Mystery Revealed: Why Our Slushy Swamp Pits Exist


I have always been completely perplexed by the appearance of the deep, dark slush pits that appear on New York City street corners, the kind that have cropped up everywhere since our favorite blizzard ever, Jonas, bestowed upon us more than 26 inches of frozen moisture on Saturday. I grew up in Minnesota—historically a place that is gifted with many, many more blizzards than New York City—and not once do I remember seeing, nor falling victim to, a similar pit camouflaged in black. So why do we have them? And why do they seem to be as common here as city rat?

In short, Intelligencer reports, it’s because New York City—despite being, indisputably, a cold-weather place prone to getting snow—is not equipped with proper snow-clearing  equipment, nor laws, to make sure they don’t appear.

While we have our basic bases covered for street clearing—sanitation workers, road plows, salt trucks, even an entire temporary unit of almost 1,000 additional snow shovelers for clearing frozen heaps on the periphery of the street—and home owners are responsible for clearing sidewalks in front of their own properties, Intelligencer points out there is a lot of gray area not covered by either of these jurisdictions: namely, where the frozen swamp pits accumulate.

Home owners throw snow to the curb and onto the street; street plows push it back. The magazine calls it, fittingly, “a game of jurisdictional cold potato.”

This is silly, given that, as I know because of my childhood, this does not have to be the case. Intelligencer, similarly, cites Montreal. There, a policy of “de-snowifying” (loosely translated from the beautiful French) ensures that every square inch of civic space where a person tends to walk or drive (sidewalks, roads, curbs and bus stops) are cleared all at the same time. They also have the equipment to make this snow-clearing-blitz dream come true: big snow blowers that take in snow and then funnel it into dump trucks, which then whisk it all far away—not merely out of the way of street traffic.

As you know if you’ve ever been a young person at meal time, merely pushing food to the side of your plate does not mean you’ve taken care of it—i.e., eaten. It just means your mom has to clean up your mess later. Here, if you follow my analogy, we—the pedestrians of New York—are all that mom, dealing with all that snow pushed, carelessly, to the side of the street.

On a more serious note, this is bad news, and not just for our shoes. It’s especially bad news for people with disabilities who can’t leap into the air to avoid slush pits, and for the pedestrians forced deep into the street to walk around them, and in harm’s way of oncoming traffic. In 2015 alone, that traffic did a pretty awful job of yielding to pedestrians, and Mayor de Blasio’s Vision Zero laws didn’t do a very good job of holding drivers more accountable for failing to obey them.

Yes, more snow-clearing equipment would be expensive, but it sure would be the  responsible move for a city bestowed with regular snow storms, and a lot safer for our footwear, and lives.


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