Serve the public better in second snowstorm
The Kansas City Star
Let’s begin with the obvious: The weather has dropped a big, heavy challenge into the lap of the Kansas City region. Cities in these parts don’t routinely cope with foot-deep snowfalls, much less the prospect of two in a week’s time.
With that in mind, local governments did a commendable job of getting major streets and highways open fairly quickly after last Thursday’s storm, which dropped 12 inches of snow on parts of the region in a matter of a few hours.
Now, let’s hope that performance is repeated in the expected event of another big snow beginning Monday into Wednesday.
Work on residential streets last week was more spotty. Some Kansas Citians were pleasantly surprised at how quickly their streets got plowed; others had less praise. In Overland Park, some residents expressed frustration about how long it took to get their roads cleared.
Bus service at the height of the storm couldn’t keep up. Many riders were left stranded, which is unacceptable.
In Kansas City, officials said they learned a lot from the first storm. They began putting some of the lessons to work almost immediately.
- Officials declared a state of emergency Monday morning, trying to give office workers and others more time to leave ahead of the storm hitting later in the day.
Last week, the state of emergency was issued early on Thursday — right as the heaviest snows were falling. That caused many employers to send workers home, which clogged streets and highways at the worst possible time.
- For good reasons, Kansas City and some other area cities got tough with motorists in anticipation of the second storm.
Starting Sunday afternoon, Kansas City officials warned residents to get their vehicles off the street, or park them on one side of the street (north side on east-west streets, west side on north-south streets). The city warned it could tow the cars after 9 a.m. Monday.
The ultimatum irritated some people, but the city correctly wanted to give plow trucks more room to clear the roads, and to help public safety vehicles and residential traffic get through the streets. A few other cities warned people to remove vehicles from residential streets, or they could be towed.
- The Kansas City Area Transportation Authority said it hoped to provide better service during the second storm, and that’s an absolute necessity.
Last week, dozens of ATA buses got stuck during the heavy morning snow, and the agency ended service early in the afternoon, stranding many bus-dependent people in the snow and cold. Kansas City Manager Troy Schulte said the city recognized the problem, and could make plows available to clear the way for some buses in future heavy storms, starting today if the ATA provides service.
On Monday afternoon, Johnson County’s bus agency, The JO, at least gave passengers plenty of warning by canceling all service for today.
Most people’s perspective of their local government’s ability to handle a major snow event begins at their front window. If their street is clear, they are much more likely to approve of their city’s performance.
On Friday and into Saturday, some Overland Park residents were venting on the city’s Facebook page.
“I’m about to head out and clear our cul-de-sac myself. I’ll send OP the bill for my back surgery,” a resident posted around 5:30 p.m. on Friday.
Other residents, though, posted comments congratulating the city.
Sean Reilly, Overland Park’s public information officer, said crews had made an initial pass through every city street and cul-de-sac within 31 hours after the snow stopped last week. Fifty trucks were on the roads, he said.
In Lee’s Summit, 35 trucks had made a pass over all city streets within 38 hours, beating its goal of getting to all main and side streets within 48 hours, said Bob Hartnett, deputy director of public works.
Though unwelcome, a second storm could offer cities the chance to refine their game plans.
Many plow drivers will be back working the same streets they did last week, Schulte said. They should be more familiar with where they are going and what they need to do in the neighborhoods.
However, more problems could crop up, too. Crews in the metropolitan area are in danger of being exhausted by the long hours they are working, and the potential for equipment failure increases with use.
Local city officials are right to ask residents to exercise common sense and patience when dealing with these weather tests. And residents are correct to expect that road crews and bus systems function as effectively as possible to get people where they need to be. $