Last Friday, after dropping my son off at his preschool in Flourtown, I returned to Chestnut Hill via Bethlehem Pike, figuring there was no way I’d have any problems getting to work on a major roadway.
As I turned into Chestnut Hill from the intersection of Bethlehem Pike and Stenton Avenue, I was confronted by a turnpike that had been transformed by last week’s snowstorm into a ski slope.
The roadway was still under at least 6 inches of snow – a compact amount that had been pressed down by other travelers in an uneven topography of ice mounds and snow swales. No plow or snow truck had seen this stretch of road yet, more than 24 hours after the snows of Wednesday and Thursday had concluded.
I didn’t have a problem getting up the hill – I drive a Subaru, the world’s greatest snow car – but a lot of other people were having problems. Two other drivers were stuck at the bottom of the hill. Several others were slowly coming down the hill at 5 mph, hoping not to slide through the red light at the intersection of Chestnut Hill Avenue or into another car.
What’s the problem? Why can’t Philadelphia clear even its most frequently traveled roads? Springfield Township by Thursday afternoon didn’t have an ounce of ice on its roads. What did they do right that Philadelphia can’t seem to get right?
On Thursday, Mayor Michael Nutter spoke to the online publication governing.com about the city’s snow removal strategy. According to Nutter, 700 city employees use 500 city vehicles to clear (or try to clear) the city’s 3,000 miles of street.
“Basically … if you’ve got a truck and we can put a plow on it, you’re going to be doing snow duty – that’s kind of our motto,” Nutter told governing.com. “Our folks are snow fighters. This is what they do. They take it as a point of personal pride.”
By the looks of things around Chestnut Hill and from what I’ve heard from people in other communities – Mt. Airy and Germantown – snow removal off of Germanton Avenue practically didn’t even happen. West Mount Airy Executive Director Lizabeth Macoretta sent a letter to Councilwoman Donna Reed Miller’s office to address her organization’s concern over the lack of good snow removal in West Mt. Airy (see letter below).
Since I’ve lived in Philadelphia and then in its near suburbs – moved here in 1997 – I’ve never seen the city do a very good job with the snow. To Nutter’s credit, I don’t think any administration has done a better job than his. I’m not sure any city administration is up to the task of clearing the city’s roads.
Perhaps it’s time for a little creative thinking. Or forget creative. I’d settle for some new thinking.
It’s pretty clear to me that a central agency – Philadelphia city government – can’t do the best job clearing neighborhood streets. We need some decentralization, contracts with local, private operators who will be responsible for snow removal services for a particular section of the city or neighborhood. City administrators can judge the effectiveness of these contractors and fire them if they don’t get the job done.
The point is this: Philadelphia could use a different approach to snow removal for its streets. It needs an approach that works.