Snowstorm coming: Watch out for St. Paul alleys

snowman closeup.pngIt’s coming. Paul Huttner says so.

“It’s way too early to pinpoint specific storm tracks and inches, but it’s worth saying there is the potential for several inches of snow somewhere across southern and central Minnesota by Monday night. … what could be a significant slop storm with heavy wet snowfall accumulations from late Monday afternoon into Tuesday morning.”

That means sidewalk shoveling and snow emergencies, and that most intractable of St. Paul snow problems: unplowed alleys clogging with snow or turning to icy, impassable ruts.

I used to go door-to-door, trying to get neighbors to contribute to alley plowing. Three houses on our block have street-facing garages. At least three are occupied by renters. Two houses on the other side of the alley had a regular snow plower who was only interested in our part of the alley if we would pay $100 per snowfall. With only three committed households, that sounded like a slippery slope to bankruptcy.

For a couple of years, I collected enough for a regular snow plower, but then he quit the business. I gave up and hoped for the best. A new neighbor took up the organizing/collecting task, only to admit defeat before the first flakes fell. (If I recall correctly, she eventually solved the problem by moving to California.)

Most years, we have no regular snow plowing. One household, with a big snowblower and hearts to match, has cleared the alley in recent years. I’m very grateful for their public service, but it’s not fair to expect one household to do the work for all of us. Nor is it fair to rely on a haphazard door-to-door collection that leaves a small minority paying for a shared public benefit.

Public benefit — like roads, schools, fire departments, and parks. Public benefit — like plowing snow off the streets. Very much like plowing snow off the streets. In Minneapolis, the city plows alleys. In Duluth, the city plows alleys. Plowing the alleys seems as much a needed public service as plowing the streets. But not in St. Paul:

“[The] City does not plow alleys. Saint Paul residents are asked to work with neighbors and contract with a private plow operator to keep alleys free of snow. The City does not open or re-open access to alleys that have snow deposits from City plowing efforts on public streets.”

We are a city of rugged individualists. (Just ask Joe Soucheray.) We don’t need no gummint snow plows invading our alleys.

Shoveling your own alley builds character. And muscles. If you don’t want to shovel, just organize your neighbors to pay for plowing. Collecting for alley plowing builds leadership skills and community spirit. People look forward to seeing their friendly neighbor, the alley plowing coordinator. (Well, some people. Somewhere. Not anyone I know personally.) Some people even brag that everyone on their block pays without being asked a second time, and that snowplowing costs only $10-$15 per household.

Mostly, these people have lived on the same block for years. As have most of their neighbors.

Some of us live on blocks where people move, and where many homes are rented.  Tenants, taken by surprise, have no money and, anyway, paying for plowing was not in the lease. Landlords, as the property owners, should be responsible, but usually don’t live in the neighborhood or anywhere the alley plowing coordinator can find them.

Even if every household contributed $10-$15, we’d have only about $150-$225 for the alley plowing on our block. The real cost of plowing the alley is a lot higher than that. In 2010, the Pioneer Press quoted a Dayton’s Bluff resident who paid $60 per year, and a Frogtown resident who was quoted a price of $400-500 for the season in 2010. That’s still not bad, compared to the alley plow contractors who charge a flat $100 for each snowfall. (If you know someone who will plow our alley for $150 or even $225 for the season, send me their name. Please.)

We can do better than this. Having alleys cleared is important for public safety, garbage collection, and even clearing spaces for people to park while the streets are being plowed. If there aren’t enough city plows, then the city can contract with the private operators.

St. Paul should plow alleys. Yes, it would mean raising property taxes to pay for alley plowing. I’d much rather pay a property tax increase than try to organize neighbors to pay for snow plowing each year. Collecting money to pay for needed public benefits is what taxes are for.

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1 Comment

Filed under St. Paul Notes, Uncategorized

One response to “Snowstorm coming: Watch out for St. Paul alleys

  1. Pingback: Organizing St. Paul: Trash and alley plowing on the agenda | News Day

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