Is it time to change the Snow plan?
Now that the snow has stopped falling and people will soon turn their attention to getting the gray stuff off of their cars – as opposed to getting cars out of their driveways, I'm wondering if it isn't time to re-examine the snow removal process here in the region.
Let me be clear. This is not about the hard working people who work long shifts in terrible conditions executing the plan. It's not about the dispatchers back at headquarters, or anyone involved in executing the plan. For that matter, it's not even about the planners themselves. I'm wondering if we have used the same plan and the same thinking for too long – if our basic assumption about the best use of resources needs re-thinking.
Conventional wisdom goes something like this: We don't have enough trucks to plow the roads the way we would like; therefore we must take care of the roads with the greatest need first, and then progress to the roads with lesser needs.
On the surface that seems a reasonable assumption. But somewhere along the way we have lost sight of the need to get people out of their homes sooner. If we are to believe the calls, complaints and our own personal observations – there is a widespread belief following this storm that (pick a locality or state agency) is overly focused on the Interstates and major arteries like Route 419, Route 11 etc. — long after they are “clear enough” to begin focusing on getting people out of their neighborhoods.
On Friday we reported that VDOT had pulled its snow blowers out of mothballs so they could cut back the snowbanks that covered the shoulders on 581 and the section of highway known at the Roy Weber Expressway between downtown and the start of Route 220. While I am glad to have the super busy stretch of highway returning to normal, I have to question whether the shoulders of the expressway are more important than the streets that lead to people's homes.
I'm not a safety or traffic engineer. The shoulders of the highway, I'm sure, have a high level of importance. But common sense tells me that people who can't get out of their homes for doctor's appointments, to open a business, or who knows what — must rise to some level that might be greater than getting the major roads back to “perfect.”
Wouldn't it be better to get the major roads, clear and passable, then go open up the neighborhoods, and then return to complete the finishing touches on the highways? I'm sure there are other examples that you could add – the snow blower example is one that just jumps to mind for me.
Again I say – this is not about the hard working people making decisions under the stress of the storm and themselves away from loved ones. Let's have the people who lead these discussions have a retreat – heck it could be in July complete with iced tea and lemonade, and examine the assumptions we have made for decades. Let's give more weight to liberating neighborhoods and re-factor the equation.
Is there some level of inter-jurisdictional cooperation that might allow one crew to continue manicuring the heavily traveled roads, while allowing others to break off into the neighborhoods? If they are already doing this – could they do it better and more effectively with the thought of getting people out of their homes by unplugging country roads and cul de sacs?
Businesses and organizations are constantly challenged to think outside the box – to find new and better ways of doing things. Shouldn't government leaders and others with oversight reconsider the appropriation of resources in new ways?
Granted 20″ snowstorms only happen once every decade or so – and the topic doesn't come up very often… But it seems too many people were actually stuck in their homes for too long when it happened this time.