Atlantic Cities

New York's Real-Time Snow Plow Map to Get its First Major Test This Weekend

New York's Real-Time Snow Plow Map to Get its First Major Test This Weekend
PlowNYC

PlowNYC, the interactive map that allows New York City residents to watch their army of plow-nosed garbage trucks deploy through the city in real time, will have its first test this weekend. Unveiled during last year's mild winter, it has yet to receive the same publicity as a similar program in Chicago.

But with a foot of snow in New York City all but assured by Saturday morning, PlowNYC is about to hit the big time.

The color-coded map illustrates the city's priority plowing system, with streets marked in red, blue, and yellow showing which streets should get plowed before others. After the city's last big blizzard, in December 2010, some residents and politicians accused Mayor Bloomberg of abandoning the city's outlying areas, so the map could theoretically allay concerns that any particular neighborhood is getting preferential treatment.

Coney Island, via PlowNYC. Priority descends from red to blue to yellow.

Watching snowplows move across a map may not sound like your idea of solace, but consider the procedure in past blizzards. In 2010, radio station WNYC asked listeners to call in and share the status of their street, which was then added to a crowd-sourced map showing which areas had been plowed and which had not.

Snow clearance on Wednesday after the blizzard of December 2010. Purple indicates a plowed street, white indicates an unplowed street. Via WNYC.

This was a valiant attempt to chronicle what New Yorkers have viewed as an inscrutable corner of city policy. But PlowNYC demonstrates how far open data efforts have come since then. The city's garbage trucks (which become plows during snowstorms) are all equipped with GPS systems that allow their locations to be shown on a map.

Images courtesy of PlowNYC.

Henry Grabar is a freelance writer and a former fellow at The Atlantic Cities. He lives in New York. All posts »

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