Boston Mayor Marty Walsh is on the phone and he is crabby.
On the cusp of cantankerous, even.
Which is to say, he has an exasperated give-me-a-break edge to his voice over the questions I’ve put to his press team about the city’s snow-clearing effort.
So maybe, snow-weary but fair-minded Boston, you can help settle this dispute.
Are my expectations too high — or has the city’s three-winter-storms performance proved subpar?
As I see it, the city hasn’t made the grade with its snow-removal efforts, for either the roads or the sidewalks. Further, just as Governor Baker made an ill-advised decision not to impose a driving ban a week ago Monday, Walsh blew it by going forward with the Patriots parade on Wednesday when the city’s neighborhoods weren’t yet properly plowed out.
For his part, the mayor feels that I — and his other critics — have lost sight of the fact that we’ve had a record amount of snow over the last 12 days.
“Every time we get ahead of a storm, we get pelted with another storm,” he said. “All the criticism that is going on — this is impossible. This is crazy.”
To which I say: Granted, we’ve had a record amount of snow, but it hasn’t been of the heavy, high-wind-driven, impossible-to-keep-up-with, Blizzard of ’78 variety. As I see it, the city’s initial plowing efforts didn’t move the snow far enough toward the curb; it seems to me that too much of early plowing was done by contractor-grade pickup trucks and not by heavier equipment with the torque and traction needed to carve the snow banks back. Nor did the city remove the plow-piled banks quickly enough.
Those encroaching snow banks narrowed the roads so much that it was hard for regular two-way traffic, let alone for large vehicles like buses, to get by one another.
Meanwhile, the city hasn’t paid enough attention to the details when it comes to sidewalks, even along major pedestrian routes. And at the end of too many blocks, a beleaguered pedestrian has been confronted with large, impassable mounds of plowed snow. The median islands have also been a mess.
One’s view of the city’s performance can’t help but be seen through the prism of his or her neighborhood. In Charlestown, some of the sidewalks adjacent to city facilities such as schools, fire stations, and parks have numbered among the unshoveled or slow-to-be-shoveled pedestrian passages.
Walsh’s response: “I have told our inspectors to write up our own property . . . I expect to hold this city to a higher standard than the average homeowner. We have the resources and the ability to clear our own property.”
Agreed — but it’s important not to confuse intentions with results. That sidewalk clearing needs to be done in a timely and thorough fashion. Here at least, it’s too often been haphazard and laggardly.
Other data points: Walsh’s press team says that the city has removed 10,000 truckloads of snow since the storms started and written more than 1,600 storm-related citations in the last two weeks. About a third of the snow-clearing vehicles — 193 of 591 pieces of equipment — are commercial pickups, a rate comparable with past storms, they say.
As for the parade, the mayor is both insistent that it had nothing to do with the city’s snow-clearing problems and defensive, particularly about the anonymous arrows that have pierced his thin hide from the realm of social media.
“It is easy to Monday-morning quarterback,” he said. “Let me just remind you one more time, we have had three storms back to back.”
So Bostonians, if you have a minute, please weigh in by e-mail or by commenting below about how your neighborhood is doing. Have the plows gotten your streets functionally plowed within a reasonable period? Has the city cleared its own sidewalks and cracked down on sections that businesses and residents have left unshoveled? In general, do you think City Hall has responded well when notified of problems?
Two final questions: What grade do you give Walsh in his trial by snowstorm? And as we brace for winter’s next blow, what lessons should he and the city he leads take away from this succession of storms?
I’ll publish some comments in my next column. Priority goes to those willing to attach their name to their sentiments.
Meanwhile, keep your chins up — and your shovels at the ready.