A week after a record-setting storm dumped more than a foot of snow across the Front Range, folks across Boulder County have been decrying what they feel have been inadequate snow removal efforts.
City officials on the other hand, have said the storm presented unique challenges that prevented certain methods from being deployed and put their resources to the test.
In either case, commuters like North Boulder resident Vivien Stark have been dealing with some bumpy and hazardous commutes.
“I drive an older car and having to deal with the streets still icy/snow packed is difficult since there are huge mounds and dips where the snow/ice have melted,” Stark wrote in an email. “My car’s suspension is taking quite the beating even when driving slow.”
‘Bicycling as an equal’
Though they may be spared the traffic, bike commuters got the brunt of the icy conditions over the past week. Chaz Teplin, who lives in South Boulder and rides his bike to work every day, said all of the shaded paths on his route were coated in ice or slush.
“I had to walk my bike much of the way today,” he wrote in an email. “Even while walking, it was treacherous. In fact, the one time I fell it was while walking my bike. I saw other riders fall, as well.”
Teplin added that the slow response from Boulder to clear bike paths he’s witnessed this year has given him concern they’re not a priority for the city.
I'm in North Boulder and it's similar. Fell twice this morning on my (walking) commute. This is the state of a major bike route in West Boulder pic.twitter.com/Xah778o8aq
— Lila Hickey (@LilaHickey) December 3, 2019
Devin Quince, a work-from-home computer programmer in Longmont and cycling advocate in his free time, said he wasn’t surprised by the snow removal efforts from Longmont due to the severity of the storm. He added, though, that he would like to see officials take bicyclists into account when planning for winter weather.
“I would just like to see them look at … bicycling as an equal form of transportation,” said Quince, who also owns Simply Bulk Market in Longmont with his wife, Heidi Quince. “… I mean, this storm is not one that anyone is happy about, whether you’re in a car, walking, biking.”
Other advocates, too, felt the response to last week’s storm left non-drivers by the wayside. Ana Lucaci, who works with Walk2Connect, a worker-owned cooperative that advocates for pedestrians and puts together organized walks, said she feels sidewalks and bike lanes are at the bottom of the city’s list of priorities after a storm.
“Everyone is a pedestrian at some point during the day (even if it’s from a parked car to a door),” she wrote in an email. “Yet cities cater to the vehicles, working to clear the roads for vehicles, but not the paths for the most vulnerable.”
— Noelle Seybert (@NoelleSeybert) December 3, 2019
And the icy conditions proved especially treacherous for the those with medical and mobility issues. North Boulder resident Kaci Wall, who recently underwent back surgery, said the slippery sidewalks have prevented her from taking prescribed walks during her recovery, taking a toll on her health and leaving her to pace across her condo.
She added that, on top of her surgery, “being confined to the home because the extensive and beautiful walking areas I’m accustomed to are completely unavailable has been an entirely unanticipated challenge.”
As opposed to main roads, clearing sidewalks is a much more difficult issue to address. For most walkways in Boulder County, the responsibility of clearing snow lies with residents and business owners.
“Like most communities, property owners are required to keep their sidewalks clear of snow and ice within 24 hours after snow stops falling,” Julie Causa, spokeswoman for Boulder’s Public Works and Planning Department, wrote in an email.
Longmont also requires sidewalks be shoveled 24 hours the snow stops.
‘No good crystal ball’
According to Bob Allen, Longmont Public Works and Natural Resources director of operations, the reason last week’s weather was so hard to tackle was that it started with rain. Longmont was unable to put a salt brine down on the road, he said, because it would have been washed away during the beginning of the storm.
Allen added that Longmont has continued to deice while plowing, though a few days ago it switched to using a liquid form of magnesium chloride, a deicing agent because it works faster in warmer weather.
Though it’s not part of normal procedure, in more severe storms both Boulder and Longmont plow residential streets. In most cases, both cities plow main arterial streets and “collector roads” that take drivers from neighborhoods onto main thoroughfares.
“With more significant events like the recent storm, once the primary and secondary streets are relatively clear (travel lanes, turn lanes, bike lanes and bus pullouts) then resources can be reallocated to the mitigation of snow on residential streets,” Causa wrote of Boulder’s procedure.
Allen said, though, that plowing residential streets can have a limited impact due to snow already being packed down by the time plows get there, and that often plowing more narrow roads can create large banks of snow that can be dangerous for drivers. He added that to provide enough drivers and extra plows to properly clear residential streets, an estimated $20 million initial investment in addition to $1 million yearly would have to be made.
Overall, he said he feels Longmont’s fleet of plows made it through last week’s storm relatively well, adding the city didn’t have any equipment breakdowns and staff was available despite it being Thanksgiving week. Boulder, too, according to Causa, worked through Thanksgiving clearing snow.
“As far as changing anything that we’ve done — the question of whether or not we go into neighborhoods and when to do that — there’s no really good crystal ball for when or how to do that,” Allen said. “And we’ll continue to learn from what we’re hearing from people and what people saw out there in their neighborhood.”