After what turned out to be a terrific Fall, I guess Winter had to eventually arrive, and in case you hadn’t noticed — it’s here.
The official start of Winter is still a couple of weeks off but that doesn’t seem all that relevant at the moment with snow piling up outside my window as I type this post. We’ve got ourselves a good old fashioned snowfall with big lake effect flakes piling up and creating havoc with our streets.
STREET PLOWING OPERATIONS STATUS
The City plow crews have been working through the night, and day shifts will replace the night shift, which will likely then be replaced by another round of night and day shifts as the forecast is calling for another 12 to 18 hours of snow. Nothing like starting winter with a bang. All I kept hearing was that 2010-11 was going to be a mild winter, uh, how’s that working out for us now?
The good news is, we’re prepared. The plow blades are sharpened. The trucks are gassed-up. The salt dome is full. And at this point, our crews are still relatively rested (although that may be a different story by the end of the week).
The central maintenance crews have been running at full capacity since Sunday night. Given the rate of snowfall during the night, the plow trucks really never got a chance to move very far off of the primary streets. The crews were mobilized around SR 43, 59 and the major connector streets, and as they finished a pass, they usually had to turn around and start all over again in order to keep the travel lanes passable.
With so much attention needed on the primary streets, the residential streets in the neighborhoods get less attention. We do our best to break a truck off the primaries to punch a hole through the middle of the neighborhood streets (often just a single lane) but until the weather breaks and gives us a chance to catch up, the neighborhoods will be challenging to get through.
Once the primaries are in good shape more crews will be routed to the neighborhoods where they will make a pass in each travel lane — which means residents should try to use off street parking so the plow trucks have safe and effective access to as much of the street as possible. If the snow is getting too deep, the City will announce a ban on on-street parking which means that you could get ticketed if you leave our car parked on the street during the snow emergency.
It’s helpful to remember that even after a plow truck has passed through a neighborhood residents should not necessarily expect to see bare pavement immediately. In the early stages of snow clearing, the plow truck operator’s goal is to make sure we have passable travel lanes and that can mean driving on hard packed snow until the temperatures warm up and the salt is able to be effective. When the temperatures stay warm enough to allow some melt off, we can usually get down to pavement, but that often takes some time and a couple of passes before it can be achieved. So please be patient.
SIDEWALK SNOW REMOVAL STATUS
The 2009-10 winter season was dominated by discusssions of sidewalk snow removal and how to inspire greater civic participation in sidewalk shovel duty. Here’s a review of how that all turned out and how it will be played out in the 2010-11 winter season.
Kent, like most communities, provides the public service of snow removal from the streets in the City but we do not provide snow removal from the sidewalks. Good or bad, right or wrong, the responsibility of cleaning snow from the sidewalks, just like cutting the grass in the tree lawn, rests with the property owner.
To make sure Kent was walkable 365 days a year the City Council adopted a number of sidewalk clearing initiatives in 2009-10 that included making some changes to the City Ordinance, initiating information programs to increase public awareness of the issue, promoting the idea of shoveling as being a good neighbor, and providing guidelines for persons and contractors who provide snow removal services to make sure they aren’t plowing driveways and parking lots at the expense of keeping sidewalks passable. These efforts are summarized below:
1. Improper Snow Removal – Civil Infraction – While the new law does not mandate that sidewalks be cleaned, it does address contractors and property owners who plow or remove snow improperly by plowing it into the street, onto sidewalks or in ways where it becomes a problem or nuisance. As with the City’s current law, contractors and property owners can be cited for improper snow removal, but under the new law, those citations will become Civil Infractions and can result in fines. Previously, improper snow removal was handled more as a criminal violation.
2. Compilation of Contract List – Starting last year the City invited contractors, both large and small, to provide us with their contact information so that the City can compile a list of individuals and companies who are willing to provide snow removal services to clean sidewalks and driveways. The City will neither negotiate or be involved in pricing these services, such negotiations will continue to be between the contractor and the person seeking the service, but a list will be made handy for those folks that would prefer to pay someone else to do their part in civic duty and clean their sidewalks for them.
The City publishes the list of the contractors who have contacted us so that residents can easily identify service providers and contact them as needed. The City has also provided those contractors and service providers with information about proper snow removal practices and the City’s laws governing snow removal. Participation in the listing service is not mandatory but does provide the contractor / service provider with some free advertising.
3. City Street Plowing – Unfortunately, the need to plow our City streets in a time efficient, safe and effective manner will never permit the City to avoid plowing snow into the tree lawn and sidewalks completely. However, the City certainly wants to do all it can to keep cars and pedestrians safe so plow operators have been on instructed on ways to change plow tactics in order to minimize the snow that ends up piled in crosswalks and street corners where pedestrians need to cross.
4. Be a Good Neighbor – In the course of the citizen discussions it became obvious that the most effective way to keep sidewalks clear was to promote the value of being a good neighbor — doing your part by shoveling so that people less fortunate (elderly, handicapped, children) who have to walk can stay safe. Regretably, it was not uncommon last year to come across a driveway that had been cleaned of snow but not the sidewalk in front of the same property.
The message was if you know an elderly person or someone nearby that cannot do their own shoveling, try to help them out if you can. A snow blower is a wonderful invention and if you’re lucky enough to have one remember your neighbors. The citizens committee suggested developing shoveling information pieces that they could distribute in their neighborhood and here’s an example of a friendly doorhanger reminder.
5. Large Snow Pile Removal – For the City’s part, City Council will likely authorize the allocation of some additional funding (up to $50,000 for this coming winter) to contract with a private company to remove some of the larger piles of snow that may accumulate at intersections. While most of the focus of this program will be along main thoroughfares and higher pedestrian and vehicular use areas, this program should help both motorists and pedestrians be safer in their movements. Typically, City crews cannot even begin to address these larger piles until the snowfall is well over and all of the streets have been addressed. Often by that point, the pile is frozen and very difficult to move.
Here’s a powerpoint presentation provided by the City’s Public Service Director last winter that provided some insights into how the City’s snow operations plan works:
To view the full presentation click on Snow Ops Powerpoint Below are a few slides excerpted from that presentation.