Naperville stresses communication during winter storms
By Susan Frick carlman firstname.lastname@example.org February 28, 2013 4:04PM
A city snow plow goes through downtown as snow blankets Naperville on Tuesday, February 26, 2013. | Brian Powers~Sun-Times Media
Updated: April 2, 2013 6:09AM
Even though the landscape was freshly coated in white this week, Naperville thus far hasn’t seen much of a winter. Still, the city has had a chance to see how its attempts to improve storm-related communication have panned out.
In addition to assuming a higher profile on social media and posting weather updates on its main website, the city last year introduced an interactive online map that lets visitors know where the snow plows are, and where they’re scheduled to head next.
“The interactive map has been an important part of this effort as it allows us to provide status updates on our plowing progress during a storm,” said Christine Schwartzhoff, operations team leader in the Public Works Department, in an email.
The effort was launched after some residents, particularly those who live on some of the city’s 1,200 cul-de-sacs, became agitated as they waited two days or longer for street-plowing crews to dig them out after the extraordinary storm in February 2011.
Staff members have heard positive feedback from residents about the map, Schwartzhoff said.
“The interactive map has received more than 1,000 hits this year alone, which means that residents are using the map,” she said.
A survey taken last year found that 86 percent of the residents consider the city’s snow removal satisfactory, Schwartzhoff added.
Also an issue in snowfall’s wake is a lingering habit of street parking, which the city is trying to break.
“Cars left on the street create an obstacle for plow drivers. In addition, plowing around parked cars leaves large amounts of snow and ice on the street,” Schwartzhoff said. “Staff has been placing door hangers with this information on homes in areas where parked cars are a continual problem.”
While the comparatively mild winters of 2011-12 and this one so far have translated to far less salt spreading than usual, the city has made moves to be stingy with salt, which can be harmful to the environment when it builds up. And it costs money.
Public Works Director Dick Dublinski estimated that the city saved $500,000 on salt after last year’s minimal snow, and will save $314,000 next year by using surplus from this season, assuming there are no more major blizzards in store.
Dublinski’s crews have limited the spreading of road salt, cutting application rates and scattering it only on hills, curves, intersections and main roadways when conditions allow it to be used that sparingly.
“Procedures have also been modified to postpone application of salt to residential side streets until after snow plowing has been completed in some circumstances,” Schwartzhoff said. “The result may be that the residential streets will not be completely free of snow and ice, but they will be safe and passable based on the traffic volume for vehicles driving at a reasonable speed for the conditions.”
An official 4.3 inches fell on Naperville overnight Tuesday, a paltry pileup when compared with the 20 inches that came down two years ago. But the city is mindful of what happened then, when its crews were criticized despite some of them working around the clock to move the drifts, and makes it a point to be as responsive as possible.
“We received very few calls regarding the storm yesterday,” Schwartzhoff said Wednesday. “All of the complaints have been investigated and remedied if needed.”