As Christmas and snow emergency season approached, it seemed a good idea to the folks at St. Paul’s Public Works Department to gauge residents’ perspectives on how their streets are plowed. Brave souls those public works employees must be.
But, as it turns out, many St. Paulites say they are pleased. Really.
On Tuesday, the department released the results of a citywide survey that asked more than 1,300 residents to share their opinions about how well, and often, the city plows its streets during snow emergencies and snow events. The results, said Public Works Director Kathy Lantry, were not cringe-inducing but, rather, eye-opening.
“We are pleased to learn that residents are generally happy with our work,” she said. “But we know we can always do better. A big concern is a gap in understanding between the services we provide and the services residents think we provide.”
One example of that gap: Most of the more than 400 residents who responded expect residential streets to be plowed within 24 hours of any snowfall. Mind you, St. Paul has more than 1,874 miles of streets.
“We have never made a focused enough communications plan saying, ‘Here is what we do during a snow event and here is what we do in a snow emergency,’ ” Lantry said. “We have people who think that if Maplewood is plowing residential streets, ours must be as well. But many suburbs have complete parking bans after a snow, or night parking bans. In St. Paul, we have a really tiny window.”
Generally speaking, 3 inches or more of snowfall triggers a snow emergency. But not always.
And while plows can be on arterial roads when snow starts to fall, residential streets may not get plowed for days. It all depends on weather conditions and if streets are considered passable, Lantry said.
Lantry’s goal is for Public Works to be “adaptable and flexible based on changing conditions and the drivability of our streets, but also based on changing weather conditions,” she said.
Other key survey findings:
• More than 75 percent of respondents think that the overall effectiveness of snow emergencies is satisfactory or better.
• Nearly 80 percent think that the city’s communication during a snow emergency is satisfactory or better.
Lantry said the survey will help guide the department planning and communications in coming months. A new e-newsletter, Public Works Watch, is part of that effort. Public Works officials also plan to conduct a follow up survey in 2016 to measure progress, Lantry said.