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Wednesday, February 9, 2011

STAR column: Philly Snow Removal Agnst

I’ve lived through a lot of Philadelphia snowstorms, but I have to say that last week’s storm was one of the worst in terms of city cleanup.

Twenty-four hours after the storm there was still significant snow on Market Street and in other parts of Center City. The same was true three days after the storm. That’s when I had to travel into Germantown. While both the 15 trolley and the subways were running smoothly, once I hit Broad and Erie I had to look twice to believe what I saw all around me: masses of people waiting for the 23 and 53 buses, just to name two. My bus, the 53, hadn’t come in hours, and the word on the street was that it was suddenly discontinued because of icy conditions.

Remember, this was a good three days after the storm. It was also well after Mayor Nutter announced to the news media that street conditions in the city were great because the plows had been out in force.

Conditions in the city were not great but this fact was ignored by a mayor who prevaricates in the manner of a seasoned politician. If by plowing Mayor Nutter means going over a street once, then he was correct. There were plow track marks to be sure, but underneath the marks were layers of ice and snow. I’ve never seen the city look so bad. Indeed, the time I spent traveling to and from Germantown that day took me almost 5 hours. The return trip on the 23 along Germantown Avenue was even worse than the trip from the Riverwards. Passengers waited an hour for that bus on an otherwise busy Saturday afternoon.

On my way to Germantown I had no choice but to hail a hack cab from Broad and Erie because there was no 53 bus. The passengers waiting with me wanted answers, however. They began calling Septa in search of an explanation but all they got was confusion and conflicting information. One Septa operator said a bus was on the way; another insisted one had already come and that the lot of us had mysteriously missed it. Perhaps the bus was wearing cologne called Invisible?

Frustration at that little bus stop was at an all time high, just as it must have been at hundreds of bus stops throughout the city. It had been a frustrating snow week, period, especially in snowbound Center City. At a local Wendy’s I witnessed customers lashing out viciously at one another for “breaking in the front of the line,” while I encountered other outbursts of temper on the street and elsewhere.

While riding the hack cab, I could see that Germantown was in worse shape than the Riverwards. The driver was a little old guy who’d seen a lot over the years. He talked about the condition of the streets as he swerved the cab to avoid ice or mountains of snow. At one point he had to slow down to a snail’s pace to avoid hitting a woman in her Sunday best who had to walk in the middle of the streets because there was nowhere else to walk. Every street we turned down was covered in snow and had significant ice patches.

“The Nutter man has done nothing, look at this,” the driver said. “He’s not getting my vote next time.”

The driver said he’s never seen the city look so bad, either, despite all the pats on the back the mayor has been giving himself and his friends-- the plow truck people.

The plow trucks are another story. Forty-eight hours after the storm hit a friend of mine was driving in the city when he noticed a procession of plow trucks parked in a long line with their flashes on.

“Hey, why aren’t you guys plowing the streets?” he good naturedly asked a driver.

“We’re waiting to see which jurisdictions we’re assigned to!” one driver said.

Have you ever seen that play called ‘Waiting for Godot” where the characters spend a lifetime waiting for someone who never comes?

Philadelphians are waiting, Mr. Mayor.

In the meantime, I’m glad for the people on my street who have those mini scooters that can double as snow plows. The day after the storm they were up early blazing trails up and down the street. I know the neighbors were grateful.

This nightmare of repeated snow (and synchronized shoveling) stands to be repeated on Wednesday (when this paper hits the streets) when an Arctic storm, twice as big as the last one is predicted to hit the area. When one thinks of new snow on old snow or old ice the result is… crippling.

Not a time to quibble about jurisdictions.


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