What Did ELi Learn from Its Snow Removal Survey?

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Andrew Graham for ELi

A City of East Lansing plow drives down Albert Street downtown on Feb. 2, 2022.

Following the winter storm on Feb. 2, 2022, East Lansing Info created a survey to gauge how well streets had been cleared after several readers wrote in to say their communities appeared not to have been plowed or remained difficult to navigate. 

The snowfall ended sometime late in the evening of Feb. 2. Most readers reported that their streets were first plowed sometime on Feb. 3, but they also expressed other concerns that we address here.

Following the storm, East Lansing’s Acting Deputy Director and Infrastructure Administrator Ron Lacasse told ELi that the Department of Public Works focused on major thoroughfares before moving onto residential streets. He said almost all residential streets were plowed at least once by 3 p.m. on Feb. 3.

In explaining why roads might appear not to have been plowed, Lacasse told ELi that “there was a thick layer of packed down snow from traffic on the local roads which did not all get removed with plowing.”

Residents of Oakwood Historic Neighborhood and Southeast Marble seemed to have fared the worst based on their responses.

One Oakwood resident reported that their street appeared to not have been plowed until after ELi’s survey. In Southeast Marble, one reader reported that “You need 4wd [four-wheel drive] to navigate many of the roads & intersections in SE Marble.”

“I had to call Public works yesterday as snow plows pushed over 12” of snow into Brookfield Circle making it impossible to drive out of the cul-de-sac,” wrote the same reader in a survey response. “The main roads are still in poor shape.”

Another resident of Southeast Marble reported having to push three different cars out of the snow. 

Some residents expressed frustration that the City, in their estimation, had not cleared the roadways well, all while the City’s snow removal ordinance requires individuals to clear snow from the sidewalks in front of their homes in a timely manner — or face a fine.

Other respondents told ELi that they were impressed with DPW’s work removing the snow, citing the department’s round-the-clock efforts and the good conditions of main thoroughfares.

“With so much snow, I feel they did a reasonably good job, and appreciate their efforts,” wrote one respondent.

“While some may see this as being caused by negligence, I would think we all need to be patient and empathetic,” wrote another. “Perhaps my views are also influenced by a desire to see lesser carbon footprint with fewer plow trips as well as lesser wear and tear on the roads by the plows. As long as the streets are navigable, even if not perfect I am content.”

Other residents, including pedestrians, pointed to other problems related to snow removal around town.

Several readers pointed out that the poor snow removal on some streets seemed to be the result of cars remaining parked on the street despite the City banning street parking through the morning of Friday, Feb. 4, after declaring a snow emergency.

One respondent said they wished that the City would issue warnings or tickets to residents who remained parked on the street, which impedes plowing.

Pedestrians also chimed in about what they saw as the hazardous conditions on sidewalks and crosswalks. One person wrote in to say that the pedestrian overpasses that cross Saginaw Street still had snow on them.

ELi reached out to the City on Feb. 10, and Lacasse told ELi that, “We typically remove the snow from the concrete approaches leading up to the pedestrian overpasses but do not usually have to remove snow from the steel portion because both are an open grate construction so much of the snow falls through and the surface does not become slippery.” (DPW inspected the overpasses and cleared snow that remained on one after ELi’s inquiry.) 

One respondent said that one stretch of Harrison Road between Grand River Avenue and Michigan Avenue had not been shoveled meaning the respondent had “to wade through 12″ of slush (frozen or melting) making it very dangerous and exhausting to walk.”

That respondent and several others also expressed concern about the conditions of crosswalks, stating that they believed City trucks used for street snow removal had pushed snow onto the sidewalk corners where pedestrians may try to cross. 

Lacasse confirmed over email on Feb. 10 that this does happen because “drivers must plow the street all the way to the curb to facilitate drainage when the snow begins to melt.”

“Our plow drivers are aware of all areas where the sidewalk is in close proximity to the street, and they do their best to keep street snow from being pushed to the sidewalk,” he further explained.

While DPW does help with snow removal on certain pedestrian pathways during and immediately following a storm, it is ultimately the responsibility of the adjacent property owner to keep paths and sidewalk ramps passable.

Through a reader question, we also found out about a program being piloted by the Michigan Department of Transportation.

One reader pointed out information shared by DeWitt Township that MDOT was using a salt brine and other agricultural byproducts instead of typical rock salt to prevent roads from icing. The hope is that other products will reduce the salt entering Michigan’s waterways as snow melts.

The salt brine reduces the amount of salt used, and other mixtures include agricultural byproducts with chlorine added to melt the snow and ice. These mixtures have freezing temperatures well below that of just water.

According to a representative from MDOT, some parts of Ingham and Eaton Counties that are serviced by MDOT’s Grand Ledge Garage are part of the pilot program. The pilot is being conducted in response to state legislation that calls for examining using liquid products on roadways. The findings will be sent to the state legislature in the winter of 2024-2025.

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