Daily Archives: February 1, 2011

You Reported Unshoveled Sidewalks. Now What?

Published February 1, 2011

Our experiment taught us one thing is for sure: Shoveling is a very sensitive issue.

On Friday afternoon, 24 hours after last week’s storm had passed, I asked you to report unshoveled sidewalks, hydrants and bus stops. By 6 p.m. Monday, exactly 200 pins were on the map.

Almost as soon as the project started, the response was polarized.

“People want to sit here and rat out their neighbors for everything that they do, and it makes certain people feel good about themselves,” said Steven, who did not give us his last name. “I mean, if you have a real problem with it, and they’re breaking the law, then call the police and let the police do their job.”

A screen shot of our snow violations map

Was our shovel map a success? Depends how you define success.

This view was shared by other readers and journalists.

But hundreds of people participated, many of them expressing appreciation for this new tool. I read detailed descriptions of repeat offenders, errant businesses and unresponsive cities and towns. We had created an outlet for the people’s rage.

Once it was obvious this thing was taking off, we asked ourselves: What should we do with all this data? How can this project yield something positive? We discussed the idea of gathering “citizen patrols” to help out — but decided not to “get into the Robin Hood business,” not this time.

I am reaching out to cities and towns to see if our map could help aid the big dig-out.  The city of Boston already has a robust system for reporting and responding code violations. Data from the Mayor’s Hotline and the Citizens Connect app is made public.

Other municipalties aren’t so accessible. Citizen reporter Saul Tannenbaum had to file a public records request to build a map of Cambridge snow violations.

At first brush, the response from officials is tepid. Great idea, but we have enough complaints to deal with.

This project is only worth doing again — people are already asking to submit new reports — if it contributes to a greater good. Does it, can it? What do you think?

Maybe, at the end of the day, we gave people a place to vent. And maybe that’s OK.

Where Do We Put All This Snow?

Published February 1, 2011

Mailboxes covered in snow

Waiting for the mailman (Submitted to WBUR's Flickr group by Paul Keleher)

By the end of this week, Boston will have received almost a full Shaq of snow — more snow last month alone than all of last year. Where are we supposed to do with it?

WBUR’s Monica Brady-Myerov is working on a piece for Thursday that gets at that very issue. WBUR’s David Boeri is preparing a story about the towering salt mountains in Chelsea. Here are some of the options we’re looking into:

Dump it in the harbor. Environmentalists don’t like this, because a lot of chemicals get trapped in there. Ex-Beth Israel CEO Paul Levy (who seemed to get the idea while listening to WBUR), said the environmental hazards of trucking snow outweigh the hazards of dumping chemicals.

Dump it at Logan airport. This is what Mayor Tom Menino wants to do. The airport is one of the last places in the city with (vast) open space. The airport says no. WBUR’s Fred Thys, who attended a news conference today at Logan, said airport officials don’t want to invest the resources to escort city dump trucks all day. (It’s a security issue.)

Use flamethrowers to melt it. This was first proposed in 1948 by Boston Mayor James Michael Curley:

I am very desirous that the Institute of Technology have a competent group of engineers make an immediate study as to ways and means of removing the huge accumulation not only in Boston, but throughout the entire state, whether it be by the use of flame throwers or chemicals or otherwise, so that we may have a gradual disposal when it starts to melt rather than having disastrous floods as a consequence of its melting with great property damage and with injury to the public.

MIT responded: Um, no. “The use of any heating equipment assumes an ample supply of liquid fuels which is certainly not the case this winter,” said MIT President Karl Compton. That was 63 years ago. Should we revisit the idea?

Use snow dragons to melt it. Ah, now this is high-tech! What looks like a giant vacuum cleaner on skis, powered by biodiesel, sucks up the snow and gives it a hot bath. But it’s really, really expensive, and the city isn’t interested yet.

Use Snowzilla to blast it away. Snowzilla is a laughably monstrous snow blower used to clear the white stuff from the MBTA’s high-speed Mattapan line. It plows through snow like nobody’s business. But it guzzles 900 gallons of diesel every trip — more than a commercial jet, the Globe notes — and isn’t sustainable.

Build igloos. This is personally rewarding but time-consuming.

Truck it to a snow farm. I saved the least for last. This is what the city does now — push it around to six snow farms throughout Boston. It’s expensive, time-consuming and air-polluting. But it works. WBUR’s Adam Ragusea visited one of these awe-inspiring places last week on Radio Boston. “It’s like a big, frothy wave, like the wave at the head of a tsunami that’s just kind of frozen in time.”

I might also suggest dumping it at the old Filene’s site.

I’m sure there are ideas I missed. What are yours?

Tuesday Roundup: Where Every Day’s A Snow Day

Published February 1, 2011

Happy Tuesday! I hope you’re staying warm and dry. It’s raw out there.

Sen. John Kerry joined Morning Edition to talk about his anything-but-radical idea for Egypt: Ask President Hosni Mubarak to resign gracefully and stay in the country, then hold free and fair elections later this year.

WBUR’s Monica Brady-Myerov continues our series about mental health care for children. She reports on the divide between parents who medicate and those who don’t.

Chicagoans tease me incessantly about the fact that Boston has “snow days.” My mother said her company has never declared a snow day ever. President Obama’s children didn’t know what snow days were until they moved to D.C. Herald columnist Margery Eagan says enough is enough: “It’s not 1860 anymore.”

State Sen. Jack Hart of South Boston is running with Paul Levy’s idea to dump snow in the Harbor. He is asking for a moratorium on the ban, the Herald reports. But: “Environmentalists say city snow is packed with salt, oil, litter and other chemicals and pollutes the ocean.”

Finally, WBUR’s Meghna Chakrabarti (@meghnawbur) is combatting the crankiness to start the hash tag #snowlovely on Twitter. She wants people to share what they love about snow.