Thursday, December 9, 2010

Snow Fun at All

Watching the France2 news last night--a half hour devoted almost entirely to mammoth traffic jams in and around Paris caused by a 10cm snowfall--I wondered if there would be any political consequences. Among American mayors in the northeastern United States, it is an article of faith that if you don't get the snow off the streets, you won't be re-elected. But who is responsible for snow removal in France? (Sorry to ask such a mundane question. I know I'm supposed to be an "expert," but "expert" knowledge sometimes fails to burrow down to the nitty gritty of daily life, and I live 3,000 miles away, in a New England enjoying a remarkably balmy December.) Is it the city, the region, le Département de Chasse-Neige auprès du Ministère de la Ville et de l'Urbanisme, ou je ne sais quoi encore? Will someone be blamed for this? I mean, a region of 12 million people that can be paralyzed by 10cm of snow and freezing rain looks like a political, not a natural, disaster from where I sit. What about it, Parisians? Is the blood boiling over there sufficiently to melt ice, or are you just accepting this as one of the inconveniences of modern life?


Anonymous said...

Oh, I forgot to mention that Elise Lucet started with
"Were you wrong?" and ended with "Why can't you say you were wrong, is it an impossible thing to say for a politician in France nowadays?"
Hortefeux: If I had been wrong I would have said so, but I wasn't, since I said there was no problem yet and when I spoke there wasn't any problem.
(Note: Hortefeux spoke a good 2 hours after the "problems" had started)

To answer your responsibility question:
Based on the response in my area last week when we got heavy snowfalls,
the state/prefect are responsible for contingency plans, information, etc.
DDE is responsible for national roads, upon prefect orders.
Département is responsible for "departemental" roads, the level of emergency is I think shared between prefect and conseil général.
Towns/townships are responsible for local streets and sidewalks.

Anonymous said...

(Myos again): a comment I thought I'd posted above has disappeared, but it referred to the fallout of yesterday's mismanagement and Hortefeux's statement that there was no problem.
The fallout is so big that he had to come live on the F2 news at 1pm.
He had trouble justifying his management and his statement.
He especially faltered when he said "I didn't say there was no problem, I said there was no problem YET". (the video was shown and I didn't hear it, but ??? implied??) especially since the problem was obvious when he spoke. In addition, he presented one of his measures: asking that cars parked everywhere not be ticketed. Even the very sweet Elise Lucet dared ask questions.
More on the subject from a variety of perspectives:

Anonymous said...


"Is he going to deport snowflakes?" posters have fun

Even Le Figaro!

Tom Holzman said...

If I recall correctly there are 2.54 cm per inch. So we are talking about 4 inches. Of course, if you don't have snowplows (not sure Paris does) or very few, 4 inches can be a bit troublesome.

Kirk said...

Geez, it's not Katrina. It's a bit of snow. They don't have the equipment in Paris, and it's not surprising. Of course, many of those people didn't need to take their cars to work, and since the snow was forecast (with an "orange alert" for the area) they should have thought twice.

Hurtfeux was lame on the news this afternoon. But he was right in saying that this hasn't happened in Paris in 23 years. I remember the 1987 storm; I walked from work in Levallois-Perret to Boulougne-Billancourt, which took me maybe two hours, because nothing was moving on the avenues.

bernard said...

Yeah, 1987 was bad. But I remember skying down rue saint jacques in November 1968 and, of course, organising a snow barricade with my school buddies. Mind you, rue saint jacques was still a two way street then, though nothing moved except us.

As for snow removal equipment, you take a look at the tiny tractor clearing the runways yesterday at CGD airport and you've got the picture(seen on the Web, I know live 10 OOO km away and its a dry summer). But then should France invest in snow removal equipment for something that happens more or less every 20 years?

Who's to blame ? Of course l'Etat. Que fait l'Etat?

Mathieu said...

Art, to answer your question, the "départements" are responsible for the maintenance of the roads (all of them) and the local police (lead by the mayor) is responsible for the safety of the users, the good use of the infrastructures and even the lightning.
Normally (understand in areas where the snow is frequent), the two of them have a convention or an agreement, to manage the "crisis", but in Paris, there isn't. So the services of the State (prefet, national police) have to step up.

But,(there is always a but, it is so much more funny), a local town or an association of towns are qualified to buy snow removal equipement. We are so simple.

I don't know if it will be clearer, but, take a look at this link (french):

In a few words, it is a system where:
- you never know who has to do the job and who can participate to it,
- you never know who to blame for any mis-management,
- no-one will ever claim to be responsible for it.

So Fillon has decided, and blame the national weather services. So much easier!

Anonymous said...

Fillon, in Moscow, blamed the National Weather Service, in spite of the fact all people knew by 1pm that things were not "normal" and attempted then to go home before the end of the day (he should know that rush hour is NOT 3pm!).
Brice Hortefeux, who was presumably outside to get to the radio station, could have used his eyes and matched what they revealed to the weather service "orange" alert.
Specialized services (Conseil général , prefects, and co) had received a precise cable with a warning and the 10cm snowfall, so we can assume le gouvernement also did.
Finally, Brice Hortefeux said, yesterday France2, when Elise Lucet asked him point blank "do you blame Météo France?", "No, they're not to blame, their work is excellent. Making snow predictions is very difficult". The last sentence may sound like an indictment but the whole answer clears Météo France from all blame.
So, when François Fillon accused Météo France, it sounded exactly like what it was: the temptation to shift blame onto any random scapegoat.

Anonymous said...

@Tom Holzman: it was closer to 5 inches in Paris, and 8 inches arount the city. The city and the State do have snowplows.
The problem is that individual people realized there was a problem before the people in charge had taken any measure.
They listened to the 1pm weather report, checked the window, and left work.
Now, aren't governing bodies supposed to know things a bit in advance so that they can plan for snow removal, salt, etc? The information had been given the day before for that purpose, but nothing had been done ("yet", as B.Hortefeux would say.)
That's why people are mad.

Anonymous said...

Liz C. said...

As a Chicagoan with a long acquaintance with urban snow, I spent an hour pushing cars up Rue de Ménilmontant. I saw no snow clearing or salting and none of the neighbors had a snow, or any other kind of, shovel. We got cars uphill clearing snow with planks and sticking carpet squares under car wheels for traction.

I get the impression that this is uncommon enough that Paris is not equipped to cope with it and has no intentions to do so. The controversy is likely to melt with the snow; it was five inches, not several feet of snow like in Chicago '78. That snow stuck around for three months and cost Bilandic City Hall.

Anonymous said...étéo-france.html

The worst is that Paris and Ile de France DO have snowplows and salt, they just didn't activate any plan on time.

5 inches, not 3 feet like we once did, and all is paralyzed? You bet someone in charge is to blame.
As of now, TV channels are broadcasting that Hortefeux comment over and over, along with the Fillon-Royal match.
When it comes to knowing how to hit, Royal has flair: While Martine Aubry was hosting Bernadette Chirac, Royal asked Fillon to apologize for scapegoating the dedicated public service employees as well as for not taking the appropriate measures.

Anonymous said...

people in my part of Val-de-Marne/Seine-et-Marne blame the bus companies as much as the municipal governments and the prefecture. Few agree on what authority can do what - who salts the roads, who says the buses can run? etc. After listening to hours of bitching and complaining, few have complained about Hortefeux - its been mostly directed at the local level. their concerns are getting to the RER suburban line station, though. not driving on the périphérique or francilienne. I don't foresee much fallout from this - so far, it hasn't iced over on the sidewalks or streets much, so that might change


Passerby said...

If department & "communautés de communes" can work to put together a common organization for snow removal, the effective work the responsibility (and carried out) by communal services. Except on motorways which have their own services to take care of the maintenance & adhoc events.
However, I can't tell if Paris is a special case. I would say no, but that's a guess.

In regions that are used to snow, there might be a few issues but overall the process works fine. Even in remote area, as small villages can ask local farmers to help with their tractors.

It is in places where snow isn't that common that problem arise, as a lot of municipalities will be reluctant to invest in expensive equipment, and even if they do they don't always have enough qualified employees to run the equipment 7/7.
Even if municipalities do their job properly, the problem is that very little cars in Marseille or Paris will have snow tires equipped (and people are not used to drive on snow). Hence the repeated mayhem every other year...