On the first day of spring, as the remnants of record-breaking late February snowstorms melted outside, attention inside Bend City Hall focused on how to better handle adverse weather next winter.
More equipment, changes to snow parking restrictions and a crackdown on private property owners who take too long to shovel sidewalks were among the possible changes the City Council heard about Wednesday.
After Bend received more than 60 inches of snow two years ago and more than 2 feet over the course of a few days last month, one challenge Bend faces is not knowing what a “normal” winter means anymore, said David Abbas, director of the city’s streets and operations department.
“You build your budget around the average storm, but then you want to have resources, policies, strategies for that next major event,” he said.
Since November, plows have driven more than 17,000 miles in Bend. More than two-thirds of those miles came on or after Feb. 25, when the first of two back-to-back snowstorms hit Central Oregon.
Plows don’t clear snow to bare pavement — by design, because city streets have obstacles like manholes, Abbas said. “Dropping that plow clear down on the pavement and hooking one of those is not fun.”
Abbas said the city received questions through social media from people asking why the streets department wasn’t ready for the snow. But the city was ready, he said. Crews worked the weekend before the snowstorms putting sand and de-icer on streets, Abbas said.
“Equipment was chained up, fueled up and ready to go,” he said.
City snowplow drivers were on the road by 4 a.m. Feb. 25, and contractors who plowed residential streets were out by 5 a.m., he said. Both groups worked around the clock for the next several days. City crews had 942 hours of overtime, and Bend paid contractors $316,000.
The city owns two graders, 15 medium-to-heavy duty plows and seven pickups with plows attached. Of the medium-to-heavy duty vehicles, seven have plows in the front, and eight have them mounted to the chassis underneath. Contractors had 18 vehicles, all of which were heavy-duty plows.
In its upcoming budget request, the streets department will ask for $555,000 for additional equipment and testing of an attachment for plows that would prevent berms from forming in driveways.
Since November, Bend residents have filed more than 1,200 requests asking for roads to be plowed. Next winter, the city plans to have an online program available that will let residents track plows in real time.
That software, which resembles the interface that users of ride-hailing services like Uber and Lyft see in their apps, was used in the city’s winter “war room” this year, City Manager Eric King said. It helped with redirecting plows to streets where emergency vehicles needed to travel.
Snow emergency parking zones, which would have temporarily restricted parking on nine streets that had problems in the 2016-17 winter, were not tested this year. Before next winter, the city may consider switching to a policy that allows parking only on alternate sides of the street during winter weather.
One other change that may come next year is a tougher approach to sidewalk snow removal. Commercial property owners have six hours after snowfall stops to clear sidewalks, and residential property owners have 24 hours, but some sidewalks in Bend are still unshoveled nearly three weeks later.
Unshoveled sidewalks are “particularly egregious” along commercial corridors like Third Street and Greenwood Avenue, Councilor Justin Livingston said. He and others, including Councilor Barb Campbell, said they were interested in having the city clear some sidewalks and bill adjacent property owners.
“A problem we have now is if someone doesn’t clear their sidewalk they end up with a ticket but we don’t end up with a clear sidewalk,” Campbell said.
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