SHAUN STANLEY/Durango Herald
Bad things can happen in a dark alley.
In low-crime Durango, the danger might not be so much muggers lurking in the dark of night, but the black ice that threatens in the light of day.
Midday on Jan. 9, Durango police officer Greg Dodd found a 37-year-old male tourist who had slipped and fallen in the alley by the Abbey Theatre.
“You know how ice builds up and gets old? It’s literally dark black. That’s what he slipped on. His feet just went straight out from under him. It turned his ankle over,” Dodd said.
“He was complaining of ankle pain. The (emergency medical technicians) cut his shoelaces to get his boot off. It didn’t look pretty, I can tell you that,” Dodd said.
Some complain the city has fallen into the dangerous rut of not maintaining alleys in the winter, but officials respond that they have tried everything and are open to suggestions. There is just no obvious solution to getting at ice and snow in the narrow and congested alleys.
Taylor Folmar, a server at Randy’s Prime Rib, Seafood and Steak, said he frequently sees people take a “quick slip” in the Abbey Theatre alley near College Drive and Main Avenue.
“It’s been an issue for years. I would say it gets ignored,” Folmar said. “It’s tough for all these businesses taking out recycling and trash. Delivery drivers, I see, have problems (getting around) with the dollies.”
Doug Boykin, owner of Incognito hair salon, located in the alley between Main and Second avenues, contends the city has not plowed his alley in four years. Officials, however, respond that alleys do get plowed but are not a priority on a heavy snow day.
Boykin thinks the city has only “sanded it once when the ice ruts were 10 inches deep from (semitrailers). If it wasn’t for one of the neighbors plowing the alley, there would be nothing but ice out there.”
One of his clients, Daren Caldwell, owner of Access Wireless, 822 Main Ave., slipped and broke his ankle outside Incognito two years ago.
Caldwell said he was “walking down the alley, hands in pockets, (when) I essentially slipped in a rut. I spun around, but my foot did not. I tore every ligament and tendon in my ankle and broke my ankle in two places.”
“It was bad,” he said. “I never felt anything like it. I was going into shock, too. I was pale white and nauseous. It was not pretty. I laid there for 10 minutes, I was in excruciating pain. I could not get up. It was that bad.”
Caldwell, however, is not unsympathetic toward the city. He wonders where the city could plow an alley’s snow without blocking business entrances in the process.
When a foot of snow falls into an alley that is 20 feet wide and 300 feet long, that’s a “lot of snow” to remove, City Manager Ron LeBlanc said.
“You almost have to put a loader in there and haul it out, which is almost impossible because you have gas meters, electric meters. You have parking, Dumpsters, recycling bins. It’s narrow.”
“There’s no good option,” he said.
Low-hanging utility lines make it impractical to drive a loading truck into the alley because it would not be able to scoop up snow without hitting the wires, LeBlanc said.
So the city typically plows the snow to one side of the alley, alternating the sides after every snowfall, LeBlanc said.
“We get complaints from both sides,” he said.
Because delivery trucks will make runs as early as 3 a.m., the snow will get packed down, and “we’re just scraping off the top,” he said.
LeBlanc said the city wants to work with people. It will haul away people’s snow, for example, if they coordinate ahead of time.
The city “might be bringing the loader through at 3 a.m.,” LeBlanc said. “If you can get (the snow) to (an accessible space), we’ll take it away for you.”
Otherwise, alleys are fourth on the city’s priority list for plowing on a regular snow day, said Levi Lloyd, the city’s director of streets.
“We do try to get to alleys on storm days. It’s just that accumulation is the determining factor,” Lloyd said.
“If there is snowfall for two or three days, sometimes the alleys and residential streets get dropped so we can concentrate on the collectors and arterials – the streets that service the most people and are the designated routes for getting around town. (But) it’s pretty rare we drop residential streets.”
Because the city’s solid waste and recycling department must make pickups from alleys, it has its own plow, but its goal is just to make the alleys passable, LeBlanc said.
“Even though pedestrians use the alleys, we think pedestrians have an alternative, which is the sidewalk,” LeBlanc said.
“There’s no other choice for the deliveries,” he said. “Many of the alleys are substandard or unpaved, so plowing is problematic.”
Boykin said the city needs to find a solution.
“We live in a mountain town,” Boykin said. “You need to move the snow.”