Snow plows are too slow to clear streets

By Chistina Pazzanese
Globe Correspondent / January 25, 2009
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It's only January, but for some, the tolerance for lingering snow may already have been tapped out. With a string of snowstorms on the books, tipsters have recently written to GlobeWatch to ask why sidewalks on several overpasses that cross the Mass. Pike weren't cleared in a timely fashion, or sometimes, at all.

Harry Mattison writes about "the complete failure of the City of Boston, Mass. Turnpike Authority, and private property owners to clear sidewalks in Allston and Brighton. Walking around here with my young children in a stroller we often have no choice but to walk in the street on busy roads, and we are not the only ones in this predicament." Mattison has blogged about the problem and says many of his neighbors share his frustration.

Earlier this month, Chris Woodard of Somerville e-mailed GlobeWatch to ask about plowing, or a lack thereof, in Newton. "Can someone find out who's responsible for clearing snow from the sidewalks of the Mass. Pike overpasses in Newton Corner? They weren't cleared for any of the four snowstorms we've had so far this season. The Newton Corner area is very pedestrian-unfriendly as it is." Woodard noted there's a large assisted living facility nearby, and that many like him take public transportation from the Newton Corner area and rely on sidewalks. "This is a real public safety issue," he writes.

During a recent visit to both Everett Street and Newton Corner, a Globe reporter found that sidewalk clearing had been done in both areas, but that the work was not always thorough. On Everett Street, one sidewalk closest to a large supermarket and shopping center was cleared three days after the latest snowstorm, but the walkway on the opposite side of the street was untouched. In Newton Corner, sidewalks on both Centre Street overpasses were cleared on one side only. On the overpass from Washington Street to Centre, it appeared a plow had begun clearing but then abruptly stopped less than halfway across. A quick tour of several other overpasses along the Pike, including Cambridge Street in Allston, as well as Shawmut Avenue and Clarendon, Berkeley, Arlington, Tremont, and Washington streets in Boston, found that most sidewalks appeared clear and passable three days after the last snowfall. A sidewalk plow was spotted clearing the Cambridge Street overpass late Tuesday afternoon.

The state and city respond
Complaints about snow on the roads and sidewalks in Allston have also reached the ears of the Mass. Turnpike Authority, said spokesman Mac Daniel. "Local cities and towns are responsible" for clearing most of the roadways and overpasses above the Mass. Pike, including Everett Street and Centre Street, he said. The authority does plow on and off-ramps connected to the Pike, as well as areas around toll plazas and roads that loop around the highway by interchanges. Sidewalks are generally not part of that work, said Daniel. "Municipalities have asked us to help plow" in the past, something the authority has done, said Daniel, but "it's not our responsibility."

The City of Boston's public works staff clears about 15 overpasses that cross the turnpike, from Harrison Avenue in the South End to Market Street in Brighton, said Dennis Royer, chief of public works and transportation. Everett Street is on that list as well. Department workers are responsible for plowing sidewalks to meet handicapped accessibility standards of about a 4-foot-wide path on both sides of the street. In the case of the snow that fell on Jan. 18, Royer said, there were actually two snowstorms that day and workers were called in twice within 24 hours to tackle the cleanup. "We try to get to everything" within the same 24-hour window required of private owners, said Royer. Residents who see overpass sidewalks that aren't clear should call the mayor's constituent hot line at 617-635-4500.

Dennis Royer
Chief of Public Works and Transportation
1 City Hall Square, Room 714
Boston, MA

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