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Public Angst Prompts St. Louis City To Plow Side Streets

Jason Rosenbaum/St. Louis Public Radio

Updated 4:58 p.m. 1/10/13 with map of plow requests.

For the first time in recent memory, the city of St. Louis is plowing its residential streets. 

It’s a policy shift that came amid widespread complaints that the city did an inadequate job of cleaning up after Sunday’s snowstorm. 

St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay said on Thursday that plow trucks began work on the city's side streets at 1 p.m. He expected the streets to be clear by Friday’s morning rush hour.

He said the policy change was necessary because the city’s roads became impassable after Sunday’s heavy snowfall and bitter cold.

“Because the city has so few major snowstorms and because cars at one time were much heavier, that policy has been historically adequate,” Slay said. “But that policy has not served us well this time. A lot of our constituents have smaller cars that are too light to get through a foot of snow. Too many people have been getting stuck on these side streets. Too many people cannot get off their streets.”

“They’re angry and I hear them,” he added.

Slay said the policy shift is experimental. And he also said that some people might not be happy with the change.

“There’s a tradeoff here,” Slay said. “The streets will be clear. But the plows will create, in some cases, very large snow banks. So, be ready to shovel yourself in and out of your parking space or your driveway.”

One challenge: Many of the city’s side streets are narrow. And many houses or apartment complexes don’t have driveways or garages, which means residents park their cars on the streets.

St. Louis City Streets Department director Todd Waelterman said he wanted to see how challenging it would be for a plow to handle the residential streets. So, he drove a truck through a side street. 

Credit Jason Rosenbaum/St. Louis Public Radio
St. Louis City Streets Director Todd Waelterman says the new policy won't please everybody.

“It helped get my frame of mind about how difficult it is. And it is,” Waelterman said. “And we’re going to hit a few cars. And we’re going to have some problems. And we’re going to take a few mirrors off some cars. But it’s all about removing this snow and trying to do it in the safest manner possible.”

The city’s performance after the snowstorm spawned a decidedly negative reaction on social media sites like Twitter and Facebook.  Some of the city’s political figures were equally disgruntled. St. Louis Board of Aldermen President Lewis Reed said in a letter sent to several media outlets that “given a crucial opportunity to demonstrate government effectiveness and its role in improving quality of life for residents, we failed at one of our essential duties.”

After the mayor's announcement, Slay spokeswoman Maggie Crane said that reaction to the policy change “hasn’t been as cut and dry as you might think.” She said not everyone is in favor of plowing side streets, for fear of their cars getting snowed under.”

She said St. Louis residents can register their opinion on the issue by going to Slay’s website

It’s possible that Friday’s  forecast could help the situation. Temperatures are forecasted to rise into the 40s – which should melt some of the snow.

Update from Friday, Jan 10:

St. Louis Aldermanic President Lewis Reed's office released a map Friday afternoon of all of the requests for snow plow service from Sunday through Friday at 11 a.m. They say there were more than 750 requests from all 79 St. Louis neighborhoods:

And what about other cities handling this giant dump of snow and ice? Here's a look from our friends in Chicago at WBEZ - they tracked snow plows and collected images from what their communities faced.

Jason is the politics correspondent for St. Louis Public Radio.