Sunday, January 11, 2009

The Main Street snow berm

Last week Mayor Sebastian Giuliano appeared on WNPR and, with the mayors of West Hartford and East Hartford, discussed the effects of the economy on their respective cities. It was, and is, worthwhile listening.

The subject of snow removal came up. The mayors discussed innovative methods of snow removal, including abandoning sand because of the necessitated Springtime cleanup, and an expensive method Giuliano suggested in which snow is plowed into melting units.

Giuliano also mentioned the snow berm on Main Street. He claimed that the pile in the middle of our wide Main Street must be removed days after the storm through a process which entails middle-of-night scooping and transporting the snow, at a great cost to the city in overtime pay. I would add that the early-morning removal is excessively noisy for downtown neighbors, what with trucks scooping, scraping and beeping their infernal safety reverse-alert alarms.

The excess snow is trucked to a parking lot near the Cochinchaug River where its diluting and polluting effect while melting, has harmed the fragile ecosystem of the river.

While walking down Main Street today, after a snowfall, I got to thinking that there has to be a better way, and one that does not include buying huge melters.

Plow the snow to the curb - As far as I can tell, when plows travel down city streets, they push the snow toward the curbs on either side of the street. This causes large snowpiles on the treelawn on both sides of the street. On my street, Pearl Street, where tree lawns are narrow, the fast-moving plows deposit much of the street snow on my sidewalk. On Main Street, the plows push the snow to the middle of the street. And that's a puzzle. Why not push all the show toward the curbs. All the sidewalks are very wide. Merchants would be required to dig pathways for their clients. But it would save the city the cost of midnight snow transport.

Leave the berm - the city could continue to plow the snow to the middle of the street, but just leave the snow berm where it is. Some mid-block passages would have to be plowed for pedestrian passage, but the berm actually serves some safety purposes. It prevents the mid-street u-turn and left turn that is banned, but still frequently practiced, on Main Street. It restricts jaywalking. And it gives residents the opportunity to experience Main Street as a boulevard in which the snow acts as stand-in for a greenway, or neutral ground, or allows us to imagine what having a trolley route on Main Street might mean. At the very least it serves to slow traffic which would have narrower lanes, and constricted sight lines. We'd concede that in a very snowy winter, an occasional berm removal might be necessary, though not at the close of every storm.

Remove the snow during regular working hours - while this would be the least desirable alternative, the minor and temporary inconvenience to drivers would offset the large costs to the city.

In all cases, the decision to do other than what is currently done, is the mayors by authority of his office as defined in the City Charter ("the Mayor shall be directly responsible for the administration of all Departments, Agencies and Offices, in charge of persons or Boards appointed by the Mayor and shall supervise and direct the same.")

And in these fiscally-challeging times, it would seem that significant cost savings would trump minor inconveniences, and that thinking outside-of-the-box (or as in this case, the berm), would be appropriate.


Catherine said...

First, great article Eye. You are everywhere! You know all, you see all.
2. Thank you for bringing this irksome issue up. We don't need to move the snow anywhere. It is remarkable the DPW is still depositing the snow in Vet's Park next to the Coginchaug. It doesn't matter how much we learn about non-point source pollution, apparently no one has the courage to explain it to the DPW.
3. I believe the removal is something of a recent development. Growing up, I believe they just left the snow in the middle. We could keep track of how long ago the storm was by the size of the pile. It was exciting.
4. FYI: Our future streetcars will travel in the same travel lanes as vehicles, not down the center of the street. (Sounds like you have the St Charles line in mind).

An Isle of Safety in the middle of our Main Street may be something to consider, but in my view, only if it remains at the same grade as the pavement. Main Street is the living room of our city.The street needs to remain a space capable of hosting parades and other events. The median strip that you may have in mind is better suited for other streets, such as Washington Street from the Middlefield town line, and our other arteries.

Anonymous said...

Actually, I love the "heat the snow, dump it in the drain" idea, and wonder if it really works. That way, the water goes to the treatment plant, doesn't it? Also, sorry Mr. Eye, but you can't leave the snow on the wide sidewalk, since it melts unevenly and causes lots of trouble with accidents (i.e. lawsuits). It would just make it harder for customers to get to their business-of-choice.

Unless it's a huge blizzard, I don't mind the idea of leaving it where it is -- it's a nice "small town" touch. But it makes Main Street one lane in each direction (which is fine with me but would probably give the DOT a bad case of hives.)

Nearly half of Main Street is Highway Route 66 -- the state controls the North End portion from Washington St to O'Rourke's Diner. Maybe we should get them to plow it!!! That might save some local tax dollars.

-A. Nona Mouse

Anonymous said...

Yes the big snow melters do work very well. They are used in a lot of the bigger cities around Connecticut. New York City uses them with great success. They make different size melters, Middletown would probably do fine with a smaller sized unit. What i want to know is why are we still using a salt/sand mix for our roads when just about every other town around us has switched to s salt or treated salt program? I noticed even Cromwell is using treated salt instead of sand now. There is much less of a mess and the roads appear to be down to pavement a lot quicker. Some of the towns i noticed that dont use sand anymore are Wallingford,Cheshire,Cromwell,Newington,Hartford. Maybe its time Middletown moves into the 21 century for snow removal?