CLEVELAND — The calendar only recently flipped over to the month of October but after two large snow storms crippled much of Cleveland back in January, perhaps it’s never too early to start preparing. After those winter blasts called into question the effectiveness of the city’s snow removal program, top city officials have brought wholesale changes, including a re-optimization of the city’s snow removal routes and an improved public-facing snow plow tracker, officials said.
In addition to optimizing the city’s snow removal routes, which encompass all 10,060 streets in Cleveland, the Department of Public Works began hiring temporary, seasonal workers much earlier this year in order to be as fully staffed as possible heading into the winter season. Currently, the city still needs to hire approximately 7 more plow drivers ahead of large-scale training exercises later this month, according to Frank Williams, the director of the Dept. of Public Works.
“One of the things we are looking at is being more efficient,” Williams told members of the City Council’s Municipal Services and Properties Committee. “We had been using routes that were upwards of 20 years old at least. The city has changed, the geography has changed. The typography — or the type of streets — has changed.”
Using the services of a third-party vendor, RUBICONSmartCity, the optimization of the snow removal routes will better balance the routes across the city, providing drivers with in-cab, turn-by-turn directions and updated information during the snow event. The updated routes will be significantly more efficient than the previous subsection model which had been in use for more than 20 years, officials said. The previous snow removal program involved drivers using antiquated paper maps of their routes.
The in-cab GPS modules will show plow drivers what streets have been treated and those that are still in need of service. This information will be especially critical during shift changes.
“Route optimization doesn’t fix everything but it does give us another tool in our arsenal to be able to provide more efficient service delivery. Where we should see that really help us is really help us transition from the main streets into the residential streets and give that service delivery a little better than we had before,” Williams said. “This will be an initiative that will take throughout the winter to master as the company balances our routes. We’ll try them, test them, and get the feedback from the drivers. We’ll see what’s working and what’s not working. Then we can keep optimizing throughout the season to get better.”
A major winter storm dumped more than a foot of snow across large swaths of the city around Martin Luther King Junior Day earlier this year. The inefficiencies and major gaps in the city’s snow removal plan presented one of the first significant challenges for Mayor Justin Bibb, who had only been in office for a couple of weeks at the time. The city rolled out a public-facing snow plow tracker, which was to provide citizens with a near real-time look at the city’s snow removal efforts. However, the tracker, which was hastily created, suffered from glitches and oftentimes disseminated inaccurate information as to what streets had been plowed.
As part of the route optimization efforts, an updated snow plow tracker should also be available to the public this winter, officials said.
“A lot of people want to utilize that just to get the information. [The old plow tracker] wasn’t spewing out the correct information,” said Councilman Brian Kazy (Ward 16). “Nobody cares what the information is as long as it is accurate information. They may not like the information that they are getting but it is the correct information that they are getting.”
The city’s snow removal program will have a longer roster of drivers this year thanks to a 20% increase in the number of seasonal drivers. The goal is to have 33 full-time plow drivers and 120 temporary, seasonal drivers, Williams said. The city will also have two new plow trucks at its disposal this year, bringing the total to 60. Those plows are joined by dozens of smaller plows and blade-equipped pickup trucks, which will be tasked with clearing snow from some of the city’s narrower streets.
City officials said crews have winterized roughly 60% of the fleet, with the remaining vehicles scheduled to be winterized by Halloween.