Which Borough Is the Worst at Shoveling Snow? Hint — It's the One Where the Most People Live

This bike in Crown Heights wasn't going anywhere.
This bike in Crown Heights wasn't going anywhere.
Photos by Tatiana Crane/Village Voice

After Winter Storm Jonas did its damage earlier this month, most New Yorkers did what any sensible human would: They hunkered down in their local bar and drank until the bridges and tunnels reopened. And while there’s nothing wrong with fortifying oneself while brigades of city employees and emergency laborers cart off thousands of tons of snow, the responsibility for clearing the sidewalks technically rests with the city's residents and business owners. For one data guru, that raised an obvious question: Which borough has the laziest shovelers? Well, the numbers are in, and let's just be blunt: Brooklyn sucks at snow removal.

“Brooklyn consistently tops the list of slothful shovelers,” according to a RentHop analysis released yesterday. “Queens comes in a close second in raw quantity of complaints, but considering it has a land mass greater than Brooklyn and Manhattan combined, we don't think Queens should take too much heat.”

According to open 311 data compiled by Shane Leese, RentHop’s data scientist, Brooklyn topped the list of boroughs with the most complaints for unshoveled sidewalks, with 16.13 complaints per square mile. Brooklyn soundly beat Manhattan (14.81 per square mile), Queens (8.51), the Bronx (6.39), and Staten Island (3.88). And apathetic shoveling in Brooklyn is nothing new — the borough has topped the list of complaints for snow-and-ice-clogged sidewalks for at least three winters in a row.

Which is the sidewalk, which is the street?EXPAND
Which is the sidewalk, which is the street?

RentHop, a data-heavy apartment rental site, also broke down the statistics by neighborhood, which sadly doesn’t make things look much better for Brooklynites. Seven of the ten worst-shoveled neighborhoods were in Brooklyn. The winner: Prospect Heights, with nearly 63 complaints per square mile. Adjacent Park Slope didn’t fare much better, clocking in at the third worst rate of shoveling of any city neighborhood. (Manhattan’s East Village took second place, with about 56 complaints per square mile.)

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Feel free to mercilessly ridicule your friends and relatives in those areas for being the indolent jerks you always knew they were, but know that the data comes with an important caveat: It only measures 311 complaints, not how poorly shoveled the sidewalks actually are. Leese says that in the future, he plans to look at data that will reveal who actually got cited for unshoveled sidewalks. In a certain sense, the fact that the report only looks at complaints is a get-out-of-jail-free card for Prospect Heights and the East Village. After all, the report can’t definitively prove that they’re actually the worst shovelers. But in another sense it’s much, much worse. Those neighborhoods could be the places where people are most inclined to rat out their neighbors, instead of lending a hand to shovel an extra patch of sidewalk.

So do the numbers support the theory that these neighborhoods have a greater abundance of whiny assholes than impassable sidewalks? For his part, Leese is playing it safe. “I don’t want to be quoted saying that, but it’s completely possible that they have some entitlement, and when they’re not [shoveled] they’re very quick to call about it,” he says. But the asshole theory doesn’t explain why places like Gramercy or the Upper East Side aren’t higher on the list, he adds. What’s more likely is the neighborhoods that top the list have a perfect combination of people who don’t shovel and people who are apt to complain about it. (There is also some evidence that certain 311 complaints are linked to gentrification.)

When asked to comment on the report, the city’s sanitation department raised a few methodological questions. “The amount of sidewalks in an area as well as population and density may play a part in 311 complaints received,” wrote Belinda Mager, a spokeswoman for the department. “Also, it’s unclear from this data if ‘duplicate’ complaints, that is a number of residents calling about a single property, was controlled for.” She also pointed out the study’s main limitation: that it relies on complaints rather than actual violations.

Leese considered using sidewalk miles instead of overall neighborhood size in his rankings to make the results more precise. “I didn't have data available to calculate total sidewalk miles, as sidewalks vary in width throughout the city, although I certainly did look into using that metric, and would have if it was available,” he wrote. As for duplicate complaints, he filtered out all calls made on the same day, but kept the small number of duplicates that came in on days after the original complaint.

But for now (especially with meteorologists predicting more snowstorms in March), it might be worth considering a move to Manhattan’s Stuy-Town/Cooper Village — where even though the rent is soaring, neighbors haven't complained about snow removal in years.


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