Wrong plows, wrong parking among reasons city continually struggles
By Tom Wood
COLUMBIA, 3/7/13 (Op Ed) -- Columbia can consistently clear a single 6-inch snow. However, most things in nature work on a "squared" basis so a 12" snow is roughly four times more difficult to clear. (12/6 = 2, and 2 squared = 4)
The snow-plows Columbia uses are only capable of pushing snow to the side – not blowing it farther off the road. That takes a snow-blowing attachment, not a blade. And with two snows in rapid succession, blades can’t push six more inches of fresh snow over the piles they made earlier.
Moreover, Friday 2/22 was primed for disaster. No snow before 8 am, so almost everyone felt safe driving to work. Then Snowmaggedon hit, dropping at least 2" of snow per hour. By noon, almost everyone was concerned about getting home, so many left early to avoid the rush.
Some went into ditches, or spun sideways, or into something or someone, blocking roads, making the flow of traffic very slow (if at all). Even truckers were jack-knifing. Too many people tried to use up-ramps where lack of tire-traction caused them to spin and stop. As other people piled in behind, a wall of unmovable cars closed many exits.
I had friends who parked (out of the way of traffic) and walked the last mile home. They returned the next day only to find that their cars had been towed, costing over $100, a big rip off.
So was the mess all the fault of Columbia’s snow-trucks? No. Too many employers and too many employees stayed later than they should have. Thankfully, by the time the second snow fell Monday night and Tuesday, most employers understood it was better to close for a day than cause their employees to sit in snow-stalled traffic.
Did you notice how much faster the city was able to respond the second time? They didn’t have to deal with abandoned cars blocking plow routes.
But they still had to deal with people who park their cars on the street instead of in their empty driveways. That hurts the city’s ability to do its job. If it’s going to snow, and you have a place to park your car off the street, be a good citizen, save yourself the effort of digging out later – AND PARK IT OFF THE STREET!
That’s the good news for the City. Here’s the bad. On our street, crews first showed up with pickup trucks equipped with toy plows that couldn’t do squat. These trucks should not be first on the City’s list of snow-removal equipment. I also saw several drivers who were simply incompetent.
With climate change, we’re going to have extreme weather. Ultimately, as deeper snows become more common, the city will need snow-blower trucks (like they use in Iowa) to clear 10-12" of snow. But it may be a while before anyone believes that.
Tom Wood is a long-time Columbia resident and retired engineer.