City’s downtown snow plowing/snow removal policy: dumb-ass or not?

Downtown resident and building owner Bart de Malignon sent me his photos of the results of the City’s snow plowing this morning in downtown Northfield after last night’s 3-4” snowfall.

He didn’t like what he saw.

snow plowing in downtown Northfield snow plowing in downtown Northfield snow plowing in downtown Northfield snow plowing in downtown Northfield snow plowing in downtown Northfield

I’ve not thought a lot about this but the City’s policy seems reasonable to me.

The trucks plow the snow to the curb after a snowfall which, of course, makes parking difficult for the day.  I think that’s better than pushing the snow onto the sidewalk, making walking on the sidewalk difficult for the day or forcing retailers to do a lot of sidewalk shoveling.

City crews return late at night after a snowfall to remove all the snow from downtown.  Doing it twice wouldn’t be cost-effective.

Is there a better way for the City to do downtown snow plowing/removal?

12/10 1 pm update:

Here are three photos from January 2005 showing downtown snow removal.

downtown Northfield snow removal downtown Northfield snow removal downtown Northfield snow removal


  1. Griff, I must be missing something. Are you just trying to get me going?

    First, the trucks do not plow the snow “to the curb” as you say (“curb to curb” in Joel Walinski’s words) – they plow it from the middle of the street into the parking spots. Look at the photographs. Pushing the snow “onto the sidewalk” isn’t a reasonable option and why you would consider that is beyond me.

    You say, “City crews return late at night after a snowfall to remove all the snow from downtown. Doing it twice wouldn’t be cost-effective.” Wait a minute. Isn’t that exactly what they’re doing now – plowing the middle of the street into the parking spaces (once) and then returning the next night to remove the snow (twice.)?

    You continue, “Is there a better way for the City to do downtown snow plowing/removal?” OK. How about this for a radical idea: Plow the city streets and REMOVE the snow at the same time!

    Since the streets are vehicle-free by ordinance after November 15th. How about plowing the snow from the curb to the center line of the street and picking it up at the same time?

    Seems like a no-brainer to me.

    Bart de Malignon

    December 9, 2008
  2. Marvin Korbel said:

    I own two businesses in downtown Northfield. I agree with Bart’s comment about snow-plowing downtown! It is a hazard to everyone. Customers have to crawl through snow banks to get into businesses and it is ridiculous. The city of Northfield should first plow main street and then plow the side streets in Northfield. The way it is done now is a free for all – parking. People are parking all over the place. I don’t know who thought up the way Northfield plows, but it sure was not a downtown business owner! Holiday shopping is tough enough without having customers and business owners worry about safety, liability and snow. Hopefully this will be changed so we can all enjoy the holidays in downtown Northfield.

    December 9, 2008
  3. kiffi summa said:

    I agree with Bart: I think he has spent a long time living downtown and seeing the effects firsthand of the problems of snow plowing.
    I will, however, say that snowplowing has to be one of the most frustrating operations the city has. It just won’t snow on a convenient and predictable schedule!
    Maybe if NF was REALLY a “Special Place” it would only snow from 11:30 pm to 3 am, and we’d get up and the streets would be plowed, cleanly, and to the curb.
    OK. Seriously… What about this? What about trying the method used in some towns where the snow is plowed AWAY from curb, to the middle of the street, creating a divider … and then removed during the night after it gets too high.
    Couldn’t we just try that and see what the reaction is?
    I think the merchants need all the help they can get this winter, and this is a way to TRY to help without the EDA giving them them all a Christmas, Hanukah, Kwanzaa present.
    I fear we are going to have some serious retail closings after the first of the year.

    December 9, 2008
  4. John S. Thomas said:

    Being a native Montanan, and living right on the Continental Divide, where snow is very heavy at times, I always wondered about the snow removal plan here in Northfield. It seems odd how it is done here.

    The snow removal plans for our downtown include no night parking.

    Parking is restricted completely at all times until the snow is removed.

    All of the snow is plowed from the curb to the center of the road, right on the center line from one end of downtown to the other.

    Then a long semi-trailer dump truck pulls up along side a rotary plow on a loader…

    I found this site, that shows how it is done. It is done quickly and efficently.

    Check it out! It would be nice to have something like this in Northfield, and not congested streets. 😎

    BTW, I think the city does a decent job of snow removal, but it is hindered by policy and process. Had the city been allowed to get out and plow last night, they could have done a lot. I drove through downtown at 10 minutes to six this morning, and saw a plow with the plow up at Bridge Square. All he was doing was throwing salt/solution down on the snow.

    The Public Works department has a thankless job. They are always out, and trying to take care of business, but have folks like us telling them how to do their jobs. 😎 I do appreciate them, even if they plow in my driveway… At least I can get somewhere later in the day.

    I think the plan shown is do-able. The only part the city probably doesn’t have is the rotary. Loading by bulldozer back and forth into the side of a semi-truck is SLOW and not very fuel efficient. The purchase of a rotary would probably pay for itself in saved fuel costs in a couple of seasons.

    December 9, 2008
  5. John S. Thomas said:

    I should say the “snow removal plan for our downtown” references the city in Montana that I used to live in, not our current snow removal plan in Northfield. I just wanted to clarify.

    December 9, 2008
  6. I know for a fact that when the city pushes the huge pile of snow in front of the museum our traffic to the museum goes down!! This is crazy, I agree they should and can remove the snow the same time they plow it. They expect us business owners to clean the sidewalks, so why can’t we expect clean streets.

    December 9, 2008
  7. Griff Wigley said:

    John T, the city does have a big rotary rig (snowblower) that shoots the snow into the dump trucks. I was told by a police officer this morning that it’s currently broken.

    December 10, 2008
  8. John S. Thomas said:

    Ah! That would explain it!

    When I came through downtown this morning, they had it all plowed to the centerline, and were aggressively working on its removal.

    I was thinking about it this morning. I wonder if the 1 day delay is necessary so that the city can contact the dump truck vendor to facilitate the movement of the snow.

    The dumpers did not appear to be city owned, so maybe the delay is a scheduling thing?

    Either way, its getting done.

    There has to be a balance… If we want instantanious services for this city, we have to be willing to pay for it with increased taxes and fees.

    The downtown district gets very good snow removal, it just takes a day or two to get it.

    December 10, 2008
  9. Griff Wigley said:

    Bart, I chatted a bit with Joel Walinski last night at the Ames Park open house.

    Evidently one problem with your suggestion to plow “the snow from the curb to the center line of the street and picking it up at the same time…” is that the large mound of snow in the middle of the street is arguably a bigger hindrance than the smaller amounts of snow in the parking spaces.

    All the various delivery trucks that make stops along the downtown streets would not be able to have access while the center mound is there and Joel thinks that merchants would NOT want to go without deliveries for a day.

    Some of this might be staff availability, too. Trying to pull all city crews just for downtown first thing in the morning when they have the whole city to plow might be a problem, too.

    Joel said he’s open to new ideas on how the plowing/snow removal could be done. They did look at it a few years ago when Heidi Hamilton was City Engineer. But that was before we had a Locally Grown blog to help solve all our problems. 😉

    December 10, 2008
  10. kiffi summa said:

    Downtown at 7:45 … and they were doing the plow from curb to center thing, and thenpicking up the center row, and it was great! Salting afterwards at the curb, and by 10 AM it was better than it’s ever been.

    Thanks Joel, or whoever decided to try this.

    December 10, 2008
  11. Griff Wigley said:

    Kiffi, you have a good memory but it’s short. 😉

    I’ve added 3 photos to the blog post above showing downtown snow removal in January, 2005. One photo shows the rotary attachment on the front-end loader, too.

    December 10, 2008
  12. kiffi summa said:

    Griff: Are you being sarcastic? I never saw a rotary attachment either this a.m. or ever! Have you been spending too much time over at the NFNews blog?

    I was just saying I thought they did a great job this morning … HOWEVER… they did it.


    December 10, 2008
  13. Griff Wigley said:

    Kiffi, yes, I was teasing about your memory!

    When you wrote “Thanks Joel, or whoever decided to try this” it indicated to me that you thought this was a new procedure when they’ve actually been doing it for years. And as I commented above, the rotary is currently broken so that’s why you didn’t see it in use yesterday.

    As for the formal policy, Joel’s Friday memo just got posted and in it, he includes the snow plowing procedures… but it’s not detailed enough to address the concerns raised here.

    Snow Removal: Given the first significant snow fall of the season this week, here is a review of the Public Works Division’s current measurement standards of achievement for snow removal:

    • Full snow removal is only completed after a 2 inch or more snow fall.
    • Complete removal of snow, plowing curb to curb, is completed within 12 hours from the end of the snowfall.
    • Downtown snow removal is completed within 72 hours from the end of the snowfall.
    • During the snowfall, the focus of the snow plowing is on priority routes to assist public safety and emergency response.
    • Priority routes are treated with a Calcium Chloride solution to help with snow removal and reduce snow build up.
    • The use of salt and abrasives is used primarily to reduce icy conditions at intersections and road inclines.
    • These standards were developed given the current staffing levels and approved budgets.
    December 11, 2008
  14. […] not?  I stand by City Adminstrator Joel Walinski and the City street department’s policy. So qwitcherbellyaching, Bart, and get out there and dig some trenches for […]

    February 27, 2009

Leave a Reply