The Gazette covers City Hall, now a flood-damaged icon on May's Island in the Cedar River

Snowplow challenges, surge in crashes have City Hall thinking about new winter parking rules

In City Hall on March 20, 2008 at 3:49 am

With a jump in Cedar Rapids this winter of the number of snowplow-vehicle crashes — most of the victims of which were parked cars — the city is thinking of instituting an odd-even parking scheme all winter on some city streets, says Mike Shoger, the city’s risk manager.

Don’t start howling yet: The idea is just in the discussion phase, Shoger says, though, he adds, that some cities to the north of Cedar Rapids use such winter parking rules.

Shoger says one big culprit in this winter’s spike in snowplow-vehicle crashes – the total of 55 was twice as many such crashes as the next closest year in the last 18 — are streets where residents park on both sides.

 During a city-declared snow emergency, residents are supposed to park on the even side of the street on even days and the odd side on odd days. But some people, he says, don’t move their vehicles, which forces snowplow drivers to try to dodge those illegally parked cars.

 This winter, he says, brought so much ice and snow so frequently that vehicles were forced to park farther and farther from the curb. And getting a plow through, with cars on both sides of those streets, became almost impossible, he adds.

The idea of using an odd-even parking scheme in winter, Shoger says, would get residents in the habit of parking on just one side of the street before ice and snow arrive. At the same time, he says, it would reveal which cars are being illegally stored on the street.

“It makes life much easier if they (plow drivers) can go down one side of the street and get it all cleared off, and come back the next night and do the other side,” Shoger says.

According to city figures, 55 car owners this winter to date have filed insurance claims against the city as a result of snowplows banging into vehicles.

In the six previous winters, the number of snowplow-vehicle crashes was in the single digits each year.

To date, the city has settled 47 of the 55 claims, paying out $79,753, or about $1,700 per crash. If that average cost-per-crash figure continues, the city will pay out about $93,500 when all of the season’s claims are settled.

Last year, the city settled seven vehicle claims for $8,913.

Over the last 18 years, according to city figures, the winter of 2000-01 brought the next highest number of plow-vehicle accidents — 28. And the winter of 2004-05, bought the next highest cost to settle claims, $27,038.

Craig Hanson, the city’s public works maintenance manager, sums up the reason for the increased number of plow accidents this winter in one word: “Ice.”

The majority of the crashes, Hanson says, came when the blades of city plows bit into ice on the street, throwing the plow sideways into a parked vehicle.

In Cedar Rapids, on this winter’s worst days, city crews were hitting eight vehicles a day, Shoger reports.

In Iowa City, city plow drivers were at fault in four accidents this winter, with claims totally $5,915, according to Leigh Lewis, a management analyst in the city’s Finance Department. Last year, there was one crash, costing the city $952, and the year before, three crashes, costing $8,960, Lewis reports.

  1. For years our city did an excellent job of plowing our streets. This year the snow plowing policy changed. Our side streets were ignored and people were told to fend for themselves. I have long supported alternate side parking during the winter months. Our plow drivers did an excellent work this year considering they were working under a bad plowing policy

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