Icicles hang from an awning at 109 E. Milwaukee St. in Janesville as a plow clears snow on a cold day in 2015. City Operations Director John Whitcomb recently spoke at a Janesville City Council meeting to answer questions about snow removal operations.

Dan Lassiter


Winter is almost upon us, which means the streets soon will be covered with snow—and dozens of city trucks plowing it and spreading salt.

While city crews do most of the hard work, residents are partly responsible for snow removal.

Operations Director John Whitcomb recently spoke at a Janesville City Council meeting and answered several frequently asked questions about the city’s snow removal operations.

Q: What is a snow emergency?

A: A snow emergency is when snow accumulation reaches at least 2 inches, requiring that vehicles be removed from city streets to allow for plowing. The city uses news alerts, social media and other resources to declare snow emergencies. Police will cite vehicles that haven’t been moved off public streets during snow emergencies.

Q: Is a snow emergency in effect every time it snows?

A: No. The city likely will not declare a snow emergency in advance if the forecast maximum is 2 to 3 inches. The decision to plow might not come until near the end of a snowfall.

“Usually it’s those borderline 2-, 3-, 4-inchers where we’re debating whether or not we’re going to plow, and we may not initiate a snow emergency because it’s a little late in the game to get people to get their vehicles off their street, and we realize doing that generates a whole lot of complaints,” Whitcomb said.

Q: What happens if there are 2-plus inches of snow on the roads and I haven’t heard a snow emergency has been declared?

A: Under city ordinance, a snow emergency is automatically in effect as soon as 2 inches of snow have accumulated.

“I’d err on the side of caution and say it’s time to get my vehicle off the street,” Whitcomb said. “That’s the safest thing to do and does help our plowing operations tremendously.”

Q: Do snow plow drivers have to deposit snow in my driveway?

A: Yes. It’s an unavoidable inconvenience.

“It doesn’t pay to call to complain about that because that’s where the snow is going to go,” Whitcomb said. “That’s life in Snowville.”

Q: It stopped snowing several hours ago. Why isn’t my street plowed?

A: It takes about 10 hours to plow all city streets after a snowstorm ends.

“Someone is first, someone is last on those routes,” Whitcomb said.

Q: Will you salt my residential street? It’s slippery.

A: Rarely, though there are exceptions, such as during a freezing rain. A salt/sand mix is sometimes used on residential streets if they’re icy, but bare pavement isn’t the goal on residential streets. Instead, the city concentrates on clearing main streets, where 90 percent of driving occurs.

“The message here is adjust your driving habits to the conditions of the residential streets and slow down,” Whitcomb said.

Q: I saw a plow driver with the plow blade up with snow on the pavement. Why aren’t the drivers plowing?

A: There are two likely reasons: Light snow might require only salt application, or the plow driver is leaving his route to get more salt, repair equipment or change shift. Generally there’s a good reason if you see a driver’s plow blade up.

Q: Can I shovel snow from my sidewalk or driveway into the road?

A: No. It violates city ordinance and creates a safety hazard.

“We don’t get too worked up about this if your street hasn’t been plowed yet, but one good way to ruin the plow driver’s day is to clean your driveway and push all that material out into the street after he or she has gone by and plowed your street,” Whitcomb said.

Q: My postal carrier indicates mail can’t be delivered. Is the city responsible for clearing in front of my mailbox?

A: No. That falls on the property owner or tenant. The city is responsible for clearing snow off streets as best it can.

Q: I have a decorative flower box installed on my terrace, and city plowing operations damaged it. Will the city replace or repair it?

A: No. Residents who install decorative flower boxes or other structures in the public right-of-way do so at their own risk. The city will replace decorative mailboxes damaged by snow plow operations with standard mailboxes.

“The city simply cannot have that kind of liability,” Whitcomb said.

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