How can we do this better?
This is the second December in a row that a monster snowstorm has brought the city of Schenectady to its knees, with some residents waiting days for plows to clear their streets.
What can we do to prevent this from being an annual thing?
I’ve spoken to people who believe this year’s snow response was an improvement over last year’s, especially when you consider the volume of snow dumped on the city in a fairly short period of time, and I’m inclined to agree.
But that doesn’t mean it was acceptable, or that it can’t be improved upon.
Far from it.
Right now, Schenectady’s response to snow is unnecessarily reactive, which might explain why officials always seem flummoxed by any storm even a wee bit larger than anticipated.
What’s needed is a more proactive approach – one that’s better coordinated and better communicated, with an emphasis on making it easier for residents to get through bad storms and dig out when they’re over.
One big challenge is plowing the city’s side streets, and it’s often exacerbated by parked cars that get buried in snow.
Opening up more lots where residents can move their cars for the duration of a storm might help solve this problem, but only if the city prioritizes clearing these lots so residents can get in and out of them.
Stockade resident Tom Cuda lives on College Street, a winding, one-way street that feels narrow and tight in the best of weather.
Before the storm, he parked his car in a nearby city-owned lot on Front Street, which moved his vehicle out of the way of plows.
But the lot didn’t get cleared, which meant Cuda had to shovel his way out so he could go to work – a project that took about two hours.
“When the city tells you to move your car or you’re going to be towed, but there’s nowhere to put your car because the city lot hasn’t been plowed, it just doesn’t make any sense,” Cuda told me, noting that the city lot was still unplowed as of Monday morning. “If you plowed the parking lot, then when the city is ready to remove the snow, people would have a place to put their cars.”
It’s a sensible suggestion, and it highlights how making it easier for residents to weather snowstorms might make it easier for city workers to clean up later on.
The city did make free parking available to residents in the aftermath of the storm, at the Schenectady Municipal Parking Garage on Hamilton Street and the Karen B. Johnson Schenectady County Public Library.
While helpful, these locations aren’t accessible or convenient to most residents.
The city should identify places where residents from other neighborhoods can park during storms, enabling them to get off the street and help plows take care of business. Officials should work with neighborhood groups to do a better job of alerting residents that a storm is coming and encouraging them to move their cars before bad weather hits.
Schenectady’s inadequate snow removal response poses a number of urgent questions.
Is there a more equitable way to deploy plows and ensure that every neighborhood gets cleared in a timely fashion? Does the city have enough equipment to get the job done, or are more resources needed? Would alternate side parking – requiring residents to move their cars to one side of the street during heavy snowfall – help?
Finally, the city might consider convening a task force to answer these questions and develop a better strategy for dealing with the winter weather that is a fact of life in the Northeast.
The snowstorm that hit last week was huge, messy and inconvenient.
But it wasn’t unprecedented, and it’s something the city should have been better prepared for.
Reach Sara Foss at [email protected]. Opinions expressed here are her own and not necessarily the newspaper’s.