During every snow emergency in Minneapolis, hundreds of parked vehicles are towed from city streets to make way for snowplows. But the tow trucks rarely visit the city’s southwest corner.
The city’s contractors towed 1,422 cars during the first two snow emergencies this year, according to city data. Sixteen of those cars were parked in southwest Minneapolis.
That doesn’t mean all southwest residents are moving their cars in time for plows to clear the roads. At least 575 vehicles there were ticketed during the same periods.
The discrepancy shows little has changed since five years ago, when tow trucks were nowhere to be seen in the southwest corner.
On Tuesday, drivers were advised to move their cars or risk getting towed for the third snow emergency in two weeks. Last week, city officials said their goal is equitable plowing, not equitable towing. That means towing more vehicles in densely populated neighborhoods, where there is more on-street parking and narrower lanes.
“There are areas that if we don’t do more towing … then they won’t get the same end result of a plowed street,” said Mike Kennedy, the city’s transportation maintenance director, who oversees snow and ice control.
Not everyone in southwest Minneapolis supports that approach. Cathy Scott, who lives in a townhouse near the western shore of Bde Maka Ska, said unplowed snow makes it difficult for her to get out of her dead-end street. As the winter drags on, cars park closer and closer to the center of the road.
If towing is the only way to get the street plowed properly, so be it, she said.
“It could only help because nothing is working right now,” Scott said. “Somehow, they’re going to have to figure out all of this snow stuff and where people are parking.”
Minneapolis spends $2.2 million a year on contracts with five towing companies. About 88 trucks pick up cars and take them to the city’s impound lot just west of downtown, which charges people $138 for a standard tow.
“We coordinate where the towing goes. We coordinate where the ticket writing goes,” Kennedy said. “The tow trucks aren’t just looking for targets of opportunity.”
Neighborhoods such as Uptown will nearly always be a priority during a snow emergency, Kennedy said. The rest is dependent on complaints and problems that city crews and tow truck drivers see in the field.
In Powderhorn, which includes several neighborhoods south of downtown, at least 1,950 cars were ticketed and 253 were towed, the most of any community. Around the University of Minnesota campus, 245 cars were towed. Phillips, which is north of Powderhorn but has a smaller population, had only 20 cars towed.
Only about a fifth of all ticketed vehicles get towed during a snow emergency, Kennedy said. That could increase if more trucks were available, but Kennedy believes the companies are maxed out.
Council Member Linea Palmisano, who represents southwest neighborhoods, said there is less of a need to tow in her ward than in areas that would otherwise become a safety hazard.
“By and large, on a lot of southwest streets, you can plow around those cars,” she said.
Still, she gets regular complaints from Scott and other residents in her ward that streets are not plowed to their full width and requests for the city to come tow cars.
“It should be done evenly, but the real goal when we’re towing is to maintain safe streets, not to penalize somebody who didn’t move their car,” Palmisano said.
More cars would likely have been towed during the first snow emergency, which was declared Jan. 28, Kennedy said.
However, the Department of Public Works got more than 200 calls during the polar vortex about dead car batteries, leading the city to cancel towing and ticketing for a third day, city records show.
Palmisano expected more cars to get towed in her neighborhoods during the snow emergency last week. Ted Davison, the district’s street supervisor, had called out trucks to pick up tagged cars on 44th Street and Beard Av. on Friday.
“Everybody can avoid a tow by complying with the rules,” Kennedy said.
More could change as the city begins to implement the 2040 comprehensive plan, Kennedy said. If southwest Minneapolis becomes denser as a result of citywide upzoning, then the freedom from the impound lot may come to an end.