Snow Way, Let’s Get Plowed

Lincoln, Nebraska received about six inches of snow Tuesday night.  As the snow started to pile up, crews from the city’s Public Works department were out plowing streets, and spreading sand and salt to help make the streets driveable before the morning rush*

*Note – I use “rush” in a very loose sense.  There are several hindrances Lincolnites face in getting to work in the morning (two lane streets, bad drivers, poorly timed traffic signals, never-ending road work, confusion on how a roundabout works, etc.) but gridlock caused by an abundance of traffic is not one of them. 

Most cities have a rush hour.  Lincoln has a rush 5 minutes.

The city and the Public Works folks faced heavy criticism after the last snow storm.  By the time plows reached the side streets, the snow had been compacted down into large sheets of ice that lasted for weeks.

So with the new storm, came a new plan of attack:  city crews would try to get ahead of the game by dumping salt while doing the initial plowing.  (more about the plan and the previous criticism can be found in this Lincoln Journal-Star article).

This is good to hear.  When something is obviously not working, try a different approach.  I commend the city for trying new things.  Especially things other than the “Annie Strategy”* that has been used in the past.

*The “Annie Strategy” is where the city parks the plows in the garage and sings “The sun will come out tomorrow.  So you gotta hang on ’til tomorrow, come what may…“.  Technically, this strategy has a 100% success rate (snow wouldn’t last long in a Nebraska summer), but it doesn’t foster a lot of confidence in city government.

Not the Public Works director (I think)

But here is the thing I don’t get:  Why is there a need to keep experimenting with new approaches and techniques?  I get that every snow storm is unique and brings its own set of circumstances (amount of snow, time of day, day of week, wet snow vs powder, snow vs ice, and many other factors).


Why is the city still experimenting?  Lincoln has been a city for a long, long time.  I’ve lived in Lincoln for 20 years.  In each of those twenty winters, we have received at least one snowfall with more than six inches of snow.  Why isn’t there a tried-and-true, battle tested plan of attack for whatever Mother Nature throws our way?

I understand that things have changed in the last 10-20 years:  taxes are lower, gas is more expensive, crew wages and benefits are more expensive, Lincoln’s population and number of streets have increased, people are out on the streets around the clock.  All of these things must make it a real pain in the ass to get streets plowed.


Lincoln is not the only moderately sized city (250,000 people) facing these challenges in the snow belt.  What do other comparable cities do?  Is their snow removal better or worse?  What works and what doesn’t work?

I’m not the kind of guy who gripes all day long about paying too much in taxes, and this rant isn’t about whether or not my tax dollars are being used efficiently.  I am just struggling to comprehend why in 2013 we still don’t know the best way to clear snow and ice off of city streets in a relatively timely manner.  Maybe we need to give Mr. Plow* a call…

Surely it’s not that hard.

*That name again is Mr. Plow.

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