On February 4th, while walking to school along the VFW Parkway, four West Roxbury, Massachusetts, high school students were struck by a truck and hospitalized, one in serious condition. The children were walking in the roadway because several feet of plowed snow blocked the sidewalks. Boston had been hit by a major snowstorm nearly two weeks earlier, but most other major roadways in the city had long had their sidewalks cleared. The parkway was different, because several years previous, environmentalists had successfully lobbied to have snow removal on parkways put under the control of the Department of Conservation and Recreation, aka “The Parks Department,” rather than the Highway Department. The logic behind this move was that “parkway” contains the word “park.”
No, that was not my opening joke. As summarized by The Boston Globe, environmentalists argued that “parkways are not highways, but linear parks that happen to have roads in them.”
Of course, “Parkway” also contains the word “way,” and the parkways are often the “way” thousands of commuters get to work, but that doesn’t matter. What does matter is roadside weeds. Along a “highway” such weeds may be thought of as weeds, but in a “parkway” they are a rich and varied flora deserving of special protection
Obviously then, snowplowing by the sort of efficient brutes that work for the Highway Department is intolerable in the park-way. Instead, the snow must be gently and conscientiously plowed by Parks Department employees. True, they will drive the same snowplows and dispense the same polluting salt as the Highway brutes, but the extra ingredient in their salt is Love. Also, (and I have not yet confirmed this, mind you) I am told that Parks Department plows are all equipped with a dash-mounted Tibetan Prayer Wheel that asks the universe to forgive the driver for any weeds he may inadvertently crush while reluctantly making the parkway passable for internal-combustion powered suburbanites.
Surprisingly, the Parks Department did not plow these precious park-ways as aggressively as the Highway Department, and while they did manage to clear a few bike trails and jogging paths, they somehow overlooked the sidewalks leading to West Roxbury High School. People from the school had called earlier in the week to point out the hazard, but the plows were getting their prayer wheels rotated that day.
Now, a cynic might claim that putting the park-ways under the control of parks plows was just a power grab by Greenies that served only to expand budgets, set precedents, and set up future power grabs. But that cynic would have to be ignorant of the fragile nature of these pristine park-ways. If you would like to see one for yourself the next time you visit Boston, drive from the airport into the pristine Ted Williams Tunnel and follow the signs leading about a gazillion cars out onto Storrow Drive, which would appear to be a major thoroughfare choked with cars, litter, signs, and the homeless –but it’s actually a linear park that happens to have a (two- to four-lane each way) road running through it. Be sure to roll down the windows so you can breathe deeply of the pristine park-way air while there. You may want to roll them back up when approached by the local wildlife.
To his credit, Massachusetts’ inexplicably Republican Governor, Mitt Romney, fired the head of the Parks Department, Kathleen F. Abbott, after the incident, which was made even more unforgivable because Abbott falsely assured the Governor that the VFW park-way had been made safe for pedestrians soon after the accident. He also transferred responsibility for clearing the major commuter park-ways to the Highway Department — a proposal he had made years earlier but was blocked from funding by the overwhelmingly Democrat State House. The Highway Department will now clear the park-ways without specific funding.
Which is the only way it will happen, because the Greenies can’t see what all the fuss is about and are standing by their guns (not that they actually would ever own guns, of course), and Democrats in the State House are standing by their Greenies. Defending linear parks with circular logic, Renata von Tscharner, president of the Charles River Conservancy, commented after the Governor acted: “Parkways are very different from regular highways. They have a special character, and they need very special attention. If the special attention is not paid, then they just fall into the category of a regular highway.”
And that is concerning. Just ask State Representative Marian Walsh, Democrat, whose district includes the scene of the terrible accident in which roadside weeds were nearly damaged by bone fragments flying from the aforementioned children. “I feel very, very badly that these students got injured,” she said, “but the idea that parkways are highways is a big concern for me. . .”
Her fellow Democrats have pledged hearings and an investigation — not into why the sidewalks were not cleared, but into why the Parks Department wasn’t given more money to not clear the sidewalks. Maybe after that, they can hold hearings on just how some so-called “high-ways” can go underground, why some “by-ways” don’t seem to go by anything, or why some “thorough-fares” seem so shoddy. After all, in Massachusetts, words mean things.