By Joseph A. Curtatone
(The opinions and views expressed in the commentaries and letters to the Editor of The Somerville Times belong solely to the authors and do not reflect the views or opinions of The Somerville Times, its staff or publishers)
It seems that Punxsutawny Phil – the groundhog who predicts whether we’re going to have a long winter or early spring – was right earlier this month when he saw his shadow, prompting a declaration of more winter weather. Like many years before it, this February has brought with it a batch of snow storms that has tested our snow policies and procedures – and of course, everyone’s patience.
Winter storms occurring at nearly the same time from one year to the next presents us with a unique opportunity to compare data that helps us examine, inform, and adjust our practice during snow emergencies. To see how we’re doing so far this season, let’s compare data from this year’s February storms to the storms from February 2016.
When you get those phone calls from Jackie Rossetti telling you to move your cars, our entire snow removal operation depends first on you – and all your neighbors – doing as she says. We ask you to heed the parking ban so that our plows can make it down our narrow streets to clear lanes wide enough for emergency vehicles and your safe travel. We put out the parking ban message about eight different ways with the hopes that everyone will comply. But when people don’t, we’re forced to resort to ticketing and towing so that our work can go on. Having to ticket and tow, slows down all of our efforts and is a net cost to the city. So one way we measure how good a job we are doing to keep everyone informed and conserve city resources, is to look at parking ticket and tow data. The fewer tickets and tows, the better we’ve done.
The good news is that we handed out far fewer tickets this year than we did last year. When comparing the first two emergencies in February 2016 to our two February snow emergencies this year, our parking ticket numbers are down approximately 69 percent.
It’s important to note that the lower ticket numbers are a particularly encouraging considering that new parking rules went into effect for snow emergencies during this winter season. This is the first year that parking is only allowed on the even side of the street during snow emergencies, unless signs posted state otherwise. I commend you on being vigilant and staying informed about parking regulations.
Equally as promising as the decrease in parking tickets is the high compliance around sidewalk shoveling regulations that we saw in February 2016. Even though we issued a remarkably low number of tickets for shoveling violations (48 with only 4 repeat offenders), sidewalks were in better shape overall than in any previous year. I know shoveling is grueling and the conditions are often rough, so I want to applaud residents for taking this matter seriously and clearing sidewalks in a timely manner. As I write this, the numbers for this February’s snow emergencies are unclear because we are still out enforcing sidewalk regulations. Sidewalks that have not been cleared present a very real public safety concern, so if the allotted time has passed and you spot an area that has not been shoveled, I encourage you to report it to 311.
While we have slightly reduced the number of pieces of snow equipment in our fleet from last year to this year, we’ve managed to increase our capacity by decommissioning an old vehicle and adding a one-ton dump truck with an 8-foot plow. Additionally, after piloting its use last year, we continued utilizing a Trackless MT-6 vehicle to allow us to more efficiently and effectively clear our bike paths while better maintaining the integrity of their surfaces.
We know snow emergencies are inconvenient and that many questions and needs can arise, so our 311 staff and our social media team are here to assist you. They take in calls and messages regarding a range of snow-related topics from the declaration of a snow emergency to snow removal and salting requests, parking inquiries, questions about scheduled activities, feedback, and many more. During the past two snow emergencies, our call center (which is open 24/7/365) fielded 1,199 calls. This is up slightly from the 1,125 calls they received during the two snow emergencies of February 2016, mainly due to an understandable increase in calls to clarify the new even-side parking regulations for this year. Sand and salt requests were also up this year.
With the timing of this year’s February snow emergencies nearly mimicking last year’s, we can only hope that this season’s weather will continue the relatively mild snowfall trend. However, with the snowpocalypse of 2015 still fresh on our minds (and the reminder of Phil the groundhog’s shadow), it’s important that we’re ready for whatever Mother Nature throws our way.
I am thankful for your patience and cooperation during the recent snow emergencies. These storms require all of us to work together carefully to ensure things run as smoothly as possible.
To review the City’s snow emergency procedures and snow removal policies, please visit www.somervillema.gov/snow. Sign up for the City’s alert system at www.somervillema.gov/alerts to receive notifications via phone, email, and/or text message regarding snow emergencies and other important neighborhood information. Follow the City’s official social media pages for updates: fb.com/somervillecity @somervillecity. If you are a senior or otherwise physically unable to shovel, please contact the Somerville Council on Aging (617-625-6600 x 2300) now to sign up for shoveling assistance for the next storm.