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Our View: What should Duluthians do in a declared 'snow emergency'?

From the editorial: "The city’s plan seems a promising, good place to start."

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Adam Zyglis / Cagle Cartoons

Plenty of public statements have been made, and flyers were even mailed out across Duluth. So give City Hall credit for trying to let us know.

But what exactly is supposed to happen — and what are we supposed to do — when Duluth declares a “snow emergency” this winter for the first time in city history?

Before answering, yes, you read that correctly. In spite of Duluth being a particularly snowy place (more than 7 feet in an average winter) with blustery, crippling storms that would bring much of the rest of the country to its snow pants-covered knees, Duluth has never had a game plan in place to try to ensure safety and snow-removal efficiency. Not before this winter. No doubt you’ve noticed the 2,300 “snow emergency route” signs that went up this summer along 120 miles of well-traveled Duluth streets. That was part of getting ready.

Now it’s go time. Or is it? Do Duluthians know what’ll happen and what’s expected of them? We’ll need to know very soon.

Here’s the deal. According to city officials, News Tribune coverage, and a very-detailed city-run duluthmn.gov/snow/ webpage, on the day of a storm, the city will declare a snow emergency by no later than 4 p.m. Duluthians will then have five hours to remove their vehicles from the now-well-marked snow-emergency routes so that these main city roadways can be plowed first, allowing the bulk of traffic to get moving again after a snow dump.

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After 9 p.m., cars still parked along the snow-emergency routes can be ticketed and/or towed. The city said last week it would be lenient with vehicles in spots for motorists with handicaps. Between 2 a.m. and 6 p.m., plows will then head out to clear the snow-emergency routes first, followed by residential streets and then alleys. If the snow stops, normal parking rules will resume at 6 p.m. on the second day. If travel remains treacherous, another snow emergency can be declared that second day.

Wait until your street has been plowed before moving your car back.

During snow emergencies, parking lots have been designated for vehicle owners with nowhere else to go. A link to that lot list is at duluthmn.gov/snow/winter-parking-rules/. The lots can be used from the time of a snow-emergency declaration until 8 p.m. the following day.

Unfortunately, only seven such “amnesty lots” have been designated by the city, and they’re not very conveniently located in Canal Park, at Wheeler Field, and at Wade Stadium. As the city’s snow-emergency plan gets going, city leaders and residents no doubt will need to work together on moving vehicles out of the way of plows and on other unanticipated issues that are certain to arise.

The city’s plan seems a promising, good place to start, though.

“If we can get everyone onboard with the snow-emergency system, it allows us to plow really clean, very efficiently, and very quickly,” Mayor Emily Larson said at a recent online community meeting. “We all know how difficult it is to go around a car, and then that pile of snow stays there through maybe the next snowfall and the next snowfall.”

Once declared, snow emergencies will be reported by the News Tribune and other local media. The city will also spread the word via its social-media platforms. To receive an email or text when a snowstorm is turning into a crippling and dangerous blizzard, sign up for Northland Alerts at duluthmn.gov/northlandalert/.

“There is no formula for declaring a snow emergency,” the city points out on its snow-emergency page. “As Minnesotans know, no two snow events are alike. The director of Public Works & Utilities works with city staff and its partners to declare a snow emergency based on the best information that they have at the time.” The city will consider the forecast, the expected timing of a storm, the type of precipitation expected, and the projected accumulation in its decision, it said.

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The city has a plan — finally — and has been working to inform all of us about its details. Residents and visitors alike have a responsibility to know what’s expected of them during a snow emergency and to do their part. This will be new to all of us, and we’ll all need to work together so the outcries over and criticism of past snowplowing efforts and shortfalls, including the 2019 Thanksgiving weekend blizzard, can be avoided.

“We think we have accomplished a lot with this plan, and it’s important for us that we all do our part to make it successful,” Larson said.

Just how successful? We’ll find out together when this winter’s first major storm strikes.

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Bill Schorr / Cagle Cartoons

Related Topics: OUR VIEWEMILY LARSON
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