After two harsh winters in a row, Spokane leaders are implementing new parking and shoveling rules to help maintain a clearer city.
If a storm brings 2 inches of snow and more is on its way, the city will declare a “Stage 1 Snow Emergency” and ask cars parked along any arterial to be moved, Street Director Mark Serbousek said.
When 6 inches fall and more is forecast, the city will call a Stage 2 emergency, meaning parking rules will be implemented on residential streets. In such cases this winter, cars on residential routes must be parked on the side that has odd-numbered addresses. A year later, cars must be moved to the side with even-numbered addresses.
Under both kinds of emergencies the rules will be in place until plowing is complete.
Serbousek said the rules will be voluntary this year. But officials say they might impose fines for drivers who break the parking rules in the winter of 2010-’11. A year after that, the city may tow cars in the way of plows.
“We don’t want to drop this bomb on (residents) right away,” Serbousek said. “We want them to work with us.”
During record-breaking snowfalls last year, plows struggled in some residential areas to get around buried parked cars. Serbousek said the plows skipped some blocks because berms of snow and vehicles made paths too narrow for them to drive through.
“We didn’t know if we were plowing a car at times,” Serbousek said.
The city purchased an additional 11 plow blades in June to place on water and sewer department trucks. Because those purchases were paid for through utility bills – not taxes or other street money – they will have to be leased by the street department if they’re put to use on most streets. Serbousek said that would still be cheaper than hiring outside contractors to supplement the city’s 36 plows.
Contracts will still be in place in an emergency situation to bring in private road crews, Serbousek said, but the 11 new blades will make use of outside crews less likely.
Spokane County Engineer Bob Brueggeman said the county hasn’t considered parking restrictions during plowing. “We haven’t had the parking cause difficulty in removing snow because we simply have wider streets,” he said.
Brueggeman said unlike last year, the county will have contracts in place with private crews for snow removal before winter in case of major snowfall.
Carolbelle Branch, Spokane Valley spokeswoman, said the city hasn’t addressed winter parking restrictions. The city will use a private contractor for all snow removal. In the past, Spokane County crews plowed the Valley’s roads.
Last year’s winter was the snowiest in Spokane history, but there are signs that this winter might be more of a lamb. An El Niño is present, meaning there are warmer-than-normal temperatures on the surface of the Pacific near the equator. When the condition persists, Spokane usually has a tamer winter.
Since 1950, there have been 17 El Niños, said Bob Tobin, a National Weather Service meteorologist. Only three of those winters resulted in above-average snowfall in Spokane.
Spokane’s average snowfall is 47.6 inches, but it had more than twice that amount last winter. During El Niños, the city’s annual average is 35.2 inches, Tobin said.
Said Serbousek: “We’ll believe it when they see it.”
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