Clearing the snow (and the air)

"We can always do better."

That's the closest the City of Prince George will come to admitting the snow removal effort after the storm of Dec. 28/29 dumped 35 cm on the city was less than adequate. That statement comes near the end of a five-and-a-half page response from the City of Prince George to The Citizen's request for more information on the snow removal effort in the storm's aftermath.

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That performance is much different from how fast and effective city crews jumped on the snow that fell Saturday night and Tuesday overnight.

Yes, they were dealing with far less than 35 cm and the colder temperatures made for light and fluffy white stuff, as opposed to the light rain that fell on top of that thick, heavy snow for several hours on the afternoon of Dec. 29, but credit must be given where credit is due.

Yet going through the city's more detailed written description about the Dec. 28/29 snow removal effort was as frustrating as it was driving on major city streets on Dec. 30 and 31. For example, on Dec. 29, the city informed The Citizen that crews cleared priority routes "in the red, green blue, yellow and orange zones." Those are all five garbage zones in the city, so that still provides no information of which priority routes were cleared first.

To be fair, the document does go on to name specific priority streets and areas cleared each day from Dec. 29 through Jan. 5 but there are huge gaps. At some point, River Road, Cranbrook Hill, Foothills Boulevard and University Way - to name just four important Priority 1 roadways - were all cleared after the storm but there is no mention of when they were completed.

"Given the commitment we made to get back to you today, this is the best that could be assembled and provided in the time since the main snow event concluded," city manager Kathleen Soltis wrote in her email to The Citizen. "I hope it provides much of the information you were seeking."

While not complete, the information provided does confirm what was obvious to anyone who drove on city streets at any time during the last three days of 2018. The City of Prince George came nowhere near to meeting its own targets of clearing all Priority 1 and 2 streets in the 48 hours after more than 7.5 cm of snow falls and clearing all other streets in 72 hours after that if more than 12 cm of snow falls.

The snow job from the city just made matters worse.

Instead of just admitting city crews were way behind due to both the amount of snow and the heavy wetness of it, the city pumped out releases on its website and its social media channels that made it sound as if everything was going great.

Dec. 28 morning: "Snow and ice control crews in full operation due to snow storm."

Dec. 28 afternoon: "Snow clearing to continue through the weekend."

Dec. 29 morning: "City crews continuing to clear snow following 35 cm snowfall."

Each release basically stated that city staff were working hard and that streets were being cleared in priority order.

To be blunt, that's useless information.

That would be the equivalent of Drive BC sending out releases saying "provincial contractors clearing highways" with little other information except how much snow fell and the number of plows and graders out on the highways clearing it up.

In contrast, Drive BC provides useful, real-time information about the road conditions drivers will face, empowering individuals to plan their day, make responsible choices and take better care of themselves and others.

Providing city residents with useful information on snow removal efforts, particularly after a major storm, shouldn't be that hard because the information already exists and simply needs to be dispersed in both a timely and honest manner.

There is no shame in saying driving conditions are terrible and urging residents to stay off city streets for non-essential travel while snow removal crews work to clean up the mess. From a safety standpoint, that's the responsible thing to do.

Likewise, there is no shame in saying snow removal crews are behind schedule. That's simply managing expectations.

City supervisors and dispatchers know where their operators are, which streets they're doing and which streets they will be doing next.

There was a time when the city would send out a list of streets scheduled for snow removal in the next 12 hours to local radio stations. It gave both the morning drive hosts and the late-night DJs important and useful information to share with listeners. In today's world, that information could be shared with all news media outlets, as well as on the city's own website and social media channels.

The snow and the air would be cleared at the same time.

That's one way the city could be better for when the next snowstorm slams the city with more than a foot of snow at once.

-- Editor-in-chief Neil Godbout

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