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The Big Fix

How Many Snow Plows Does a City Need?

How Many Snow Plows Does a City Need?

In this week's The Big Fix, we asked what turned out to be a rather politically sensitive question - how do cities decide how many snow plows to stock? As Emily Bdger writes:

Plowing snow is a fraught enterprise. In some cities, administrations can get evicted or re-elected on their snow-removal speed. In Chicago, residents are so sensitive to the urban conspiracy that some neighborhoods get more prompt plowing than others that the city unveiled a live tracking app this winter. Roughly 65,000 people viewed it in its first week online.

Here are some of the most insightful reader thoughts on calculating the number of snow plows we need. Hal O'Brien criticized cities' formulas for divining the number of snow plows needed:

"(H)ow exactly does a city decide how many snow plows it needs?"

Badly.

(Said the man who just lost power for 4 days in Seattle's most recent ice storm.)

ETA:

Since you go on to use Seattle as an example... One problem is, you have to decide how representative the historical record is. In the 10 years I've been here, these "freak" incidents keep happening with increasing frequency. Seattle is a new enough city that it's entirely possible the mere 100 years or so of weather records are the "freak" examples, and the region is now reverting to mean.

Re DC: My favorite example was how, a few years back, there was a snow storm. Many in DC thought it was a major event, and the US Federal government essentially shut down. One notable exception was the Supreme Court -- Chief Justice Rehnquist was raised in Wisconsin, and was unimpressed. He reportedly sent out US Marshals in SUVs to gather up his fellow Justices, and they worked that day.

Mr_Evergreen bemoaned the lack of snow preparedness in Atlanta:

You really don't want to be in Atlanta if it snows at all, even less than an inch. It takes about an inch for residents to freak out. Last January, the Atlanta area had 8 inches of snow in one night, and it was on the ground for nearly a week. The whole place shut down because there were no snowplows. I didn't even see salt trucks. It messed up things for a while. It's because it's such a rarity in Atlanta that the city can't handle it when it happens. Usually, the drill is one inch of snow = no school.

Printer Ink Same wondered whether we expect too much from cities:

I remember the 08 storm in Seattle. The whole city was irate at the local govt. for not being more prepared for the storm. That was my first winter in Seattle, and it really drove home something I have learned about Seattleites. They're whiny. We had the largest snow storm in memory and everyone was up in arms over the inconvenience. That's kind of the thing with freak storms. They're a hassle.

Roger1175 had an interesting idea for deputizing locals:

I lived in a small town in Iowa for 20 years. We had on average two to four feet of snow total during most winters. Being a small town, we had just a few plows owned by the city. Our main roads were maintained by the state. However, we deputized many of the local farmers for snow removal duty. Most had plows that they could attach to their trucks. And within a day, almost all of our roads were clear. You might have a problem clearing out your driveway to get to the street, but once out of your driveway, the whole area was clear.

Since we in Seattle and environs usually get such mild winters, it makes little financial sense to constantly maintain a large fleet of snow removal equipment. But we could create a citizen force to handle major unexpected events. It would require training and certification, but if when emergencies occurred, we could count on citizen volunteers to help get us moving again, Seattle could be an example of government and populace working together rather than a laughing stock.

Just a suggestion.

Amanda Erickson is a senior associate editor at The Atlantic Cities. All posts »

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