An Open (Grumpy) Letter to Snowy Columbia

photo 4Never will you be happier to see a bus than when the bus is late.

That’s true. Proven by facts. And science. And a lot of first-hand experience, since I kind of enjoy public transport.

Columbia is breaking my heart, though.

These past couple days, I’ve been taking the bus into downtown and walking to the newsroom. Because school is not currently in session, however, the loop 200 feet from my apartment complex isn’t running.

The next closest stop? A mile away.

The first day, I left my house at 6:15 a.m. It was still pretty dark out, and pretty cold, but I was wearing layers, gloves, a hat and wool socks. I wasn’t too worried about the cold, and knew I would be at the bus in no time.

Turns out I had underestimated the city on what they had done in wake of the Polar Vortex.

Columbia, for whatever reason, doesn’t know how to function in the snow. It never really made sense to me: Is the city surprised that there are winter storms? We’re in the Midwest! Of course it snows here! I’m from Texas and I know that! Why are we always completely thrown for a loop and unable to handle less than six inches of snow?

If I wanted to try my luck walking on the street, I had to brave an ice-coated shoulder, covered with a light dusting of snow. The road conditions still weren’t awesome, and I didn’t entirely trust the early morning drivers, so I trudged through the snow. The city has shoveled snow, icy and slush off Grindstone Parkway and up onto the sidewalk, more than a foot high in some places. My boots were soaked through to my socks. I tripped and almost face-planted at least once. I was frustrated and unhappy and cold.

I had to cross over the highway using a very narrow shoulder that was half covered with plowed snow and ice. Terrifying, to say the least.

photo 3The next day, I left my house at 7:50 a.m. I wore my rain boots and packed a nicer pair of shoes for the newsroom. Since it was lighter out, I could more safely walk on the shoulder of the road. It was icy, but it wasn’t snow halfway to my knee. I made much better time, and I didn’t feel like crying, so that’s a plus. The bus was 20 minutes late, most likely due to a combination of morning rush hour and the snowy conditions, but I would rather be waiting at a bus stop than hiking through snow banks.

A very chilled blogger at the bus stop.

A very chilled blogger.

There are two things I would like to mention about my bus adventures. Firstly, never underestimate the power of a pair of muck boots. Secondly, Columbia needs to get itself together.

What about the residents who can’t make that hike? If they live further, or they have kids with them, or they have a bunch of groceries? What if they aren’t as able bodied and can’t navigate a narrow, icy shoulder of a highway?

One of the other passengers on my bus Thursday morning was in a wheelchair. He had to make a transfer, but couldn’t get off at his normal stop because the sidewalks and ramps were neither scooped nor salted. I watched, mesmerized, as our driver coordinated with the driver of the man’s next bus. Both buses pulled into a side street at a t-stop so the man could use the ramps on both buses in the safety of a plowed street. It worked out just fine, but I couldn’t help but wonder what the man, or other passengers, did when conditions were less than ideal.

I like public transportation. I really do. The DART system in Dallas has received many a dollar from my wallet, and I’ve taken it from the stop around the corner from my house into the downtown shopping district and even all the way to the Dallas Zoo. If I can go to the zoo on Dollar Tuesdays and take the DART down and back, all for less than $5, that seems like a good deal to me.

I think the reason I am able to enjoy buses and trains, though, is because they’re accessible to me. I don’t have to worry about ramps or ice or huge puddles or anything getting in my way. It might not be enjoyable to trek through snow drifts, but I can do it. Even a winter storm can’t stop me from making it a mile to the bus stop.

But not everyone can just pull on boots and hike a mile. Assuming so is ableist and exclusive.

Downtown sidewalks are manageable and mostly clear. Most campus sidewalks are shoveled by campus facilities employees and student staff members. It takes time, effort and money, but people can walk to Starbucks and Shake’s without snow shoes or cross-country skis.

This is my plea for the City of Columbia to salt its residential sidewalks. Contrary to popular belief, there are still students who live in the dozens of apartment complexes all over the city, even when school is not in session. We need a way to get to the bus, get to the store. Students are told nearly every day by most faculty members to push ourselves out of the “campus bubble.”

It’s hard to do that when everything outside that bubble is covered in a foot of dirty, icy snow.

Author’s Note: After I published this post, my good friend and co-worker Elise texted me to ask if I was writing a story on the topic of Columbia’s sidewalks and snow procedures. I was inspired, and have started to look into the topic as a story for the Missourian. Just wanted to let y’all know that the post came first and sparked a deeper, broader look into how people get around in the snow, rather than just me getting pissed that my feet were wet when I got to work (as true as that might be). Keep an eye out for updates!

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9 Comments

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9 responses to “An Open (Grumpy) Letter to Snowy Columbia

  1. Carstens

    One of my fondest memories of Columbia is walking between the U of M and Stephens campus on a snowy Sunday night and feeling as if I had the city all to myself. There was a maximum of one inch of snow and Columbia had shut down. That was in 1979. It appears that little has changed when it comes to winter-readiness. I was very touched by your description of the bus drivers collaborating to create a safe transfer for the person in a wheelchair. There are caring people in the world. The next step is to get that caring to a policy level. Let’s hope your blog helps spur some change.

  2. Sounds like you’re having a bit of a time there, huh? You should see my area of Virginia when a single flake falls. Everyone panics and then everything shuts down. And then all of the northerners laugh.

  3. The problem with asking the City to plow the sidewalks and salt the sidewalks is that City ordinance makes that the responsibility of the landowners. I would love to see a city that does this. The objection is “We don’t have the staff! The fuel! The equipment!” My answer is: this should be a taxpayer expense. It would be more efficient and therefore cheaper & easier if the city invested in the equipment & took on this responsibility, instead of everyone owning our own snow blowers and injuring our backs with those snow shovels because of our weak core muscles and poor form. I would enthusiastically support the tiny tax increase it would take to make this happen. But tax increases are immensely unpopular so I won’t hold my breath.

    • You’re so right. When I was originally writing this post, I didn’t know about the ordinance, and I can bet a lot of other residents don’t know either. I think it should be more heavily a city obligation, but the tax increase issue is definitely a roadblock.

  4. Good afternoon. My name is Steven Sapp and I am the public information specialist for Columbia Public Works; we may have spoken on the phone. We are always interested in what our customers are saying and we do listen and learn. Sidewalk snow removal has always been the responsibility of the property owner. We’ve publicized it often every winter; via the Comosnow.com site, throughout most press releases, social media post, etc. Sadly, many people choose not to shovel their sidewalks and enforcement is a nightmare. We’re looking at the total miles of sidewalks in Columbia (I can assure you it’s over 1,000) and will assign a dollar figure per mile to make the sidewalk passable. Our customers should know, that number is going to be very, very large. A “small” increase in funding will likely not come close to the total cost – labor is always the most expensive part of a venture and honestly we can’t image the army of laborers it would take to make all of Columbia’s sidewalks passable. You may be interested to know we are working on a pilot project this year to plow the sidewalks on Worley from 5th street to Park DeVille, south on Park DeVille, then east on Broadway to Providence (downtown). That project will help us determine cost. Then there are the many policy issues which would have to be worked out. Do we initiate sidewalk plowing for every snow from 1/2 inch to a foot? Are there priority sidewalks which should be cleared first? From snow to Public Transportation; first, thanks for riding Columbia Transit. Our CoMOConnect project is being presented to council on February 3 with a public hearing likely on February 17. We hope to implement as revised transit system, one that should better serve all Columbia residents, around the 1st of August this year. You can check that project out at http://www.comoconnect.org. We would be very interested to see a summary of your survey results so we can evaluate and improve where we can. Thanks -

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