Cleveland Mayor Bibb launches online snowplow tracker after January's paralyzing winter storm

A worker prepares to move road salt at a Cleveland service facility in December 2016.
A worker prepares to move road salt at a Cleveland service facility in December 2016. New Mayor Justin Bibb outlined plans to revamp the city's snow removal process Thursday. [Nick Castele / Ideastream Public Media]

Mayor Justin Bibb unveiled an online snowplow tracker Thursday as part of a revamp of Cleveland’s snow removal strategy.

The mayor and the city's Chief Operating Officer Bonnie Teeuwen briefed reporters on their plans at a virtual news conference Thursday.

Under the city’s current snow plan, crews couldn’t keep up with the intensity of the snowfall, Bibb said. About 15 inches of snow fell on the city from Jan. 16 to 17.

“Our crews worked and fulfilled the existing snow removal policy plan as written,” Bibb said. “But as many of you know, we learned quickly that plan is not good enough to meet the demands and needs of all of our residents across the city.”

The tracker, now posted on the city’s website, allows users to follow plows on a map of Cleveland as they make runs down city streets.  

The mayor also plans to add more trucks to the city’s plow fleet, he said. Five trucks ordered last fall have been held up by supply chain delays, he said. Bibb said the city will also convert 10 city-owned trucks into snowplows.

The increase in trucks will allow city crews to plow neighborhood side streets at the same time as main and secondary roads, Bibb said. Cleveland’s current plan puts residential streets last on the list for attention.  

But the city won’t be able to amend the snow plan until it acquires more plow trucks, the mayor said.

“We are working as aggressively as we can to get it done for this season, but we will keep the public abreast of the timeline and when we get additions to our fleet,” Bibb said.

The city will also organize a “tabletop exercise” to plan its response to future snowstorms, Bibb said. That simulation could help the city ensure hospitals are accessible and that bike lanes, bus routes and sidewalks are clear, he said.

The digital plow tracker was already in use at Cleveland’s snow removal headquarters, and now it is being made available to the public, city officials said. But despite this technology, plow drivers chart their routes manually on paper maps of neighborhood subsections.

City garbage trucks use a more technologically advanced system that could be applied to snowplows, Bibb said. Teeuwen said it’s possible to purchase software to design more efficient routes.

Several members of Cleveland City Council listened in on the Zoom call. Ward 8 Councilman Mike Polensek cautioned the mayor that the online tracker won’t help many older residents who lack cell phones or computers. The city’s robocalls during the storm were helpful, and the city could do more next time, he said.

During the snowstorm, many residents ended up listening to hold music while trying to call in their complaints to the city, Polensek said. The mayor said his administration is coming up with ideas to revamp Cleveland’s 311 call line.

“I take full responsibility for the fact that over 1,000 calls didn’t get answered last Monday,” Bibb said. “I take full responsibility for that.”

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