On one half of this debate sit pedestrians and disabled persons and their advocacy groups, who would highly prefer shorter crossing distances for safety and convenience, and on the other half are a smaller group of more seasoned bike commuters who say they would prefer the bike lane for speediness and fear that the two bike paths wouldn’t be clear of snow and ice in the winter time.
So in the spirit of solving the debate for everyone, the Boston Cyclists Union is seeing if the snow removal problem can be fixed not only for the Arborway, but for the entire Southwest Corridor and future Morton Street cycletrack as well.
Union leadership reached out to Dan Driscoll, director of facilities planning at the Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR) and Kevin Hollenbeck, the man in charge of the DCR’s plows on the day of a big snow event. Over a couple hours we discussed the varying gale forces produced by leaf blowers, the very real hazard of squirrels blindly chasing acorns across bike paths, and actually learned a lot about snow removal too.
It turns out that the Southwest Corridor, because it is near transit stations, is a “priority one” snow removal path in the DCR’s rubric, meaning it is scheduled to get attention in the early AM after any snow day or night, before most of us are awake. But during super snowy winters, Hollenbeck’s crews can have trouble keeping up, which is why cyclists saw the SW corridor disappear under bumpy ice for several weeks in Boston’s heavy winter two years ago.
The main bottleneck isn’t staff, it turns out, as Hollenbeck can pull snow emergency staff from more than one pool of DCR employees, but equipment. Hollenbeck employs a variety of tools from shovel on up to Bombardier, the latter being the real workhorse.
A Bombardier is basically a little tank with a snow blade on it. It rides on tracks and can plow through a foot or more of fresh fallen snow while pushing the needle on the residential speed limit, even on ice. And the shed that stores snow removal equipment for the Southwest Corridor and other local paths has only one Bombardier, whereas sheds that serve the Stonybrook Reservation and Neponset River have two.
Now, Hollenbeck knows enough about 4 a.m. SNAFUs than to promise perfect snow removal in Boston with only one vehicle in his roster that can blast through anything, but at the prospect of an extra Bombardier in the barn, his eyebrows went up and he started to nod. Would it mean you could keep those paths clear all year no matter what?
“Let me put it this way,” he said. “It’s the difference between going 8 miles per hour and 30 miles per hour.”
A Bombardier would greatly increase his crews efficiency on snow swept mornings, Hollenbeck said, but to really reach 100 percent satisfaction with snow removal cyclists need to also do their part. Crews do not patrol for ice and snow after the first plows roll through, but anyone can call in any time ice forms to tell the DCR where the problem is (617-626-1250 or email at firstname.lastname@example.org).
Also, Driscoll pointed out that the design of the new Arborway will determine how easy it is to plow and keep clear of ice. The current path has poor drainage in parts and too much shade in others. Curb cuts and clearances between street furniture needs to be wider than ten feet. Certain trees, like oaks and beeches, hold on to their leaves late into winter—which means that ice on certain patches of asphalt doesn’t melt until March. Evergreens also have this effect.
The Union and the DCR will be watching the design along with a lively DAG, but if you live in Jamaica Plain and will be riding the SW Corridor or Casey Arborway in the wintertime—you may want to start asking MassDOT and Secretary Davey how they plan to increase the DCR’s snow removal capacity along with the new parkland they will receive when MassDOT completes the Arborway’s construction, and will it include a tracked snow plow like the Bombardier to bring SW Corridor’s shed up to snuff. Here, by the way, are the appropriate emails to cc on such an email: email@example.com, katherine.Fichter@state.ma.us, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com.