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Complaints about side-street snow removal pile up

On WinonStreet west Ashlseveral inches mushy snow completely covered pavement Thursday. | Art Golab~Sun-Times

On Winona Street west of Ashland several inches of mushy snow completely covered the pavement Thursday. | Art Golab~Sun-Times

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Speak Out: How bad is the snow on side-streets in your neighborhood?
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Updated: February 11, 2014 6:31AM

Three days after the snow stopped piling up on Chicago streets, complaints about side-street snow removal — or the lack of it — were going in the opposite direction.

Some aldermen accused Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s administration of falling down on the job in a city where the politics of snow removal reached legendary proportions after the Blizzard of `79 buried then-Mayor Michael Bilandic.

“The side streets are a problem. We’ve got to improve on the side streets,” Zoning Committee Chairman Danny Solis (25th), a mayoral ally, told the Chicago Sun-Times this week.

Another alderman, who asked to remain anonymous, called the condition of side streets “horrible” and said Emanuel “needs to beef it up or it could get ugly.”

Ald. Scott Waguespack (32nd) said his ward office fielded “a couple hundred” complaints about side-street snow removal on Wednesday and 50 more on Thursday.

“They waited too long to get into the side streets before it froze. When the temperature dropped, it was almost impossible to run the plow. It was so rock-hard. They’re definitely passable, but they need a lot more work,” Waguespack said.

Ald. John Arena (45th), normally one of Emanuel’s most outspoken critics, said City Hall is doing a decent job on residential streets, considering the double-whammy of snow and record cold that rendered salt ineffective.

“Is it as good as I’d like it to be? No. But these next couple of days, we’ll be able to pick it up to a standard people expect,” Arena said.

Ald. Roderick Sawyer (6th) said he had hoped the city would take advantage of Thursday’s rising temperatures to salt and clear “crippled” side streets in his South Side ward.

But Sawyer said he was “shocked” to get a call from a driver who claims he was turned away from a salt pile at 95th and South Chicago when he tried to reload. When Sawyer called his ward superintendent, he learned that city trucks were being restricted to “one load of salt per shift.”

He added, “Now that temperatures are rising, salt can actually work. If they run out, I’m expecting trucks to reload. I want to get these side streets cleared for my constituents. They’re calling our office and complaining about it and it’s justifiable. I’m not trying to throw anybody under the bus. My people are working around the clock. I just want them to have the resources to be successful.”

Streets and Sanitation Commissioner Charles Williams acknowledged Thursday that he has imposed a one-truckload-per-shift limit on salt to “manage” the city’s supply.

“Since Sunday, the salt has not been working as well as we like. If we keep pouring more salt on top of it, it’s akin to throwing that away. I don’t want to do that. I want to make sure we use it wisely,” he said.

On Thursday, 200 snow removal vehicles were dispatched to Chicago side streets, nearly three times the contingent working on side street snow removal the day before.

“Every single side street has seen a plow once and many have seen plows multiple times,” said Molly Poppe, a Streets and Sanitation spokeswoman.

Earlier this week, Williams flatly denied that he was slow to respond to the perennial demand for side-street snow removal.

“We called a 100 percent program at the beginning of the storm and stayed with that. But, when snow is falling at that rate, your focus is on the main streets. You never want to lose control of your main streets. It has to stop snowing before you can go into the side streets,” Williams said.

The rookie commissioner blamed the poor condition of some side streets on snowbound residents who were finally able to dig out their cars.

“A lot of that snow is ending up back in the middle of that residential street, so we’re going to go back in there and stay there until it is completed,” Williams said.

“We plow the side streets so they’re safe and passable. I don’t think there’s been anyone who hasn’t been able to get from their residential street to a main street.”

A spot check of side streets showed no recent signs of plowing or salting, but on most side streets pavement was visible, even if only through ruts worn in the snow by automobile wheels. Side streets that got more traffic were in better condition. Side streets with traffic from salted arterial streets were in the best shape, due to cars tracking the salt with them.

North Sider Katie Monk lives near a little-traveled stretch where Paulina Avenue ends at Winona Avenue. On Thursday no pavement was visible through four or five inches of dirty mashed potato snow.

“I like living here, but they don’t really do a lot about the snow. It’s dangerous, I’ve seen cars skid through the stop sign [at Winona] and crash.”

It was a sea of mush in the 200 block of North Kolin on the West Side, where brothers Marcus and Ryan Daniel said they helped push two vehicles that got stuck in the middle of the street.

“It’s crazy on side streets, we’ve only seen plows on the main streets,” said Ryan.

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