Wednesday, January 27, 2016

A "snowmad's" observation

A note to our readers: We've relocated our base of operations east of the capital city into Hamilton Township, hence the title change suggested by one waggish friend several weeks back. (We'll work on an improved header in the weeks to come. Hopefully one that will work for the mobile version of the blog as well).

While some might think this move has placed Trenton squarely in our rear view mirror, we prefer to see it as offering a wider, possibly higher definition perspective. Since we are still property tax paying residents of a neighboring township, we feel we can still add to the discussion by, for and about Trenton and its role in Mercer County. As Father used to say, "As goes Trenton, so goes the townships around it."


Last weekend's major snowfall has provided the opportunity to observe and compare how various adjacent municipalities handled the issue of clearing the streets of abnormally high amounts of snow. It also allows for a comparison of the public's response to same.

Social media has been on fire with commentary about the various towns' efforts to deal with the snow. The local papers have picked up on it as well. The Times ran this story comparing Ewing and Trenton's approach to clearing one stretch of road that runs through both. They also ran a story about Trenton residents frustrated with the city's snow removal efforts.

Trenton is a centuries old town that was laid out and developed before the advent and dominance of the automobile. Her horse and buggy era neighborhoods have difficulty accommodating enough parking for the multitudes of personal vehicles under the best of conditions. Dump a couple of feet of snow on the streets and it quickly makes a mess of things.

The City has to clear the snow, obviously starting with the main thoroughfares and working down through the secondary and tertiary roads and onto the alleys and such. A big problem, as any urban homeowner will tell you, is where to put the snow removed from the streets and sidewalks.

Self-centered idiots who clear the walks in front of their homes and/or dig out their parked cars, trucks and SUVs by throwing the snow INTO THE STREET should be cited and punished. They are not helping themselves let alone anyone else by adding to the snow clogged streets. They are just making it harder for the city to plow everyone out.

On the other side of the coin, the city must have a better, more effective plan in place for snow removal. You would think that a Mayor who had previously served as the Public Works Director would be better able to direct and manage the city's clean up efforts. How could it be that no one thought about clearing the City Hall parking lot until it was time for the workers to show up on Monday?

Open communication with the residents about the progress in clearing the streets might help to cut down on some of the complaints. Perhaps the snow removal plan should have some benchmarks that can be used for all to measure the municipality's effectiveness in getting the streets cleared of snow.
(All snow emergency routes completely cleared within 8 hours of the cessation of snowfall; all secondary roads cleared 12 hours later; etc.)

Hamilton runs an application called "Snow Plow Sal" that is supposed to show where plows are operating at any given time as well as tell users when they can expect their street to be plowed. We saw several complaints posted about untouched streets where the app indicated plowing had been done. We didn't investigate the claims (we stayed off of the roads as much as possible during and immediately after the storm so the plows could do their thing.)  It seems as though there were some "errors" in the data provided. Or maybe it was the interpretation of the data. If a plow had made a pass on the street but the snow wasn't removed all the way down to the pavement, was the street considered "done"?

Again, it was a lot of snow. Even with Hamilton's generally larger, less congested streets, it is hard to make that volume of frozen precipitation disappear overnight. Were the public's expectations met? It doesn't seems so. Were those expectations realistic? That's a good question.

And what about the citizens? How well did they cope with this?

Our past experience in Trenton was that only about half of the residents and property owners (including the City itself) adequately cleared their sidewalks as per city ordinance. This made walking tricky at best. As mentioned above, those that did often threw the snow into the streets adding to the burden the plows had to clear away.

In Hamilton there are still some properties where the sidewalks haven't been cleared but not as many proportionately as we used to see in the city. Interesting to us were the homes where the driveways and walks to the front door were snow and ice free within hours of the end of the storm while the sidewalks along the frontage were left untouched. So, it wasn't a matter of someone too old or ill to get the shoveling done.

City or township, the unusual circumstances of the storm did bring out the good in a lot of people. Stories of neighbors helping neighbors dig out cars, get walks cleared, etc. were also posted online and published in the papers. The Trentonian's Jeff Edelstein even did a column on his personal experience with "a helper".

We, too, were the beneficiaries of good neighbors who brought their snow blower over to clear the driveway and knock down the "plow wall" that had been kicked across the driveway curb cut.