence, Rye and Philadelphia, and our commenter Helen Bushnell reports a similar situation in Colorado.

The difference is that until last week, New York never had this problem. I honestly don't know how we did it. The sidewalks, as Alon points out, are the responsibility of the property owners, and the Sanitation website says the crosswalks are too. But how is it that they used to be pretty clear, and now they're not? It's just too much of a coincidence that this should be happening all over the city.

So what do the politicians have to say? Well, we got a tweet from Greenfield. One tweet, among lots of tweets about various streets in his district that were blocked for cars. What do the media say? Well, we have a story in the Queens Courier.

By and large, the difficulty we've had walking around been ignored, with a couple of exceptions that I'll explore in a future post. As you can see from the links I've posted, there have been more stories about blocked crosswalks in other cities.

Let me be clear about this: this issue is not particularly about me. I've got good boots, as you've probably heard, and I can walk right over those snowbanks. It's not a matter of life and death. It's about convenience, but more than that, it's about fairness, and about who counts.

Until December 28, we had a system where major routes were plowed first, and then more minor through routes, and then side routes. It didn't really matter whether they were for cars, bikes or pedestrians; the ones used by the more people were done before the ones used by less people.

Clearly, David Greenfield didn't like that, and neither did Steve Cuozzo or Marty Markowitz. In their view, drivers come first, and they wanted every street plowed before any bike lanes were plowed. People like Greg Mocker and Jimmy Van Bramer echoed that demand, although it's not entirely clear that they understood what they were asking for. Regardless, the city has gone along with it, and more. Now the streets are plowed long before the crosswalks are shoveled. Was that a suggestion from Greenfield? Will we ever know?

In the end, it doesn't really matter. Whether bikes come before cars or not, the important thing is that almost all New Yorkers are either pedestrians, wheelchair users, or stroller passengers. Pedestrians should come before bicycles or cars. Greenfield, Cuozzo and the rest need to hear it. They should clarify that they want the crosswalks clear as soon as the roads are. If they won't, then they are not speaking for all New Yorkers.

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