No, snowbanks don’t make streets more dangerous

Every winter I’m plagued with the same argument on Facebook: “Those snowbanks pile up on the curbs and then that makes the street narrower and more dangerous!” I’m sure you’ve heard a similar argument at some point or even had that idea yourself, however, the fact is that it’s not true. “Fake News” if you will.

Mankato has foolishly adopted many blanket “no parking” ordinances that cater to this misconception. Along 6th street, there’s no parking on the east side of the street from November 1 to April 1, even if there’s no snow on the ground (because you know we can’t predict the weather).

Usually, I’m not one to complain about parking, but I have a friend that I frequent on sixth street and I’m always annoyed when I can’t park there because of this misguided ordinance. Its particularly annoying because most people rely on off-street parking in that neighborhood and the city is artificially restricting a public asset for no reason.

The problem with “muh snowbank” argument is that we’ve wrongly defined what “dangerous” is. Smaller streets are not more dangerous, they are more inconvenient. It’s important to note the difference because our lazy asses think they are the same when it comes to cars.

If you’re driving down a street with snow banks and cars parked on both sides, you slow down, you have no option. You can’t go fast because you know that you have less time to react to obstacles, be they cars, cats, or cyclists (say that with a hard “c” so you get the alliteration.)

What are you at a greater risk for? Maybe scratching your paint, knocking a mirror or not carelessly flying down the road. Those things are not dangerous, annoying, sure, but not dangerous.

Even if someone were to step out in front of your car and you did hit them, the chances that you will kill them is far, far less likely. I’ve posted this image before on here and I’ll reference it again. The slower the car is going, the more likely the person you hit is to survive.

The same complaint goes for intersections. “That snow piles up and then I can’t see around the corner! It’s dangerous!!” What happens when you can’t see around a corner? You slowly ease your way into the intersection, paying close attention to see if cars are coming from either direction.

I experienced this just the other day on the way up Mulberry street. I came to the below intersection and all the cars parked on the west side of the street plus the snow made it pretty hard to see around that corner. I crept out into the intersection making sure cars had ample time to see me and brake. Guess what? I didn’t die, neither did anyone else and it would have been pretty impossible for me to die because everyone was going slow.

We’ve been fed this lie that it is narrow space that is dangerous. People constantly get up at city council meetings asking for the ordinances to be passed or rules to be made about parking and snow and this and that. The fact is that we should leave it all alone, or communicate the removal of snow and/or the temporary reduction in parking that comes along with it. In Lower North, where I live, the city did this. They came by, told us to move our cars and then they came and plowed the boulevards. It was simple, effective and non-disruptive. Likewise, it didn’t require a 5 MONTH PARKING BAN.

Interestingly enough, snow is a really good way of showing that we don’t need extra space on our roads. Sneckdowns are a natural way of showing where cars don’t drive and how we could actually eliminate the for cars and use it for people or traffic calming measures.

However, the real underlying problem here is that American urban planning and city government reward meddling. We love to enact and tweak rules for our cities, every city manager and council think they are “helping” every time they come up with some convoluted ordinance instead of letting cities grow organically. Whether it’s over zoning, parking regulation or side setbacks, city councils love to make rules (see the stupid 21+ smoking ban that thankfully died) because it looks like they are doing something, when in the long run, things usually just sort themselves out.

So next time that grumpy neighbor is telling you how someone “going to die” because of some snow on the boulevard, tell him that it actually makes the street safer and they should read this article.

About Matthias Leyrer

Matthias Leyrer is a resident of Mankato looking to restore a fraction of its old glory. He writes about the economic, aesthetic, practical and financial issues facing the city of Mankato going forward.