Monday, February 15, 2010

On This Date In The War On Snow

ere's a link to my Channel 4 Action News report tonight examining Mayor Ravenstahl's 2008 plan for snow removal in the wake of citizen complaints at the time. The plan was announced two years ago today.

I did contact Mayor Ravenstahl's Press Secretary Joanna Doven, asking to interview the mayor himself for the story but was told he was not available. She did provide this map of street salting routes which was developed as part of the plan. She explains that "red means state road, yellow means primary, blue means secondary, and green means tertiary. Each division has a list of priority roads".

Here are three of my questions for the mayor, along with the answers from Public Works Director Rob Kaczorowski, as seen in my TV report:

Q: When was the state-of-the-art snow removal and (computerized) routing system --"RouteSmart" -- put in place, and is he satisfied with how that system is working?

A: "RouteSmart at that point, wasn't useful to us. Actually the part of the legwork that we did took us about two years. It's completed and this is all fieldwork that was done by two people."

Q: Did the city benchmark Pittsburgh against other cities -- and what best practices elsewhere have been adopted?

A: "I couldn't find a city that had actually the type of terrain and challenges that we have here in the City of Pittsburgh -- parking on both sides of hilly, narrow streets."

Q: Does the city now install snow plows on refuse trucks -- and did it do so during this year's big storm?

A: "We found out in the early seventies when it was tried that it led to numerous accidents and it was actually more detrimental than helpful."

Below is Mayor Ravenstahl's news release from February 15, 2008.

Date: February 15, 2008
Contact: Alecia Sirk, Press Secretary

PITTSBURGH (February 15) Mayor Luke Ravenstahl is fired up about the the Department of Public Works inconsistent removal of snow and ice, the remnants of which have left some side streets impassable.

After fielding complaints from a number of residents, the Mayor cancelled his afternoon meetings Thursday for a tour of City neighborhoods, to see for himself where travel routes were still frozen.

"I am putting my full attention on getting these issues resolved," Mayor Ravenstahl said. Sure, Mother Nature can deal us a rough hand in the winter months. But we should not make excuses, we should make changes."

Mayor Ravenstahl convened a meeting with top City officials after returning to the office and, effective today, the Mayor has announced the implementation of a snow and ice mitigation plan for Pittsburgh:

1. The promotion of Rob Kaczorowski to Deputy Director of Operations for the Department of Public Works, a move that will require no pay increase. The Deputy Director, to serve under DPW Director Guy Costa, will be charged with supervising and managing all operations for the Department, including snow and ice removal. Current Deputy Director Mike Gable will be named Deputy Director of Administration, charged with supervising the administrative aspects of Pittsburgh's largest non-public safety related department.

2. The purchase of the best state-of-the-art snow removal and routing system available. The system will be in place no later than December 2008. Staff will also be benchmarking Pittsburgh against other cities to identify and evaluate best practices that could be useful for Pittsburgh.

3. The installation of snow plows onto refuse trucks for use on larger, primary streets, freeing up other trucks to clear the side streets.

4. The requirement that existing snow and ice removal routes will be adhered to, barring a major emergency, regardless of who calls the Department or the City.
"For decades, plows have been inefficiently being moved from one part of the City to another based on calls to City and Council offices, wasting time and missing entire sections of neighborhoods," Mayor Ravenstahl said. "The existing snowplow and deicing routes will be followed for the remainder of this winter, sticking to their plans and cleaning every neighborhood, street by street and block by block."

Then changes come just before a week in which at least three days of flurries are predicted.

"We can do better and we will do better, " Mayor Ravenstahl said. "All of our resources should be mobilized when our residents need us. With these changes, I will see to it that the City doesn't melt down when faced with snow and ice."



Anonymous said...

That is classic. One lame, even dismissive, excuse after another for why a city department couldn't do what it is supposed to do, or what it promised to do.

They found that in the 1970s--1970s!--plows on garbage trucks caused problems?! Then why didn't somebody tell the mayor that before he said in 2008 that they would do that?

They couldn't find any city with comparable geography? Bull. Philly has steep hills, so does Baltimore. Even Cleveland has hills for goodness sake. Yeah, no city is exactly like any other city, but try, just try at least, to find some commonalities that might help improve things here at home. But no. Instead, give a stupid answer that you know is stupid and is essentially the same as saying, "Shove it. We do what we want and if you don't like it, shut up."

It's kind of along the lines of the buck passing excuse that local public officials often employ--oh, councilman X can't do that, public safety has to sign off, oh, public safety can't do it, that's DPW's job, oh, DPW can't do it cause of state laws, oh, if the mayor signs off it will get done, oh, the mayor can't get in involved, call your councilperson ...

And so it goes.

EdHeath said...

Yeah, what anonymous said.

No, those were absolutely valid points (s)he made. I have never been to Philly or Baltimore, but they do seem like they are of our approximate age and there fore have similar streets. Boston would be another one. And we could certainly look at Buffalo, Ithaca, Rochester and even places like Burlington to see what cities that get *more* snow do. The cities we look at do not have to match us exactly in geography, age and snowfall.

I didn't see your report, so I don't know what all you asked Kaczorowski. But from what you posted, it seems like there are answers screaming for a follow up. For example, "RouteSmart at that point, wasn't all that useful to us." What does that mean? How was the software not useful? Did it look at the number of plows and advise the user to call in the National Guard? Was the software not able to accept crucial parameters like the locations of important elected officials (excluding Peduto, Shields and Kraus) and important party committee-persons? Next, "the part of the legwork we did took us about two years"??? Ok, the City tasked two people for the "war on snow"? That seems more like a "mild dislike of, timidly expressed so as not to annoy, snow". Two people, working for two years? What were they doing, using a ruler to measure curbs every foot of every block of street? Did the dog grab their work and they had to chase him for a year? Did the one armed man kill Dr Richard Kimble's hamster ... you get the idea.

The really insulting thing is that even though the Mayor is blowing a fair amount of hot air over this, he would answer your questions and will do nothing concrete to make sure this doesn't happen again. That's because he just won a re-election (relatively recently) and doesn't have to worry about this hurting him.

Better Gvmt said...

Mayor Ravenstahl has become an embarrassment to our city. Apart from his lack of accessibility, poor forward planning, including but certainly not limited to snow plowing, apparent "coziness" with certain businessmen that will expect something in return for their support and accommodations, lack of common sense in attempting to tax students, etc. etc., his recent testiness to reporters (underwear, socks) speaks to his overall lack of class.

Luke, time to be gone - voluntarily or otherwise!