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Posted on Tue, Feb 14, 2012 : 12:58 p.m.

Ann Arbor's real-time online snowplow tracking tool is a hit

By Cindy Heflin


A screen shot of the snowplow tracking Web page just before 11 a.m. Tuesday. Blue cones indicate the location of plows.

The City of Ann Arbor’s new online snowplow tracking tool is working like a charm.

The system was so popular with the public when it was first turned on in December it crashed from overuse, said Kirk Pennington, field operations supervisor. At least 200 people were trying to watch the city’s snowplows do their work in real time, he said.

The city has no way to monitor how many people are checking out the website, Pennington said, but has generally received positive feedback from residents.

“They like seeing where the plows are,” he said. A smaller number of people have been unimpressed, he said. “Some people feel it’s a complete waste of resources.”

The Ann Arbor City Council authorized spending $88,000 to outfit up to 100 vehicles with the system. Though other cities use similar vehicle tracking systems, this is the first one hosted by the vender, Radio Satellite Integrators, to provide public access.

However city residents may feel about the system, city officials are very pleased, Pennington said.

In addition to real-time information about where each plow is on its route, the system also tracks how much salt each plow is using and where. That means the city can identify problem areas and take steps to address those. Perhaps snow tends to drift on a particular street, for example. The city might decide to plant bushes there to act as a windscreen.

The system is also helping the city keep track of potholes. A two-way messaging system allows driver to log the location of potholes so that they can be repaired in a timely manner. The system also keeps track of the number of times a pothole has had to be repaired, thus alerting the city to problem areas that may need resurfacing.

“We knew it would meet our needs,” Pennington said. “What was completely unclear at that time was what the public’s needs were and how to effectively communicate that to them. On the management end it’s doing everything that we intended it to do and we’re discovering new uses for it.”

The city is still learning how to make use of the public interface, he said. At the moment, the real-time information can only be viewed in the Internet Explorer browser. An update to the system expected this year should make the information visible on Firefox and Google Chrome browsers, Pennington said.



Wed, Feb 15, 2012 : 3:14 p.m.

The roads are still horrible. If you were out Saturday at noon, well after the snow had ended, you would have been met with an ice rink. The intersection at Jackson and Maple was an ice rink. Cars could not get through the light because they couldn't get moving on the ice. I sat there for 30 mins waiting for my turn since only one or two could make it and that is a fairly long light. Today my neighborhood is the same...again.


Wed, Feb 15, 2012 : 3:16 p.m.

And yes I understand they don't plow unless there is 4 inches. Makes sense but if the street is a sheet of ice we are in need of salt.


Wed, Feb 15, 2012 : 3:14 p.m.

Apparently commenters here don't know that city policy is that full-on city-wide plowing isn't done unless there 4 inches or more of snow. For lighter snow and ice, they spread salt/sand and do some plowing of major streets only. I think we've only had one snowfall of 4 inches this winter. Much more information on city snow removal policies and methods here. Not that I expect anyone to read it, it's clearly much more fun to just whinge and complain about invisible snow plows. <a href="" rel='nofollow'></a>


Wed, Feb 15, 2012 : 11:43 p.m.

I have checked out the snow removal policy. I am commenting more generally. Though this has been a relatively mild winter, there have been some snowfalls in the past years, well above 4 inches, and it is these instances where I have really noticed a problem. My neighborhood was hardly touched, save for a sprinkling of salt. The side streets were nearly impassable until being packed down, after which things turned quite slick. As for the not plowing unless there are 4 inches, that's a whole different problem. 3 or so inches of snow can create slick and difficult conditions. That said, with budgets as they are, concessions need to be made.

average joe

Wed, Feb 15, 2012 : 12:04 p.m.

Since they claim there isn't a way to track the number of 'hits', how can the city say that residents are using it and are pleased that the city spent the funds for it? If it crashed at only 200 users, is that a number that indicates the city's barometer of 'success vs. failure'? The bigger questions are of course- Does the system actually make snow removal in the city more efficient, and does it make the streets safer to drive on?


Wed, Feb 15, 2012 : 11:50 a.m.

Google Analytics is free and provides a wealth of info to website owners. A monkey can turn it on...


Wed, Feb 15, 2012 : 8:23 a.m.

My needs are plowed streets and roads. How has this system met my needs? Based on my experience with the most recent snow fall, it did not satisfy my needs. Many roads in our part of the city were left untouched by plow or salt.


Wed, Feb 15, 2012 : 1:58 a.m.

How can this be possible, given that there has been only a couple of snowfalls of over 2&quot; this entire winter?

Craig Lounsbury

Wed, Feb 15, 2012 : 1:18 a.m.

I haven't seen a plow on my street either....but I'm not complaining. I live on a dead end cul-de-sac and to date we haven't had a snow that prevents my cars from moving out on the the main roads. I won't complain about a city spending frivolous money one day (art) and whine that they haven't plowed 3 inches of snow from my dead end street another day.


Wed, Feb 15, 2012 : 1:06 a.m.

Is the $88,000 to outfit the trucks the entire cost of this project? Since AATA had a line item of &quot;website&quot; at $100,000 (or it might have been $400,000), I'm wondering if there is (a lot) more money on the web-enabling, and other related costs that are not mentioned in this article. Can the average A2 citizen easily find this stuff out?

Guinea Pig in a Tophat

Tue, Feb 14, 2012 : 9:48 p.m.

&quot;The city has no way to monitor how many people are checking out the website, Pennington said....&quot; Sure they do. All they need to do is look at the Web Server Statistics of that page, which are created from the server logs from the company that's hosting the Website. Even if they don't have the statistics, they'll have the server logs. Let's see some numbers!


Wed, Feb 15, 2012 : 1:59 a.m.

A dead apache registers no hits. That said, I'll posit that this blog gets more hits than a snowplow tracker during a winter with... no snow to date.

E Claire

Tue, Feb 14, 2012 : 9:03 p.m.

Have to agree with others...I've seen no snowplows in 2 years on my street. One time last year after a heavy snowfall, they came around a few days later to sprinkle dirt. We then had not just snow and ice, but tons of mud. Maybe next time it snows, I'll come get the big metal scraper from the front of city hall and my neighbors and I can scrape the ice off our street with that.


Tue, Feb 14, 2012 : 9:01 p.m.

The site worked for an hour or two for me after the last snow, but froze at 10:23 am, presumable lunch time. It never did re-load after that.


Tue, Feb 14, 2012 : 8:23 p.m.

I have yet to see a plow, salt, or sand truck drive down my street all winter. Granted, it hasn't been a typical winter, but according to the grid, they've been down my street. I'm driving down a snow and ice-covered road, so I question the validity of the service. Sure, main roads are dandy, but the residential roads are not.


Wed, Feb 15, 2012 : 3:21 p.m.

Well played Buster...well played. For the record, I was not driving during the writing of that comment, it's hard for me to post any kind of comment on using my mobile phone. Hopefully, a mobile-friendly site is in the works.

Buster W.

Tue, Feb 14, 2012 : 8:27 p.m.

&quot;I'm driving down a snow and ice-covered road, so I question the validity of the service.&quot; Why are you texting while driving?


Tue, Feb 14, 2012 : 6:55 p.m.

In our neighborhood it is a minimum of 48 hours after a snowfall to see plows, sand or salt. Absolutely ridiculous. Perhaps this software could be used to see gaps in service, rather than just watching where they are driving? We all deserve safe streets.


Tue, Feb 14, 2012 : 6:55 p.m.

It would be interesting to see this used for the County Road Commission as well.


Tue, Feb 14, 2012 : 6:31 p.m.

This implies that there are actually snow plows working in Ann Arbor. In my five years of living here, I've found that snow plows are like sasquatches -- you hear an awful lot about them, but you never actually see them. Unless of course you live on a main road...