The Art of Snow Plow Maintenance

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When it comes to allocating resources to remove snow, cities can often only guess and hope for the best

by Emily Badger – Bloomberg

Earlier this month, we posed a simple question to about two-dozen cities of varying sizes and climates: How many snowplows do you have? Pretty straight-forward question, we figured. We expected – naively, it now turns out – that cities would get back to us with a single number. Almost none of them did.

Spokane, Wash., responded that they have 33 plow trucks, 10 graders, five de-icers, 11 de-icer/plows and seven sander/plows. Minneapolis has 43 trucks with front and underbody plows and material spreaders, which are different from the 18 trucks they have with front plows only, their 12 front loaders with plows, and their nine motor graders (which is to say nothing of the 20 front loaders the city uses just for alleys).

Toronto sent us something resembling a spreadsheet. Fargo sent us a list. One city (we won’t name names) asked us a question: Were other cities counting the garbage trucks that they attach plows to? Because, you know, no one wants to look bad here. And then there’s Kansas City, which sent us a thoughtful caveat that we want to convey: You can’t think about snowplows without counting lane miles because the two go hand-in-hand (Kansas City, for the record, has 6,400 of them to clear).

This whole exercise may be the best testament to the fact that plowing snow is a fraught enterprise. In some cities, administrations can get evicted or re-elected on their snow-removal speed. In Chicago, residents are so sensitive to the urban conspiracy that some neighborhoods get more prompt plowing than others that the city unveiled a live tracking app this winter. Roughly 65,000 people viewed it in its first week online.

In attempting to corral all of this together, we wanted to capture the complex calculation cities have to make when they’re balancing weather reality against city size against budget and resident expectations. And so we’ve made a few subjective calls: The graphic below represents the equipment our sample cities have in their own arsenals to plow streets – whether those plows have an underbody or come temporarily attached to the front of a dump truck. Not included is the winter equipment – salt trucks, snow blowers – that doesn’t actually plow anything, or any privately owned plows on retainer. We also didn’t include specialized plows designed for surfaces other than roads (although we’re really impressed that Toronto has 322 of these just for sidewalks, and that Boulder has a pair for bike paths).

Read the whole article HERE

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