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Boston goes on the offensive in battle against snow

One of the city's new snow blowers was at a Department of Public Works facility in Boston.Keith Bedford/Globe Staff

Boston's annual rites of winter began quietly Sunday night when the season's first deployment of salt trucks rumbled across the city in anticipation of icy weather.

It was a false alarm, because the temperature remained above freezing, but painful memories persist from the recording-breaking 110 inches of snow that did not melt until July (at least on one wretched pile). The hard lessons from last winter explain why Mayor Martin J. Walsh posed Tuesday with the city's gleaming new 13-foot-tall snow blower.

"It seems like yesterday the last pile of snow melted," Walsh told nearly two dozen journalists at a snow press conference on a sunny afternoon with temperatures above 40 degrees. "Some of the reporters said to me, 'Are you seriously having a conversation about snow?' "


"We figured," Walsh said, "we'd better get ahead of it."

This winter, the city will follow the example of Montreal by using more of the massive snow blowers to remove snow from streets instead of pushing it with plows. Last winter, snow soared dozens of feet high on corners, choking streets and making sidewalks impassable. The hope is the new equipment will change that.

Snow blowers fill dump trucks, which haul winter's remains off of Boston's twisting Colonial-era roads. The dump trucks take loads to designated fields in industrial sections of the city.

"Rather than pushing it on corners, we'll be able to take it off the street and get it out of the way," Walsh said. "We're going to create something new. What we do here in Boston, I think a lot of major cities here in America are going to copy us."

Walsh said he envisions the city each year buying another piece of equipment so Boston can go "from a city that used to push the snow around to a city that actually takes the snow off the street."


The shift from a city of snow pushers to a city of snow blowers will take time. The city of Boston long ago outsourced much of its snow removal efforts. Roughly 90 percent of Boston's plows and salt trucks are private contractors.

Last winter as streets deteriorated, the city borrowed six snow blowers. This summer, Walsh's administration purchased two snow blowers for $640,000. The city has asked 15 contractors to obtain similar equipment, which the city would rent at an hourly rate.

"The plan is to open up the major arteries much quicker than we did last year," said Michael Dennehy, Boston's interim commissioner of public works.

The city increased its snow removal budget to $22.6 million, a jump of more than 22 percent from last year's appropriation of $18.5 million. The city ultimately spent nearly $40 million last year.

Top city officials urged residents to be mindful of their elderly neighbors and the homeless. Boston's shelter system can accommodate 1,470 people, and officials have worked with the state to create 180 to 200 more beds, according to the city's housing chief, Sheila Dillon.

"We really hope the general public helps us look out for the homeless and look out for seniors," Dillon said. "We're here to help."

Walsh also made clear that the city would continue to allow residents to use orange traffic cones, folding chairs, and other household debris to save shoveled parking spaces for 48 hours after snowstorms. That excludes the South End, which will extend its pilot program prohibiting space savers, Walsh said.


The 48-hour rule is rarely enforced, and last year many residents saved parking spots for much of the winter.

"We just ask everyone be respectful of each other and the hard work [other people did shoveling] the spaces," Walsh said.

Andrew Ryan can be reached at andrew.ryan@globe.com Follow him on Twitter @GlobeAndrewRyan.