The stretch of West 51st Street is far from Chicago’s busiest road, carrying only two lanes of traffic and dead-ending before Pulaski and the CTA’s Orange Line tracks.
Still, the 3900 block of 51st got lots of attention from city snow-removal crews during and after last weekend’s intense winter storm.
The plows pushed through the block as early as 6:48 a.m. on Sunday and again at 10:31 p.m. that day. They returned two times Monday and gave a fifth sweep on Tuesday morning, according to city Plow Tracker data gleaned by clearstreets.org.
You see, 51st is where you’ll find the 5,600-square-foot home of the City Council’s longest-serving and most-powerful member, Finance Committee Chairman Ed Burke, and his wife, Illinois Supreme Court Justice Anne Burke.
Hours after the last snowflake fell on the U.S. and Chicago flags flying in front of the Burke home, the block and the two one-way streets leading to and away from it were nearly as free of snow as they’ll be on the Fourth of July.
A couple of blocks away, the people spinning their wheels in deep snow still waited for the first plows to arrive.
“Just because he’s a politician shouldn’t mean he has privileges,” Johnny Gonzalez, 30, said.
The veteran alderman’s street “is classified as an arterial street — not a side street,” Quinlan said Tuesday. “As you are aware, all arterial streets get plowed faster.”
Department of Streets and Sanitation officials could not immediately confirm that the Burkes’ stretch of 51st was designated as an arterial street. Nor did they tell me how the city determines which streets count as arterials for the purposes of snow removal.
It seems hard to argue that 51st between Kedzie and the Burkes’ really should be an arterial route. You cannot take 51st to the Burkes’ house and leave their block without making a U-turn or going the wrong way down a one-way street.
Burke is unopposed in the Feb. 24 election, so there’s no opponent to try to capitalize on the situation.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s administration clearly hoped to dispel any suggestion that clout affects snow-removal service when it began releasing real-time data emitted from tracking devices on Streets and San trucks a few years ago.
The team at clearstreets.org “scrapes” data displayed on the city’s Plow Tracker site and archives it. One of the creators of clearstreets.org, Derek Eder, helped me use the information to determine the validity of social-media rumors that influence peddling tainted the blizzard response.
One woman on Twitter noted that the plows passed the Northwest Side home of Ald. Margaret Laurino (39th) on Sunday morning, a day before they were said to be deviating from arterial streets to start clearing the side routes.
“Only main thoroughfares being plowed. Nah. It’s good to be an alderman,” the woman tweeted.
Laurino lives on the corner of a typical residential side street and a somewhat busier road, Rogers. Laurino’s spokesman, Manuel Galvan, says Rogers is part of a third category of Chicago roads called feeder streets. They lead into arterials — Rogers connects with Peterson — and they can get cleared more rapidly than the sides.
On Monday afternoon, Laurino’s block of Kenneth looked like every other snow-packed side street. I had to get out and help push a car free before I could drive by Laurino’s house.
Eder later confirmed that nearby side streets were treated “pretty equitably” compared to Laurino’s block, according to the Plow Tracker data.
With the city election three weeks away, another politician who most definitely did not want to risk looking like he got favorable snow-removal treatment was the mayor.
Emanuel was blessed that the snowstorm hit over the weekend, rather than on a workday.
And nobody can say the mayor got VIP treatment from Streets and San. Clearstreets.org shows the first plow did not pass the Emanuel house on the North Side until after 4 p.m. Monday — well after city officials said crews began pushing down side streets.
Just as politicians would be wise to make sure they have higher property-tax bills than the neighbors, they might do well to ask for the plows to steer clear of their blocks until the constituents are served. At least after pre-election blizzards.