An autumn chill frosted car windshields on Spokane streets Monday as city leaders pledged more rigorous snow removal this winter.
“I can tell you that we are departing from business as usual, and we are going to see real change this year,” said Mayor David Condon at a news conference announcing changes to the plowing plan.
Putting workers assigned to other tasks into plows, rolling them out into neighborhoods sooner during storms and simplifying restrictions on parking are among the revisions the city is making following intense public outcry during last winter’s hefty snow season, which saw a total of five feet fall during periods of prolonged frigid temperatures.
The revised plan incorporates new equipment and ideas from other cities in an effort to cut the time for residential streets to be cleared, Condon said. The cost of that machinery, the loss of productivity during the winter months on other work and the potential inconveniences in neighborhoods prevented the city from shifting to a different plan sooner, the mayor said.
Plowing residential streets faster could lead to more frequent – but smaller – berms in neighborhoods, and using smaller equipment in more areas with narrower streets, such as Browne’s Addition, could lead to less room on the road for cars.
“There’s some trade-offs,” Condon said. “We’re looking at those trade-offs, and we decided to make those trade-offs.”
Here’s five ways the city’s snow response plan will change this winter, and what it means for residents:
1. The city will plow neighborhoods after any accumulation of snow.
The biggest change in next year’s snow plan is the removal of what were called “stages” in the past. Previously, plows wouldn’t go into neighborhoods until a half foot of snow had fallen.
New plow routes have been identified, coinciding with the boundaries of the city’s neighborhoods, and Spokane’s roughly 60 snow removal vehicles, including road graders, loaders and trucks, will be rolling daily during the week if an inch or two of snow has fallen.
Gary Kaesemeyer, the city’s streets director, said moving workers from the signs and markers, traffic signal, water and wastewater departments into plows means Spokane will have an additional 32 workers removing snow.
“The folks coming over from the other departments are going to be working their regular shifts, so we’re not going to expend any money on overtime there,” Kaesemeyer said.
The city has also increased the amount of machinery available to crews. In August, the streets department bought two new loader trucks at a cost of roughly $400,000 out of the department’s replacement fund. Those trucks were prioritized over other department purchases that wouldn’t have assisted the city’s snow removal efforts, officials said.
2. Parking will be restricted to the odd side of the street during the entire snow season.
Along with the elimination of the snow “stages” is an end to the requirement that residents move their cars as snow begins to pile up on the streets.
That means that on-street parkers will have to remain on the odd side of the street throughout the snow season, which runs from Nov. 15 to March 15. But the city won’t immediately begin to tow people for noncompliance when the snow isn’t falling, said Marlene Feist, director of strategic development for the Public Works and Utilities department.
“This is about simplifying the message, and trying to avoid the hassle,” Feist said.
Scott Battin, who’s been plowing for the Spokane streets department for six years, said the parking rules – which called for people to move their cars within six hours of plows hitting the streets – were rarely heeded.
“The whole odd/even parking, I’d say 99 percent of the people didn’t really follow that,” Battin said.
Restricting parking to one side of the street in residential areas allows plows to move unimpeded, and limits the amount of snow on sidewalks, city officials said.
3. Some neighborhoods will be plowed with equipment aimed at reducing driveway berms.
Seven snow removal vehicles will be outfitted with devices, called “gates,” intended to prevent plowed snow from piling up in front of driveways.
The gate falls when a plow rolls by a driveway, then opens back up when the vehicle passes, to avoid depositing plowed snow where cars need to enter and exit to reach houses.
Kaesemeyer said the city will rotate gated plows throughout the city this winter to determine their effectiveness and whether they slow snow removal efforts too much. Their reach will be limited, and residents shouldn’t anticipate pristine driveway entrances each time it snows, he said.
“You shouldn’t expect that, with the limited amount of boots we have, the high-lift gates, we won’t be able to get to every driveway this winter,” Kaesemeyer said.
The city has had issues with gates breaking due to heavy snow and other wear and tear. Battin said he broke one toward the end of last year’s snow season, but that citizen response had been positive.
“It doesn’t clear the driveway perfectly, but it definitely helps,” Battin said.
4. Browne’s Addition will get attention faster, and parking downtown will be restricted.
The historic Browne’s Addition neighborhood will be part of the regular plowing routes, rather than at the end of an all-city plowing effort.
“We are anticipating the arrival of a new truck plow, with just a regular size pickup plower, that we’re going to employ there on the very narrow streets,” Kaesemeyer said.
New signs will be posted in the downtown core asking visitors to move their cars off the streets between midnight and 6 a.m. Those with residential parking passes for downtown will be given options for areas to move their cars off the street.
The city won’t plow downtown if small amounts of snow have fallen, but when it is plowed, crews will work to remove the mid-road “berms” that prohibit lane changes and cause headaches for pedestrians.
“We’re going to move those berms as immediately as we can,” Feist said.
5. Residents will be asked to clear sidewalks and move large vehicles, play equipment off streets.
City law requires property owners to keep their sidewalks clear of snow. Spokane’s Neighborhood Services office will ask home owners to shovel their walks to clear a three-foot-wide path by 9 a.m. after a snowfall.
The emphasis will be on sidewalks that students use to get to school, said Heather Trautman, the city’s director of neighborhood services and code enforcement. Notices will be issued to those who don’t clear their walks, and the city is exploring whether they could shovel themselves and charge the property owner for the service if the notices are ignored, Trautman said.
“We’re asking people to get to know their neighbors,” she said. “Offer to help those may not be able to shovel their walks and driveways.”
Those who can’t find help can call City Hall’s 311 services hotline for assistance, she said.
By Nov. 15, recreational vehicles and boats must be moved to permanent storage sites off city streets or risk towing. City officials are also asking residents to move basketball hoops off streets by then to permit plows to pass.
Subscribe to the Morning Review newsletter
Get the day’s top headlines delivered to your inbox every morning by subscribing to our newsletter