Why public works needs a plan to manage snow and ice operations

George A. Flaherty
Director, Emergency Management
County of Cumberland, State of Maine

Editor's Note: The following is the second part of Mr. Flaherty's article. The first part appeared in the February issue.

Mitigation Strategies

On-street parking control during plowable snowstorms
A city of 60,000, located in the northeast United States, established a policy for on-street parking during the winter. The community was settled in the early 1700s, so many of its streets were narrow.

During the mid-1940s and 50s, the population changed from a walking and public transit community to a car owner community. The population of the central city changed from families to individuals, and on-street parking became a major problem.

Before the city implemented wintertime parking bans, the plowing of these narrow streets became very difficult, slow, and dangerous. The results of plowing generally required the need to follow up street plowing with snow removal. The need for snow removal was caused by:

* The need to open drainage structures to direct water off the streets before it froze.
* The need to provide adequate street width for vehicles to drive the streets safely.
* The necessity for providing space for vehicles to park on the street safely without impeding traffic flow.
* Generally after the first two snowfalls, snow had to be removed or on-street parking had to be prohibited in order to allow vehicles to move through the roadway.

The cost of undertaking this extensive snow removal program was a very heavy financial burden. After a major snow/ice storm on January 10, 1977, the Public Works Authority submitted a recommendation to prohibit on-street parking during a major snowstorm on all city streets. This would allow the city to plow to the curb line, which would achieve the following goals:

* Increase the speed that streets could be plowed by 25 percent (which reduced costs of winter maintenance by 25 percent-a real cost savings).
* Provide residents with a street cleared from curb to curb enabling curbside parking after the storm.
* Open all street drainage structures when plowing the street.
* Reduce vehicle damage to city and private vehicles during plowing operations.
* Reduce the cost of curbside snow removal.

With the approval of the citywide parking ban during snowstorms, the Public Works Authority submitted a plan to institute the following policies.

* Vehicles would be towed and impounded if they violated the parking ban.
* Vehicles towed could be reclaimed by the owner by paying the following:
-- Violation of parking ban fee.
-- Towing, impoundment and storage fees.
-- All outstanding traffic violations.

The city did establish off-street parking areas where vehicle owners could safely park their vehicles during a parking ban at no cost. Some of the local parking garages offered special, low, overnight parking ban rates. A parking ban telephone information system was established and has become one of the best-known and most-used telephone numbers in the community.

The Public Works Authority annually distributes a community calendar to all the residents of the city which also notifies them of all the rules and regulations and provides information and education on their services. This calendar has been a major success.

Public service announcements are made on local radio, television, and on street-lit signage, prior to the institution of a parking ban.

The success of the Parking Ban Program was due to:

* Educating the public.
* Instituting an aggressive public information program.
* Providing alternative off-street parking.
* Creating consistent enforcement.
* Delivering a program that had results, as promised.
* Obtaining public acceptance.

Other mitigation strategies

* Flashing traffic signal on hills-yellow on the hill and red opposite of the hill (flat area).
* Salting critical areas prior to a storm to ensure traffic can move safely early in the storm.
* Adding encapsulated chlorides to surface paving (bituminous concrete, which reduces pavement icing).

Snow and ice operations demand continued vigilance
The Operations Centers need to be staffed seven days per week, 24 hours per day. Weather reports must be reviewed in a timely manner and the snow-ice program activated when needed. Bridge decks and road pavement temperature must be monitored to ensure highway safety and quick response.

A critique should be held after every operation to identify strengths and weaknesses in the execution of the plan and the plan itself. Operation statistics should be kept and reviewed to assess and evaluate the effectiveness of each team member, the individual incident, and the total program.

The community's Snow/Ice Emergency Operation Plan should be an annex to the community's Emergency Operations Plan. The Snow/Ice Emergency Annex should also contain mutual aid agreements.

No plan is ever perfect. The plan should be exercised quarterly and assessed after each incident. The plan is your best operational training tool and your agency's best insurance policy.

For more information, contact George Flaherty at 207-892-6785 or at countye.m.a@aol.com.

For information on attending the 2001 North American Snow Conference, held April 8-11 in Indianapolis, Indiana, contact APWA at snow@apwa.net or 816-472-6100. It truly is the premier event for snow and ice management!

Also, be sure to check out the excellent information on snow removal available through APWA's bookstore. Just go to www.apwa.net, click on Catalog and then on Snow Removal.