Now that we are enjoying a temporary reprieve from the winter snow and bitter cold, I want to review the City’s snow removal efforts with you.
The winter snowstorms, followed by bitterly cold temperatures, have been a hardship on everyone. The latest storm was particularly challenging. Though the snow was light, it was unrelenting and continued nonstop for nearly 36 hours, from Saturday morning until late Sunday evening. By that time, the temperatures had fallen to the low single digits.
Beginning Monday and continuing throughout the week, I heard concerns expressed via email, phone and social media about the condition of our residential streets following the snowfall. I know you were frustrated. I was, too.
Many individuals expressed the belief that our residential streets had not seen a snow plow. The truth is nearly every residential street in our ward was plowed multiple times from 4:00 a.m. Monday morning until late Friday afternoon. Yet most of the streets did not look plowed, especially in comparison to the arterial streets. Why is that?
The answer is found in the unusual circumstances of this winter storm, combined with the requirements of keeping the arterial streets clear and the limitations of current snow and ice melting technologies.
The City’s standard snow removal practice calls for the snow plows to concentrate on the arterial streets until the snow storm passes. Only after the snow ends and the arterial streets are fully plowed and salted, do the City plows turn their attention to the residential streets. This is because, as the term implies, the arterial streets are the City’s main transportation arteries. If they are not kept fully clear and free of snow, the entire City will grind to a halt.
Last weekend’s snow stopped falling in Rogers Park at approximately 10:00 p.m. and the City completed its plowing and salting of the arterial streets at 4:00 a.m. At that time, the Commissioner of the Department of Streets and Sanitation ordered the plows to turn their attention to the residential streets. Unfortunately, the temperatures had been dropping all day, plummeting to a bone chilling eight degrees below zero by 4:00 a.m., and dropping even further as the day wore on.
These highly sustained and unusual subzero temperatures made it next to impossible to adequately clear the streets of snow and ice. As the chart at the right, provided by Morton Salt, Inc., demonstrates, the effectiveness of road salt at melting ice decreases exponentially as the temperature drops, becoming totally ineffective at six degrees below zero.
In short, by the time the City plows were able to turn their attention to the side streets, the snow on the streets, particularly the center ridge of snow created by the tire tracks from cars, had turned to solid ice. Even large City snow plows cannot break up ice that solid. And the subzero temperatures rendered the road salt completely ineffective at melting the ice.
People digging their cars out from the snow and throwing the snow in the middle of the street compounded the problem. I drove through the ward by myself and with my Ward Superintendent and witnessed the problem first hand. Often a snow plow would make a pass down a street only to have its work undermined within an hour by well-meaning people throwing shovels-full of snow into the street.
As you know, the temperatures remained bitterly cold throughout the week until late Thursday morning. Only then, when the temperatures reached the upper teens, did the road salt begin to work and the City plows were able to begin working effectively at removing the snow and ice.
Finally, a number of people have asked why the City did not plow the alleys. The City does not plow alleys except in the most dire of circumstances. In my 23 years as alderman, I recall only three occasions when the City cleared the alleys of snow, the most recent being the blizzard of February, 2011, when a storm dumped two feet of blowing and drifting snow on Chicago in less than 24 hours. The City simply does not have the financial resources to treat alleys as if they are city streets.
However, I commend the countless volunteers who joined with their neighbors, as I did, to clear their alleys of snow so that they and their neighbors could access their cars.
I know many individuals may still be skeptical of my explanation and are frustrated after dealing with a week of snow, bitterly cold temperatures, followed by last night’s driving rain storm. I understand your frustration. I am frustrated too.
It would be politically expedient for me to place blame on the Department of Streets and Sanitation and the Mayor’s office, but I know from personal experience that the men and women of the Department of Streets and Sanitation did everything humanly possible, working through the most dangerous weather conditions we’ve seen in at least ten years, to remove the snow in the 49th Ward.
Almost every snow plow driver has been working 16 hour shifts since January 1st and Snow Command has been working 24/7. I was personally in contact with my Ward Superintendent, Greg Wagner(photo on left), at all hours of the day and night. I even spoke to him at 3:00 in the morning. I know he and his crew worked like dogs to keep the streets passable.
I want to thank you for your patience. I understand how frustrating this week has been. Thank you to those who contacted my office to point out problems and concerns. An additional thank you those who helped their neighbors during this challenging week. Thanks as well to all of the employees of Streets and Sanitation, OEMC, CTA, Chicago Police Department, Chicago Fire Department, Department of Family and Support Services, and other departments for their hard work this week.
And a big thank you to my team at the 49th Ward Service Office for answering emails, returning phone calls, and listening to everyone voicing concerns about the snow removal operation. They work tirelessly in service of our community.
If you have any further questions or concerns about the snow removal operation or you know of areas that still need attention, please reply to this email or call my Ward Service Office at 773-338-5796.
Winter is not yet half over and we may face other weather-related challenges in the weeks ahead. Know that my staff, the 49th Ward Streets and Sanitation team and I will do everything we can to face those challenges head on.