Opinion: Denver might need a new snowplow plan – The Denver Post

Growing evidence of climate change is a good reason for Denver officials to revisit the policy of not plowing or treating side streets during, before, or after snow storms. If the series of storms that began with freezing rain last Christmas night is any indication of what to expect, the days when the snow melted away quickly may become a thing of the past.

Historically, Denverites who don’t like traveling through snow storms on the way to work know that there’s a good chance that most of the white stuff will be gone by the evening commute. Torrents of water running along curbs toward city drains are a welcomed sight because it means not having to deal with frozen roads the next day.

As the saying goes, “It’s Colorado; just wait a few minutes and the weather will change.”

Given that fact, it’s understandable that snow removal has not been a priority for the city’s public works department.

However, if the Farmers’ Almanac is to be believed, Colorado is in for a further cold and snowy ride. The editors designated the state as a “hibernation zone” that will be both “glacial” and “snow-filled” with extremely cold temperatures dominating winter.

So far, the Almanac has been spot-on since mid-December.

Recent conversations among metro area residents have undoubtedly included laments of being forced to navigate side streets caked with ice.

Even hearty ride-share drivers who occasionally deal with inebriated passengers and unseemly goings-on in their backseats now say their biggest headache is rutted roads in many parts of the city.

Ruts, of course, are formed by cars and trucks making tracks in the daytime slush that eventually harden overnight. The process keeps repeating itself without a good melt to take the water away.

Ordinary drivers blame uncleared side streets for parking problems, wear and tear on their vehicles, fender benders, fishtailing, and other hazards thanks to immovable chunks of ice.

Another problem blamed on lax snow removal is the growing number of small lakes that spring up at street corners. Melting snow on sidewalks can’t go anywhere because boulders of ice in the streets are blocking pathways to city drains.

Pedestrians often pause to figure out which way to walk in order to avoid the treachery of black ice and/or the best way to prevent cold, dirty water from invading their footwear.

As for clearing sidewalks, Denver homeowners have 24 hours to get rid of snow and ice, and businesses are supposed to begin shoveling as soon as the snow stops falling.

However, it does not appear that these rules are promptly obeyed, especially on sidewalks in front of unoccupied buildings and vacant lots.

The city’s crackdown calls for inspectors to “notice” shoveling violations and hand out $150 fines if the first warning is ignored. Residents can also alert inspectors to take “notice” by calling 311 to report scofflaws.

Hmm.

Meanwhile, officials in consistently cold weather cities around the country dispatch snowplows to residential neighborhoods after significant snow accumulation. They understand that nipping the potential for dangerous ice conditions in the bud ensures public safety.

Why doesn’t Denver do that? The answer is cost and unpreparedness.

The city reportedly has only 70 large plows and 36 smaller ones to cover the many thousands of miles of streets.

Forecasters say Denver’s respite from the harsh conditions of earlier this winter is about to end. Prognostications indicate a return to snowier and bitterly cold weather for the next 6 weeks or so.

The city won’t change its snow and ice removal policy anytime soon. But hopefully, officials are thinking about revising it and not waiting for indisputable proof that our changing climate is causing winter weather conditions to worsen.

Jo Ann Allen is the creator and host of the podcast Been There Done That. She started her journalism career in 1975 at The Capital Times newspaper in Madison, WI. She spent 18 years as a news anchor at WNYC/New York Public Radio, and also worked as an anchor at KPBS Radio in San Diego, WHYY Radio in Philadelphia and Colorado Public Radio in Denver.

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