Roger Reinert: A better plan for defrosting Duluth’s roadsLet’s use this winter to try something new — something that could make all of us happier by getting our streets cleared sooner, providing safer streets for driving and walking and allowing our police and fire staff the access they need to protect us and our homes.
By: Roger Reinert, Budgeteer News
Like most Duluthians, I’m almost in shock that we’ll hit December with no snow. While I wish I could be skiing at Spirit Mountain already, it seems like Mother Nature used November to make up for October.
The reality, though, is that a real winter and snow cannot be far away. Soon enough, we’ll be shoveling, scraping, blowing and plowing. Snow plowing in the winter is absolutely essential here in Duluth. It’s also the source of concern, and sometimes frustration, for us as city residents.
An issue that makes it all the more complicated, especially in the older parts of the city, is alternate side parking.
The current plowing technique is to do one side of the street, wait a week, and then do the other. In the meantime, vehicles are driving and packing down the snow on that other side of the street.
When plows can finally get to it, the snow is hard to get up and drivers often can’t get it all.
Over the winter, our streets become progressively narrower. And this is on streets that are already pretty narrow to begin with. Throw in that car that doesn’t move, or parks on the wrong side, and you have a street that is difficult to navigate for car traffic, and impassable for emergency vehicles. It’s a dangerous situation.
So what can be done? One of the issues I worked on as a councilor was a new snow emergency ordinance. We had one on the books, but it has never been used. Ever. Not even during the Halloween blizzard when we were measuring snowfall by feet instead of inches.
Well, before I left the City Council, I “got ’er done.” With the help of the city attorney, Councilor Jim Stauber and a working group that included public safety, public works and the city’s IT department, we rewrote the entire ordinance and established snow emergency protocols.
We even reviewed and completely updated the streets designated as snow emergency routes — this had last been done in the 1970s.
Entire neighborhoods in the city were missing.
The ordinance passed the Council unanimously. It gives the mayor, or the director of Public Works, the ability to declare a snow emergency.
What exactly would that mean? It’s pretty simple. Day 1: No parking on designated snow emergency routes. Day 2: Park where you should (according to the alternate side parking schedule). Day 3: Move to the other side of the street. Day 4: Back to the normal alternate-side parking schedule.
Using the snow emergency ordinance would mean that, in three days, city streets in Duluth would be cleared from curb to curb. We would have cleaner, safer, streets and make more efficient use of our snowplow equipment and drivers.
Is there a downside? Of course. It requires us as citizens to pay attention.
If vehicles don’t get moved, they are liable to be ticketed and towed. But if we want streets cleared quickly, and safe passage for emergency vehicles, we need to do our part as car owners.
In an average winter, a snow emergency might be declared one or two times.
With the assistance of radio stations, TV stations, a dedicated snow emergency phone line, e-mail blasts and text message alerts, all Duluthians should be able to stay well-informed of a snow emergency declaration.
Anytime something new is tried, or change is made, there is reluctance. Add in the fear of an angry car owner who failed to move their vehicle, was ticketed — and perhaps towed — and that reluctance seems to be even more so in this case.
So here’s my suggestion: Let’s use this winter as a practice run. Instead of tickets and costly tows in a time when personal and family budgets are very tight, plow drivers and police officers can leave a friendly reminder about the snow emergency rules, what a vehicle owner needs to do when an emergency is declared, where to get more information and stay informed and the consequences come next winter for failing to comply.
Public streets belong to all of us. Let’s use this winter to try something new — something that could make all of us happier by getting our streets cleared sooner, providing safer streets for driving and walking and allowing our police and fire staff the access they need to protect us and our homes.
E-mail Roger Reinert, District 7B Minnesota state representative, at email@example.com.