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BCR's Daily Fishwrap Report for February 3, 2010

Let's all count the days of snow misery!

Class, it's time for our daily lesson: how many annoying things can happen because of one single snow event? Don't worry that every school system from Asheville to the coast is probably closed today, you can play along and learn this lesson at home!

Elmo_2 Our first lesson, brought to us by an appropriately snowed-in Elmo, is, the number TWO. That's as in, TWO days of delay in your solid waste pick-up this week! Says the City in a press release:

Due to continued icy road conditions on many of Durham’s secondary streets, solid waste collections are now delayed by two days for all customers.  Customers are urged to go ahead and place their carts on the curb by 7 a.m. the day of their normal collection and leave their carts curbside until after collection crews come through.  In addition, exempt garbage and recycling collections as well as bulky item and yard waste collections are cancelled for this week, and will resume next week, weather permitting.

Our next lesson for the day is brought to us by the number THREE. That's three, as in three, THREE days of school now being cancelled for Durham Public Schools.

Everything is supposed to be OK by Thursday, kids, just as long as the forecasters and school officials don't manage to find a single snowflake or ice chunk remaining on any road, anywhere. (Or, perhaps more to the point, just as long as City and NCDOT crews are able to take care of all the ice and snow remaining in place on neighborhood streets and around school facilities.)

Our final number is that beautiful and lucky number, SEVEN. Seven, as in the number of inches of snowfall we received, to cause all this much havoc.

If the terrorists were to have come up with a James Bond villain-style Artificial Snow Machine, they Would Have Already Won. In the Sunbelt, at least.

Comments

Todd P

The kids in Asheville went back to school yesterday, which leads to 2 questions...

If Durham can invest in the equipment to spread brine before it snows, why can't we buy equipment to deal with the snow after it falls?

Can we fit the garbage trucks with snowplows and do double duty?

gaylib

The snowplow finally got to my street for the first time(w knox st) yesterday around 2pm. I had tried to leave earlier, but I live in a ravine near Ellerbe creek and couldn't make it up either hill in either direction so just came home. When the plow passed my house it too began to spin out and had to make three attempts to get up the hill. The problematic conditions leading to continued closures was very real. The city/state response to the snow and ice has been abysmal. Thank god we didn't get as much as they had been predicting.

Leigh

As someone whose kid rides the school bus, I support DPS's decision. Some inner neighborhood streets were still icy and potentially dangerous this morning (Wed.) and it's not the bus drivers have ANY experience driving under these conditions! Let's face it, it's not cost effective for us to invest in more plows or training for this type of situation here in our lovely Southern city, so we do the best we can by making cautious decisions when they occur. I see no reason to make fun of our school systems for putting safety first.

Dan S.

Maybe someone from the Department of Public Works could explain why Latta Road, between Guess and Roxboro was plowed, but Infinity, between Roxboro and Stephens Lane, including a very steep hill on a primary school bus route, was not.

It's not like the roads are that close together, or anything: http://bit.ly/aZSsCz (Google Maps)

Infinity had received a brine treatment, three days prior to the storm, but the runoff from a (hose? leak? water main?) driveway at the top of the hill, that ran for five days, ensured that the road was cleared of brine by Wednesday afternoon, and the hill was icy well-before the storm arrived on Friday night.

JG

@ Leigh, I profoundly disagree. It is not possible that every time there is snow on the ground, schools and other public services cancel all activities (while others working in the private sector manage to get to work.)

I don't agree with the association Snow=danger.

I can understand that Durham does not want to invest in thousands of snowplows; but it is reasonable to expect that streets be cleared a couple of days following the snow fall. We have several snow incidents every year including usually one big winter storm per winter. This time, the snow event happened during the night of Friday to Saturday, it is reasonable to expect the streets to be clear by Monday evening. Schools should have opened on Tuesday morning.

If drivers are not capable of driving their buses under these conditions they should get additional training or be dismissed.

Additionally, if it is only a question of buses, how do you explain that Magnet schools which are not dependent on school buses are also closed? The large private schools of the district are open. (Durham Academy and Duke School are open for business)

My take is that if they need to cancel the buses pick up and drop off, so be it, but schools should remain open and parents should remain free to drive their children or not.

But ultimately, closing schools is not acceptable for so long is bad policy and is unacceptable.

Rob Gillespie

As Barry Ragin has pointed out a few times, the issue isn't a need to purchase more snow plows. I think an email press release that went out stated that we have 37 of them in our city.

The issue is the training of staff to use snow plows and the allocation of staff time during and immediately after the snow storm. I myself know that I probably couldn't clear a road with a plow. But after some hands-on training (yes, we may have to send drivers to Boone or West Virginia for this), then they should be able to get one lane clear in one pass. It shouldn't take four passes on a neighborhood street to get the snow up. Additionally, I saw plows out all day on Saturday, despite the fact that sleet was still falling and accumulating. Drivers were then sent home right about the time snow stopped falling, allowing it to pack in overnight and begin to turn into sheets of ice. I think it would have made more sense to start the drivers on a 12-hour shift at noon or even later, as all forecasts predicted that Durham would continue to get snow until early afternoon. By waiting, drivers would only have to clear streets once, instead of once in the morning and then again once the snow stops.

eah919

@Todd P: that's exactly what they do in New York, fit the garbage trucks with plows. Works well:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=psbuM1Lf40Q

I am sure there's some sort of interdepartmental 'wall' here that keeps this from happening here, though.

ACW

For the record, it's three full days plus a two-hour delay tomorrow.
I'm not making fun of DPS, but rather the lack of system in place to deal with the snowstorm which caused DPS to be closed the better part of a week. Also... I agree; perhaps a better option is to open schools and let parents be responsible for getting their children there if there is a question of inclement weather/poor road conditions. For example: at the university level, classes were held but instructors emailed to say we should use our own discretion and would not be penalized if we could not make it to campus. We need to remember that public school transportation is a luxury, not a right.

RE: Rob's post...
I grew up in Alaska. Granted, the snowfall there is significantly greater and guaranteed every year... so naturally, there is a system in place with trained plowers... but you're right.
Regardless of whether we have enough people trained to plow (or, as mentioned in another comment, bus drivers), the folks in charge should look for examples of protocol from cities who have experienced snowstorms. It is absolutely ridiculous to do major snow removal before it stops falling.

On a side note: another blog mentioned something about the city being responsible for some streets while the state is responsible for others. Does anyone have information about this?

Kevin Davis

@ACW: In Durham and most cities in NC, primary thoroughfares and roads are maintained by NCDOT, with cities picking up secondary routes.  Both the City and NCDOT were preparing and clearing the roads in Durham.  From what I saw during the event, both parties played a role on major thoroughfares at times, it seemed.

ACW

Thanks!

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