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Criticism of Denver's snow removal dates back decades

Criticism over Denver's snow removal dates back decades
Posted at 5:06 PM, Jan 20, 2023
and last updated 2023-01-20 19:39:33-05

DENVER — Erin Lanz is used to dealing with snow.

“Everything compares back to Minnesota because that’s where I grew up and that’s what I’m used to,” she said.

So, naturally, she’s critical of how other cities and states deal with snow.

“Clearly, what’s happening now is not actually working,” Lanz said while walking her dog along one of Denver’s icy, snow-packed side streets.

“I feel sorry for the people who don’t have winter tires and four-wheel drive this year,” said Bob Dellavalle, who moved to Denver from Chicago in 1997. “Chicago definitely had more plows.”

In Denver, the side streets are still a mess, and have been since the storm that hit between Christmas and the new year. They were made worse by an additional 10 inches of snow in Denver this week.

The city admits the storm before the new year caught them a bit off-guard.

“We did send a few residential plows out,” said Nancy Kuhn, spokesperson for the Denver Department of Transportation and Infrastructure (DOTI). “But by then, the snow had already been packed down.”

“It comes down to, from a city standpoint, how much equipment do they want to invest in,” said Stephen Leonard, professor of history at Metropolitan State University of Denver.

Leonard says the problem with side street snow removal in Denver dates back to a storm in 1913 that dumped more than 45 inches of snow on Denver in a matter of four or five days. It has even led to a mayor or two getting buried in their bids for re-election.

“Mayor McNichols said at one point, "The people who think I can make it snow think I can make it go away,"” Leonard said. “Christmas of 1982, in excess of 20 inches. Some people have blamed his defeat on that. He was running for re-election in 1983.”

Leonard says the history is complicated, but you can basically break it down to four main things:

  • Monster snow storms are somewhat rare in Denver.
  • The Sun typically does come out and melt things.
  • De-icer was contributing to the brown cloud above Denver, so people didn’t want the city using it on side streets.
  • Denver has never really invested in a lot of snow removal equipment like those upper Midwest cities.

“I rarely see a snow plow, unless they’re out on the highways,” Lanz said.

So here we are – no sun, very few plows and a city stuck in a rut.

“We do get sun,” Dellavalle said. “Most of the time, it works. Occasionally, it doesn’t.”

“Do better,” Lanz joked. “Come up with a plan. You need a plan first.”

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