Some parts of city still struggle with snowy streets

Neighbors band together to shovel out

February 01, 2011|By Yeganeh June Torbati, The Baltimore Sun

Nearly a week after the season's first major winter snowstorm, large patches of ice and snow still cover streets in some Northeast Baltimore neighborhoods, and residents say they are waiting for trash and recycling pickups.

That's a common problem in Hamilton Hills, resident Jere Danaher said Tuesday. Last year, following the February blizzards, was the first time in 30 years that he remembers city crews being sent to clear neighborhood streets. This year, a plowing crew cleared some roads after residents complained to the area's city councilman, Robert Curran.

"We've gotten used to the fact that we just don't get snow removal," Danaher said. "These aren't necessarily extremely narrow streets. They proved last year they could. They just haven't for 30 years."

But in the battle for scarce city resources — in the form of snowplows and salt trucks — some residents have found that being organized and vocal makes all the difference.

A 20-minute drive away in Medfield, most lanes have been cleared down to sparkling asphalt, although some alleys were still partially covered Tuesday. Like nations' flags planted to claim new territory, lawn and dining chairs staked out hard-fought, pristine parking spots along the neighborhood's curving roads.

In Medfield and its surrounding neighborhoods, including Heathbrook and Hoes Heights, residents of at least 26 different blocks made calls to the city's 311 line requesting snow removal services following last Wednesday's snowstorm.

Over the next two days, a neighborhood resident and former president of the neighborhood association, Richard B. Kaminski, forwarded the service request numbers for the 311 calls to staff in the mayor's office assigned to reach out to communities after the storm.

And the area's councilwoman, Mary Pat Clarke, sent an e-mail to the mayor's office, asking for help on snow removal requests in Medfield, a neighborhood of around 1,200 homes, whose elderly population, Kaminski said, makes it "basically a retirement community."

Within 12 to 24 hours of the e-mails, Kaminski said, the neighborhood streets were cleared by plowing contractors hired by the city.

Danaher, a 63-year-old retired public worker, said he and his neighbors depend on each other to clear the secondary streets in their neighborhood, which sits near the county line.

The city has "never been responsive in the side streets," he said. "Most of the people clear their own streets."

Theresa Filer, 44, who lives on a one-way section of Roselawn Avenue, added, "It's just very difficult to get around, and no one seems to care."

After 19 years in the neighborhood, she's used to having residents pitch in to clear streets. "We've been on our own. I've grown accustomed to it."

Robert Walshe, 30, lives with his fiancee in the same home he grew up in on Ross Road, a small dead-end street in the nearby Waltherson neighborhood. Large patches of snow still cover his street, and his fiancee was forced to miss a day of work last week because she couldn't get out.

"Ailsa Avenue and our small street rarely get touched" by plows, Walshe said.

Like Kaminski, Walshe found it more helpful to contact a specific city employee rather than depending on the 311 system. Service requests from Walshe and his neighbor went unanswered, he said, until he contacted a staff member in the mayor's office, who routed the requests to the Department of Transportation. A neighbor saw a plowing crew visit the street around 2 a.m. on a weekend night, Walshe said, but the plow didn't go far in clearing the snow.

Trash and recycling have yet to be picked up, Walshe said, although he said he has not called 311 to alert the city to the missed pickups.

Walshe acknowledges that city resources are stretched, especially during a snowstorm, but believes residents deserve better service. "The idea that the street just gets no attention from a snow removal perspective, and secondly that you have to call 311 just to get someone to pay attention to it doesn't seem appropriate."

Each portion of the city has dedicated plowing crews assigned to clearing primary and secondary roads, said Adrienne D. Barnes, a spokeswoman for the Department of Transportation. Crews aim to make roads passable, she said, and not all roads are cleared down to asphalt.

After all the secondary roads are cleared, she said, crews will work through service requests called in through the city's 311 system.

"Our goal is to address the entire city to make sure that the entire city is passable and safe," Barnes said, noting that residents may have different perceptions about services. "Some people are going to say, 'No, they haven't ever been on my street,' and others will say 'Yes, this is satisfactory.'"

For Kaminski, the key to prompt and reliable city services is putting a human face on government bureaucracy. While handling neighbors' 311 requests, he has learned that there are city workers dedicated to helping residents resolve issues — which he thinks many Baltimore residents don't realize.

"You need to work with your [city] council leader and also work with the other community leaders surrounding you," Kaminski said. "Calling and complaining is not really … proactive."

Danaher acknowledges that he and his neighbors tend to make little noise about the service they receive from the city.

"If you're more organized and you moan and groan a lot you get a lot," he said. "They don't call into complain as much as they probably should. They get out and shovel themselves."

Baltimore Sun staff writer Jessica Anderson contributed to this article.

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