Wednesday, December 14, 2011
Dollars down the drain
About a dozen years ago, morning commuters in Fairbanks noticed a crew of workers clearing a parking lot with snowblowers. That afternoon, they saw the same workers blowing the same snow to the other side of the same parking lot. This went on for a couple of days while outraged drivers — who didn’t know the parking lot had been rented by a snowblower manufacturer to test its product — were calling City Hall to complain because they thought municipal workers were wasting taxpayer dollars.
Maybe those motorists paid attention because the scene involved a parking lot for cars. Something was going on, because the same basic thing happens in Anchorage all winter, every year, and nobody seems to give a damn. I’m talking about sidewalks and bike paths that city crews clean, and that state crews then bury under snow thrown from adjacent roads. Over and over. Every damned year.
And yes, I find it annoying because I’m a bike commuter, but it goes beyond that. It’s a terrible waste in terms of labor and fuel costs, because the sidewalks and bike paths that do actually get plowed (rather than completely ignored) end up being cleared twice. Eventually.
In the meantime, people who walk, bike, take the bus, etc., are lucky to find clear routes for a couple of hours before they have to spend days post-holing through a moonscape of ice and snow debris that was thrown atop their travel routes and bus stops. At least I can get off my bike one or twice every block, and grumble as I push through 75-yard stretches of snow sludge. I feel worse when I see people running their wheelchairs at the side of a lane of traffic, or people with canes trying to get home with bags of groceries when they can barely reach a bus-stop bench.
The cause of this problem is simple: The city of Anchorage and the state of Alaska are incapable of coordinating their snowplow schedules to work efficiently.
When this kind of government waste is more visible and affects more people, it sparks outrage. But when it’s in the dark margins beyond the side windows of most peoples’ automotive cocoons, they don’t seem to notice.
Maybe when somebody in a wheelchair gets run down on a dark December day as they roll down an icy street full of cars, we’ll finally be able to get our mayor and our governor — who are both tax-hating, cost-cutting conservatives — to appoint a couple of managers to work together and end this insanity.
But I’m not counting on it.