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Plow Operation FAQs
Answers to Questions About Our Plowing Operations
Q: Does the city plow when a snow emergency has not been declared?
 
A:
As soon as snow begins to accumulate during any snow/ice event, Public Works will begin plowing the busier “arterial” streets to keep them passable and allow traffic to continue flowing. This plowing is done on an “as-needed” basis and is not publicly announced.  If you live or park on one of these streets, you may want to monitor conditions yourself and consider moving your vehicle to allow for a better job of plowing. This will also help avoid you having to dig your vehicle out should it get plowed in.

Snow and ice control operations are performed during the winter to keep our streets safe and passable. Public Works monitors the weather 24 hours a day, seven days a week.  Based on the conditions we respond with the most effective treatment method.

Q: Why was a plow on the street next to mine but did not plow my street?
 
A:
There are 80 routes throughout the city; the plow you saw may not be the same plow assigned to your street.

Q: How long does it take to plow the entire City?
 
A:
When there is 6” or less snowfall it would typically take 20 hours to plow the entire city once. With snow falls over 6” it can take substantially more time to clear the streets. Once plowing is completed, we begin cleaning intersections and cleanup of streets where there were parked vehicles; this can take several days to complete.

Q: Why does plowing take so long?

A:
There are 80 plow routes throughout the city which encompass 1,874 lane miles. That’s the equivalent of driving Saint Paul to Anaheim, California!  Public Works typically has 80 employees using, 80 pieces of equipment, 40 snow tagging crews in up to 40 vehicles and 14 supervisors during each phase of a snow emergency.

Q: Why did the plows leave snow in front of my driveway and on our sidewalks?
 
A:
Because snow plows are designed to push snow to the side.  Snow does get deposited at the end of driveways and onto sidewalks as a byproduct of plowing.  Snow plow drivers are directed to plow at low speeds (10 -15 mph) to reduce the amount of snow deposited from streets onto sidewalks and driveway entrances but heavy snows do not always permit this. Snow plows must open streets for safe passage for our residents and emergency vehicles.

Q: Why do plows leave snow across streets? These piles can be quite high.
 
A:
For the same reason snow ends up in driveways and sidewalks it also ends up in streets.  Plow drivers do their best to keep these piles (windrows) small or come back and knock them down but their first job is to get the street passable and then come back. We have begun outfitting 4x4 pick-ups with plows to help address these concerns.

Q. The plow dumped snow at the end of my driveway, can they come back to move it?
 
A.
  No, the cooperative nature of city-provided snow plowing service requires residents to do their part by removing snow that is plowed in front of their driveways and sidewalks. With 1,874 lane miles of road our plows must stay focused on opening the streets. It would be extremely costly to the taxpayer for city crews to remove snow from driveways.

Q: Is the City responsible for plowing alleys?
 
A:
The City does not plow alleys. It is the responsibility of the property owners adjacent to the alley to remove snow from their alley. The City does not open access or re-open access to alleys that have snow deposits from City plowing efforts on public streets.

Q: Why doesn’t the city plow alleys?
 
A:
The city has explored this possibility several times. The problem is that the city cannot meet the different demands citizens with alleys have. Like with garbage collection by hiring a private contractor, residents abutting an alley can choose the level of service they desire and contract accordingly and different levels of service can occur on every alley.

Q: Why do I sometimes see a snow plow truck with its plow up?
 
A:
The city has 80 plow routes; drivers must travel to and from their assigned route locations from the maintenance facility.  Driving with the plow down would cause them to drive slower and to wear out the plow when not driving their routes.  Additionally they may be seen traveling in situations where snow accumulations are just beginning or if the trucks are traveling along areas that have already been plowed.  Lastly, the plow trucks also distribute chemicals and may be spreading de-icing materials.

Q: Why did the plow push snow up onto my shoveled sidewalk?
 
A:
Pushing snow onto sidewalks occurs when the volume of snow is great and snow storage space is minimal. We encourage our drivers to carefully plow in order for this not to occur.  It is challenging to keep the streets open and as wide as possible for the entire snow season, while trying to remove the snow and not have it end up deposited in the sidewalks.

Drivers are reminded of this prior to snow events and we provide drivers with feedback on their performance and address issues on ways to minimize snow on the sidewalks.  Sometimes it is not possible to avoid snow on the sidewalks and we need your understanding and help to clear them.

Q: Why can’t you plow like the suburbs?
 
A:
The level of on-street parking is completely different for us in Saint Paul versus that of suburban cities. We have a tremendous amount of on-street parking that suburban communities don’t have.  When Saint Paul and our neighbor to the west, Minneapolis developed, many people didn’t have a car or if they did each family had one small car. In modern times, one house can have many drivers each with their own car.  Some people don’t have driveways and rely on the on-street parking.

In addition, many of the suburban communities ban on-street parking at some level from November to April. For instance, they may do odd/even or simply ban it outright. This works for them because many of the suburban cities developed later with enough off-street parking to accommodate the need.

The biggest issue with the cars is that we need to give people notice when we are going to ask them to move their vehicles.  Our snow emergencies always begin at 9:00 pm. We try to give people as much notice or time as possible to move their vehicle. It helps all of us.

If people do not move their car by 9:00 pm. the city authorizes it’s tagging and towing teams to remove vehicles in the way of plows. Our goal is to plow the street full-width in order to create safe and passable winter driving conditions.

Q: When is downtown plowed?
 
A:
The streets within downtown are plowed during the night phase, but are not signed.

Q: What kinds of chemicals do you use besides salt to help clear the snow?
 
A:
We use sodium chloride for temperatures above 15 degrees Fahrenheit, Magnesium/sodium chloride for temps down to -10 degree Fahrenheit, sand for traction below -10 degrees Fahrenheit.  We treat our salts with brine solution to activate the salt as it is applied with ten of our “salt shakers”. This makes the salts more efficient and effective because it does not blow off the street surface. We are also exploring other technologies, such as beet juice. It is a natural product and allows salt to be more effective at lower temperatures.

Q:  A parked car was in the way before the plow came, can the plow come back?
 
A:
 Yes, residents should call (651)-266-9700 to report that a section of their street was not plowed because of an obstructing vehicle.  Street Maintenance staff will compile these reports on a “replow” list.

Once the day and night phases of the snow emergency are accomplished, plows are then directed to the areas on the re-plow list. Based on the number and severity of the re-plowing request, your particular request may be addressed after the expiration of the snow emergency due to crew availability considerations.  All locations are noted.

Q: Does the city haul snow away from intersections?
 
A:
 No, the city has 5,000 intersections within its boundaries and it is not possible to get to all of them.  Residents are required to clear intersection crosswalks of snow.  In the event that attempts have been made and it is simply not possible residents may call (651) 266-9700 for assistance. The city will do its best to respond but will prioritize requests based on safety first. The city does monitor intersections and addresses safety concerns as they are found.

Q. The piles of snow are so high at my intersection I can’t see traffic. Will the piles be removed or knocked down?
 
A.
When the snow piles are high enough for site lines to be impaired, crews use a priority list, based on traffic and pedestrian volumes, school routes to knock the snow down. The city has approximately 5,000 intersections or 20,000 corners; and because of that amount priorities are set.

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