Spokane adds text messaging, other outreach to snow response
Spokane is prepping for its annual battle with Old Man Winter, and city officials are touting new ways for residents to keep up with constantly changing snow conditions.
“Everywhere that you could possibly get information, we’re going to be feeding that out in real time,” Mayor David Condon said Tuesday, as street crews prepare to switch to their winter readiness schedule this week. In addition to alerts on television and via a phone hotline, Condon and Street Department Director Mark Serbousek said residents may receive notifications through Facebook, Twitter and text message about plow locations and whether vehicles parked on the streets need to be moved.
When at least six inches of snow has fallen, residents will be asked to move street-parked cars to the side of the road with odd-numbered addresses, Serbousek said. Motorists in hilly residential neighborhoods, determined by the city, will be asked to move their cars when just two inches of snow have fallen.
“We’d like to have that done within six hours,” Serbousek said.
The city has partnered with Spokane-based Business Texter, a small business specializing in mass messaging, to provide alerts to cell-phone users who opt in to the service. Those interested must text (509) 385-5775, and then respond with the name of their neighborhood to receive updates.
Aaron Rollins, a founding partner of Business Texter, said the service was originally focused on the Browne’s Addition neighborhood, with its lack of off-street parking and tech-savvy residents. When more than 600 people signed up during the first week the service was available last winter, the decision was made to expand the coverage.
“We just kind of got our feet wet last year,” Rollins said. Calling the text line will also forward users to the city’s snow plow hotline, he said.
Electronic signs have been placed by street crews along major snow routes, including Division Street, Third Avenue and the Maple and Ash corridor, city spokesman Brian Coddington said. Those signs can be updated with constantly changing traffic conditions, allowing motorists to stay apprised of potential problem areas, Condon said.
The goal of the outreach is to keep traffic moving. An early snowfall that dropped nearly two inches on Spokane roads last week caused 80 area traffic collisions. Condon said the problems showed the importance of maintaining communication between street crews and motorists so conditions don’t catch commuters off guard.
Serbousek said the city had not yet reached its winter staffing levels when the storm dumped significant snow and ice during the morning drive.
“It came in, sat longer, and was earlier than what was anticipated,” Serbousek said of the snow.
Snow removal staffing begins Friday at the city’s Street Department; crews will be on the roads 20 hours a day, seven days a week. The National Weather Service predicts falling temperatures over the weekend, but no snow is in the forecast through Monday.