Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Madison's Snow Problem: Too Much, Not Enough, And Echoes Of Bilandic

...and no, I am not talking about the favorite recreational Bolivian export of futures traders, Robert Downey Jr. and Eurotrash everywhere. Although, if you know the right people to ask on Langdon Street...

I am talking about something that we used to be up to our ears in at this point of the year: snow.

South Central Wisconsin got its first appreciable snowfall Saturday and Sunday and this, as you may have guessed, generated something that made me mad. Two things, actually.

First, a question. What is the stupidest thing to do when you have a snow-themed event and you know snow is coming your way. Why, buy sixty dumptrucks full of the stuff beforehand!

I am not joking, for this is what happened to facilitate the "Capital Square Sprints" skiing tournament this weekend. Forget egg on the face of the City of Madison...the sixty trucks of snow are plenty embarassing enough.

They actually had to do this last year for the same event and it causes one to wonder: how much revenue could a skiing tournament possibly generate versus all the money wasted putting it on? How much is generated in revenue for the city and local businesses to make it worthwhile to truck in snow for what amounts a lot of people going around in circles. Maybe it is that I am not a skiing enthusiast (big surprise there, I know), but it seems like a colossal boondoggle that probably operates as a loss for the city.

I will not forget this when, in four years, I make my unsuccessful bid for mayor.

The other story comes this morning, another tale of smart use of public funds. Apparently, Madison is getting GPS tracking for, wait for it, its snowplows. According to the story in the Wisconsin State Journal, this will save money in the long run by cutting running costs, wear on equipment and prevent areas already plowed from being done again.

To plow an area again it must first be done, well, a first time. This sometimes does not happen for days, in a centralized urban area in the state capital of a state where it snows all the time.

Look, Mayor Dave, I'll save you the money and give you some advice. There is an urban area to the southeast of you called Chicago, and there, a very different philosophy prevails on the subject of snowplowing.

For you see, there was a mayor named Michael Bilandic and he basically handed Streets and Sanitation (who oversaw snowplowing) to the Outfit and they promptly pillaged all of the city's funds for snow removal. In a year when there was little snowfall, this would not have been a problem.

Fate, unfortunately, had another card to play for Mr. Bilandic.

On Friday night, January 12, 1979, it began to snow steadily in Chicago. It stopped at 2:00 on Sunday morning, January 14. On top of a ten inch base left over from a storm on New Year's Day were a fresh 20.9 inches of snow. With depleted funds and crews of the sorts of people who don't let their day jobs interfere with their regular lives, the city, rapid transit and all, came to a grinding halt. Garbage piled up, bodies went unburied and rats flourished. Bilandic was powerless to do anything as he watched while his corrupt and inadequate Streets and San crews lumbered throughout the city.

Also fatefully inconvienent for Bilandic was the fact that there was to be a mayoral election in February. When Chicagoans went to the polls, feet still caked in dirty snow, they dealt the mayor a resounding defeat, due in no small part to the corrupt and inept handling of the Blizzard of 1979, as it came to be called.

How did this change things in the metro area, you ask? The minute flakes begin to fall, the plow trucks roll, not like Madison where they wait until it is done, packed down and frozen over to fire up the now GPS equipped plow trucks.

So, Mayor Dave, take a page out of the Chicago playbook...forget GPS and just, well, get out there and plow and salt the roads. Oh yeah, and don't allow the Outfit to get hold of jobs and cash in City Hall. Somehow, I don't see that happening here. Politics are shrill yet boring in Madison, a lot of heat without a lot of light. I guess I like a good and corrupt city government; makes for better reading in the papers.

In your new plowing efforts, why not start with South Franklin Street, hmm?

1 comment:

Lost A Sock said...

Geez, talk about a waste of money. Hauling SNOW in? Nice.

Also, the Bilandic story is such a classic tale in the city, surely re-told by many (I know I hear it at least a couple times each winter with my family) year after year.

Happy snowfall!