Storm pushed Boston snow removal to limit

In 2008 the city began tracking snow plows with global positioning devices. For a major storm like last month’s blizzard, private contractors do 90 percent of the plowing. The city gives drivers Kyocera DuraMax cell phones, which transmit their location every two minutes. The Globe used the global positioning data to show the approximate routes plows took during the blizzard.
Boston overview
Neighborhood snapshot
Plow costs
Friday, Feb. 8
The black dots represent GPS pings showing the location of all snow removal equipment. The city only owns 78 plows and relies hundreds of pieces of equipment from private contractors. Before the storm, the black dots are clustered in the city’s public works yards.
Saturday, Feb. 9
As snow falls, plows crisscrossed the city. The data, represented by black marks on the map, showed that during the storm plows focused on main thoroughfares. Major roads become dark black because of the number of passes by plows. Those thoroughfares include Dorchester, Blue Hill, and Commonwealth avenues, Washington Street, and Broadway. Side streets are difficult to find because plows did not make as many passes. Some plows struggled to push the snow, which totaled more than two feet.
Sunday, Feb. 10
Plows worked through the night after taking a five-hour break Saturday afternoon. Drivers had been behind the wheel for 24 hours and the city order a break as the travel ban was lifted, which brought cars back onto roads. Plows shifted focus to secondary roads, but still struggled to push the volume of snow on narrow side streets.
Monday, Feb. 11
Mayor Thomas M. Menino expressed frustration at the pace of snow removal and said he was sorry that some side streets remained clogged and impassable. Overnight city crews attacked snow with front-end loaders and dump trucks. Some teams ¬focused on preparing the city's 125 school buildings to reopen. Others hit bus stops. A second focus was removing mounds of snow piled on curbs along the city’s 22 major arteries with a focus on the in-bound lanes. The third focus was to hit side streets and other roads that had been impassable since the storm. When work started that night, crews had a list of 78 clogged streets. By dawn, the number was down to 20 streets, city officials said.
Tuesday, Feb. 12
Front-end loaders and dump trucks returned to the city’s 22 major arteries and removed snow berms from curb along the out-bound lanes. Inspectors surveyed blocks during to check the conditions of side streets. The list of side streets that needed attention grew to roughly 50 as crews started work overnight, city officials said.
Wednesday, Feb. 13
Roughly 700 buses flood Boston’s streets as the city's 57,000 public school students return to class. Public works crews continue the snow removal operation with front-end loaders and dump trucks. Snow piles are trucked to vacant lots, where the snow can slowly melt. The cost of the cleanup will exceed more than $14 million by the end of the week.
One of the oldest neighborhoods in the city, Charlestown has narrow, hilly streets that are a challenge for even the most experienced plow drivers.
Complaint to Mayor's Hotline
GPS pings from plow
Friday, Feb. 8 — 12 p.m. to 11:59 p.m.
Before the first flakes fell, plows drive roads spreading salt. The initial focus is always hills and the main thoroughfares, including Medford, Bunker Hill, and Main streets.
Saturday, Feb. 9 — 12 a.m. to 11:59 a.m.
In the teeth of the blizzard, plows scraped main roads, pushing to keep up with snowing falling at a rate of 2 to 3 inches an hour.
Saturday, Feb. 9 — 12 p.m. to 11:59 p.m.
Snow strangled the narrow, colonial-era lanes that crisscross the neighborhood like rungs on a ladder. Calls about impassable streets flood City Hall.
Sunday, Feb. 10 — 12 a.m. to 11:59 a.m.
Conditions became hazardous as the temperature plunged. One plow slid down hill and got stuck at corner of Prescott and Harvard streets for 5 1/2 hours. Another plow got stuck three separate times in the areas of Pearl, Green, and Putnam streets. Other equipment stopped clearing roads to dislodge the plows.
Dorchester has its share of hills, narrow roads, on-street parking, and dead ends that came make plowing difficult with more than 18 inches of snow. “On a dry day, you can hardly get a car through,” said Ron Johnson, supervisor of the public works yard that includes south Dorchester. “With that much snow, it’s really difficult.”
Complaint to Mayor's Hotline
GPS pings from plow
Friday, Feb. 8 — 12 p.m. to 11:59 p.m.
Before the first flakes fell, plows drive roads spreading salt. The initial focus is always hills and the main thoroughfares, including Dorchester Avenue and Washington and Centre streets. Plows also hit many of the side streets.
Saturday, Feb. 9 — 12 a.m. to 11:59 a.m.
At the height of the blizzard, plows focused on main roads, pushing to keep up with snowing falling at a rate of 2 to 3 inches an hour. Nixon Street, a smaller road where a fire Engine 18 would later get stuck, does appear to have been hit by a plow.
Saturday, Feb. 9 — 12 p.m. to 11:59 p.m.
Residents calls City Hall about impassible road, including Nixon Street. At 11:54 p.m., the first call comes about flames at 49 Mather St. Ladder 6 arrived at 11:58 p.m. Two minutes later, Engine 18 reported it was stuck on Nixon Street. Engine 18 had broken a tire chain earlier in the day. Other trucks made it to the scene. A fire department spokesman said the stuck engine did not adversely impact the response.
Sunday, Feb. 10 — 12 a.m. to 11:59 a.m.
Plows worked to dislodge stranded vehicles like Engine 18 on Nixon Street. Other problems included another fire truck got stuck on Lithgow Street; an NSTAR truck marooned on Mather Street; and a plow stuck on Regina Road.
Most snow plows in Boston are owned and operated by contractors, who are paid depending on the type of equiptment they operate. For the record-setting blizzard in February, the City of Boston said they spent $7.8 million on contractors. Below are the hourly rates for the different types of equiptment; rates differ slightly by district, which is why there is a range for some.
Small spreader
Large spreader
$220 to $285/hour
$145 to $175/hour
Front end loader
$160 to $189/hour

SOURCE: City of Boston; map © OpenStreetMap contributors

Alvin Chang, Andrew Ryan, Gabriel Florit and Javier Zarracina/ Globe Staff

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