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Snow Surprise 

by ROBERT HEROLD & r & & r & & lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & E & lt;/span & veryone knows that January is Spokane's snowiest month. So why are so many of our streets and sidewalks still a mess more than a week after last week's big dump? The city government wasn't reacting to a surprise attack. It wasn't overwhelmed by a volcanic eruption, nor another ice storm.





What's more, we were lucky. What would have happened had temperatures dropped to subzero for long periods of time? Or what about those high winds that never really became a factor? Or what if all that snow had fallen in just, say, three days? Had nature done an even bigger number on us, we would have experienced a real disaster.





The big storm came on Saturday and Sunday, but Mayor Mary Verner wasn't visible on the issue until late Thursday, when during a press conference she seemed oddly out of touch and detached. What was her condescending line? "Folks, it's just snow?"





Yes, Madam Mayor, eventually the snow will melt and your road crews will get the streets plowed. Problem is that, in the meantime, your city's schools shut down for an entire week, businesses were hurt, pedestrians were put in harms way, we had untold automobile accidents and doctors saw more broken bones than they can remember seeing in years.





Mayor Verner assures us that our plow crews have been working hard, which only invites the response: So what? They should be working hard. That's their job. Like CPAs during tax season, road crews should expect to work long hours in January.





& lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & M & lt;/span & ayor Verner needs to regroup -- and fast. "Spokanespeak" doesn't get it. Her "what is, just is, and that's that" routine did not inspire confidence. Surely she knows that other northern tier cities aren't lackadaisical about snow emergencies. They have goals, policies and objectives, not just plowing route priorities.





Minneapolis, for example, has a comprehensive action plan that addresses all aspects of a snow emergency. They begin by ordering parked cars off streets. Residents who don't pay attention or refuse to do their civic duty are advised to check out the address of the city impoundment lot. Then comes the plowing. Round the clock. And -- get this -- all streets are to be cleared of snow within 24 hours! (And a Minneapolis spokesman told me that they almost always beat that time.) In Spokane? The job gets done, well... when it gets done.





Or consider Portland, Maine, a city that endures a whopping 66 inches of snow a year (about 25 more than Spokane). There, parked cars also must be immediately moved from the street. Portland thought to ask the question, where do all these cars go? Surface parking lots are commandeered in times of snow emergencies. So the city makes its top priority plowing all school parking lots, city lots, even some private lots. Then the plowing begins. It all fits together if you have a comprehensive action plan.





Salt Lake City? Same population as Spokane. Twenty more inches of snow per annum. Wide streets, sure, but then our streets are wide, too. Salt Lake has its "Snow Book" in which all the details are laid out. Turnaround in Salt Lake City? Thirty-six hours. Notably, their first priority is their light rail. They keep it up and running.





And this week, Boston commemorates the 30th anniversary of the famous "Blizzard of '78." In 33 hours, that infamous nor'easter dumped more than 27 inches of snow in downtown Boston and up to 55 inches of snow throughout the region. Sustained winds were over 75 mph (over 100 mph down on Cape Cod). Drifts were as high as 15 feet. Temperatures fell below zero. You might say that Boston knows snow storms. So it's notable that this city plans not just for streets and cars but also for the related concern of pedestrian safety and access. Boston residents are required to have adjacent sidewalks shoveled within 12 hours, wide enough for wheel chairs to pass. To make this policy work, public works has to take care that their plows do not throw snow and ice onto shoveled sidewalks. In Spokane? We don't think about such trifles. No indeed, out here in River City, Mayor Verner's hard working snow plowers routinely bury recently shoveled sidewalks. And driveways. And alleys. After all, they're in a hurry scurrying around without an overarching plan.





& lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & T & lt;/span & he unions will tell us that the problem is money. Maybe, but who really knows? Until the city comes up with an action plan complete with goals, objectives and policies, no one in City Hall is in any position to say what we need. Other cities' experiences suggest that we would save some time and money if we did nothing more than get the cars off the streets. Planning ahead for rental and loan plows instead of waiting until the situation gets out of control also seems a good idea. And as Boston's experience suggests, the needs of pedestrians should not be overlooked.





Broader objectives can be met only if the city considers unconventional strategies and methods that are less costly while providing for improved response/time. During a snow emergency, why not more emphasis on public transportation? Or how about mobilizing citizen volunteers to clear those time-consuming cul-de-sacs and short, narrow neighborhood streets? (Residents could provide the trucks if the city had extra plows to loan out.) If ski resorts can train volunteer patrols, why can't cities train volunteer plowers?





Mayor Verner must learn from this fiasco. Need she be reminded that it was a botched snow plowing job that cost Chicago Mayor Jane Byrne her job? If she doesn't do anything, she can look forward to scribblers tarring her with the line: "Heckuva job, Verney."
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