CLEVELAND — After last week’s winter storm and the city of Cleveland’s response to it, city council members and members of Mayor Justin Bibb’s administration generally agree that the city’s snow removal plan and operation need to be optimized and modernized.
Last week’s snowstorm brought close to a foot of snow over a 48 hour period all across Cleveland, adding a thick blanket of fresh snow on top of the additional foot of snow that fell from a storm over Martin Luther King Jr. Day. For some residents, their residential streets largely went unplowed until well into Saturday.
“I have gotten tongue lashings from my residents the past few days,” said Councilman Kevin Bishop (Ward 2).
The frustration spilling over from Cleveland’s response to the snowstorm provided the backdrop for Monday’s meeting of the Municipal Services and Properties Committee and, specifically, a briefing from the city’s Department of Public Works and Division of Streets. Bonnie Teeuwen, Cleveland’s new chief operating officer, also fielded questions from council members.
There are 10,060 streets amounting to 3,020 lane miles within Cleveland city limits. There are a total of 148 staff members, which includes a mix of both full-time and part-time workers. The city currently has 59 large snowplows as well as 13 pickup trucks equipped for snow and ice removal. However, at various points of last week’s winter storm, an average of 10 large plows were out- of commission and being serviced.
Under the city’s current policy, secondary roads and residential subsections are to be completely serviced within 72 hours of the final snowfall. The city’s current snow removal policy for large snow events — defined as being 6 inches of snowfall or more — includes a first pass that is plow-only. Second passes include plow and salt. However, the past two storms have led Teeuwen to believe that the residents are expecting more service — and quicker.
“Is that good enough? It doesn’t sound like it is,” she said. “Does the policy meet the needs of the residents and the businesses in the city of Cleveland? Based on what we’re hearing — no it doesn’t.”
In Teeuwen’s presentation to council, she outlined various areas of improvement, including a comprehensive review of the city’s snow removal standards and a comparison to other cities, the implementation of a route optimization system, a more comprehensive plow tracker and a comprehensive review of how the information is shared with residents. Additionally, Teeuwen said it is entirely likely that the city would need to bring on additional staff and make further investments in purchasing new plows to replace the aging fleet as well as purchase additional plows.
“We’re not ready to make an exact determination on what exactly those numbers are. But it’s something we need to do look at and make sure we are being fiscally responsible,” Teeuwen said. “We need to find that right balance of how many additional vehicles and what kind of vehicles.”
In the fallout of the winter storm over MLK Day, Mayor Justin Bibb and members of his cabinet rolled out a public-facing snow plow tracker. While still very early in its development, the tracker was largely inaccurate over the course of last week’s storm, showing large swaths of the city’s southeast side as not having been plowed.
RELATED: How to track snowplows in Cleveland during the winter storm
“Maybe we erred on trying to make that public-facing snow plower tracker available to the public too soon. We’re working on it daily,” Teeuwen said.
Councilman Mike Polensek (Ward 8) also brought forward an additional issue that came about as a result of last week’s storm: staffing at 311. On any given day, 311 has up to 7 call takers and a supervisor. However, on the Friday of the snow storm, there were only two call takers.
“That’s totally unacceptable. Then you wonder why 17 council members got their butts kicked. I had to look in the mirror to see if I still had a butt,” Polensek said.
In the three-hour hearing on Monday, much of the conversation centered around some of the antiquated aspects of the city’s snow removal program. After completing the main roads, plow drivers are provided with paper maps of their assigned residential subsections.
“They have individual pieces of paper with the maps that they are handing off. Within each subsection there is no specific most efficient route,” said Councilwoman Rebecca Maurer (Ward 12).
Furthermore, if a residential subsection is completed and the storm drops another several inches of snow, under the city’s system, that residential subsection is still labeled as being complete, even if current conditions show otherwise.
“I don’t think I’ve ever received more phone calls regarding any event than I did over the last 48 hours,” said Councilman Brian Kazy (Ward 16). “We’re not campaigning anymore. It’s the reality of what’s happening with the city. Saying things are one thing; the reality of what is going on may be a little different than the ideas of it all.”