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Posted on Thu, Dec 29, 2011 : 5:59 a.m.

New online tool allows Ann Arbor residents to track city's snowplows in real-time

By Ryan J. Stanton


A screenshot of the city of Ann Arbor's new snow removal tracking tool, which allows members of the public to track the city's snowplows essentially in real-time.

Waiting for a snowplow to come through your neighborhood? Want an update on where the city's snowplows are at and which roads have been cleared already?

A new online tracking tool launched by the city of Ann Arbor now allows members of the public to follow the city's snow removal efforts essentially in real-time.

The Ann Arbor City Council last year approved spending $88,000 to equip up to 100 city vehicles, including 47 snow removal vehicles, with GPS tracking technology.


Craig Hupy, the city's interim public services area administrator, addresses the Ann Arbor City Council earlier this month.

Ryan J. Stanton |

Craig Hupy, the city's interim pubic services area administrator, said 14 large snowplows and 33 smaller vehicles used for snow and ice removal are now equipped.

"Our primary goal is to increase the efficiency and effectiveness of snowplowing operations," Hupy said.

The tool allows members of the public to view a color-coded map showing the different snow removal routes. It provides a real-time view of all active snowplows and vehicles spreading sand and salt in the city, including the specific location of every vehicle, the speed at which it's traveling, and the direction it's headed.

The city has different guidelines for snow removal depending on how much snow or ice has accumulated. When there is light snow — meaning less than 4 inches — or ice conditions, about 98 miles of major streets are cleared with chemical de-icing agents.

When heavier snowfall of 4 inches or more occurs, street plowing begins with the city using all salt and plow trucks and available staff in field operations, including employees from the street maintenance, solid waste, utilities and parks areas.

At that point, all snow removal equipment is staffed on a 24-hour schedule — in 12-hour shifts — until all city-maintained streets are cleared. According to city officials, the goal is to clear all major and residential streets within 24 hours of an average 4-inch snowstorm.

The city has 197 miles of local residential streets, which are a second priority to major arterial streets during snowstorms. The city also is responsible for removing snow from 58 miles of city-maintained bicycle paths and sidewalks fronting city-owned properties.

The city staffs a snow desk that answers phones and manually posts information on the city’s website about the progress of snow removal efforts during storms. Hupy said the snow desk will be staffed again this winter as the city tests out the new GPS tracking system.

But if the tracking tool proves effective, Hupy said, the goal is to move away from staffing the snow desk and reduce the need for answering public inquiries during snowstorms.

The city hasn't yet had a major snow event to truly test the new online system, which went live Dec. 19.

According to University of Michigan weather observer Dennis Kahlbaum, the city hasn't had 4 inches of snow within a 24-hour period yet this winter.

According to statistics tracked by Kahlbaum, Ann Arbor saw about 3 inches of snow on Dec. 5 and about 3.5 inches between Nov. 29 and Nov. 30. Tuesday brought about 1.3 inches.

Ryan J. Stanton covers government and politics for Reach him at or 734-623-2529. You also can follow him on Twitter or subscribe to's email newsletters.



Wed, Feb 15, 2012 : 5:18 p.m.

Looks like a great idea and a great app. But I see no map legend, or any description of how to read or use it. If there is, someone please clue me in. Is it for mobile devices, adaptable to car GPS systems? Does it only track snow plows, but not streets plowed? I don't think many complaints about this would appear if the device were intuitively useful.

Robert J

Fri, Dec 30, 2011 : 4:49 p.m.

Poor plow truck drivers. They arent even going to beable to stop and get a coffee without people jumping down their thoats.


Fri, Dec 30, 2011 : 4:43 p.m.

Another thought: Who cares what I (and we) think? The important thing is if the people who do the work say it is a benefit for them, yes it is worth the money. Any tool that will help them - all of them - is good. I hope they ran this by the people who do the work for their opinion on needed tools to do their work. That is what good management is supposed to do, give the employees what they need to do their work well, not just buy the toys that come on the market. These guys work hard, do a tough job, and deserve all the respect we can offer them. I thank them for their efforts. So everybody, when you pass a truck, wave to them to let them know you appreciate their work.


Fri, Dec 30, 2011 : 4:41 p.m.

Putting the GPS systems on the outdated Ann Arbor snow removal equipment is like putting lipstick on a pig. How about some new equipment to increase efficiency and effectiveness if that is your primary goal.


Fri, Dec 30, 2011 : 4:29 p.m.

Okay, whoopie. I do not get it though. I think it is good for the dept to be able to track the equipment, but how is it a benefit to the public? Just because you can watch a truck on a particular street does not necessarily mean that truck will be coming down your street soon. You may be sitting there watching it drive past your street. Then what? Pick up the phone I guess. I have a feeling it will result in a lot of phone calls from people complaining about what the drivers are doing, where they are going, why not more on the streets and on and on.


Fri, Dec 30, 2011 : 2:57 p.m.

Who cares? Save the money and just plow my streets!

E. Crowe

Fri, Dec 30, 2011 : 1:13 p.m.

Last year's budget or not, this system is another expense that this city could do without. Another expense that consumes resources that could be better spent performing a task more pressing and basic to the community... Basics (police, fire, municipal functions) first, then art, then Internet tracking tools... Leadership, not politics.


Fri, Dec 30, 2011 : 5:10 a.m.

What a waste of money. This is a typical Ann Arbor feel-good solution to appease the small number of squeaky wheel complainers. While this is a nice system for those people with enough spare time to sit and watch a computer screen while the rest of the world does productive things, it doesn't actually make the system any more efficient or effective. Let's face it... All any of us cares about is that OUR street is plowed. Everybody thinks that their street is the most important thoroughfare in town and will complain endlessly until it is plowed. Then they will complain that the trucks plowed in their cars which were parked on the street. Just because people can see where a truck is does not mean they know where it is going, if it even has any salt left onboard or if the plow is down. So they will still call the snow desk. And the snow desk sounds like an equal waste of money. Seriously? We pay tax money so somebody can personally answer all the losers who call to complain that their street isn't plowed yet? This is Michigan folks. It snows here. There are a limited number of plows, a limited number of people to drive the plows, a limited number of hours those drivers can work, and even more limitied number of dollars to pay for any of it. If it snows, leave yourself some extra time and live with the fact that maybe YOUR street isn't themost important one in the city. These (highly overpriced) GPS systems will not make the trucks any faster, the blades last longer, the salt work at lower temps, or the snow disappear faster. They will just give people a new reason to complain when they see that Main and Huron had 4 trucks drive through while Burns Park had none. When do we get live webcams to watch the Mayor and City Administrator?

Macabre Sunset

Thu, Dec 29, 2011 : 6:17 p.m.

I wonder if the city administrators worry about privacy issues with this new application? After all, people could use it to determine where the mayor and the city administrator live, since those are the only non-arteries that will see a plow within 48 hours of a major snow event.


Thu, Dec 29, 2011 : 5:49 p.m.

Do we also get a telephone number for two-way communication so I can get them to my neighborhood faster?


Thu, Dec 29, 2011 : 4:47 p.m.

now if it could also include how fast they are going and if they are speeding (excessively b/c I don't know if they are allowed to go a bit faster in order to plow) it seems sometimes the plows just fly down our street, there has been close calls with other cars through the years.


Fri, Feb 22, 2013 : 7:11 p.m.

try it bun, speed is indicated


Fri, Dec 30, 2011 : 3:31 p.m.

no offense Tesla but the only complaining about plows I have written about have been the county trucks on M14 and the crosswalks downtown. I don't wake up early enough to be mad that they haven't plowed yet and I have an suv with four wheel drive.


Fri, Dec 30, 2011 : 3:18 p.m.

No offense Bunny but you're not especially consistent. Many of your past posts on this topic speak to the plows being too slow and not plowing you out fast enough. Which is it. Really.

Ron Granger

Thu, Dec 29, 2011 : 4:26 p.m.

The city has 47 snow removal vehicles and 156 miles of streets that must be cleared. A lot of experts in the field say this is a necessary expense and huge benefit. Imagine directing those trucks without this data, all night long with limited or no info, as you listen to reports of traffic accidents on the scanner. And if there are any fatalities or critical accidents, you must go on scene as police investigate. $88,000 is very little money in comparison to the cost of those trucks, the salt, the human resources, and the overall budget. There is also the fact that these storms threaten lives. Being able to divert nearby trucks to critical areas can save lives. Emergency snow removal is not some simple process of following a static plan or map. It is a changing, dynamic situation. Snow emergencies in Southern Michigan aren't typically as bad or as frequent as Northern Michigan (where my sources of info work), but it is still a challenge. If this saves just one life, the $88,000 will be an insignificant expense. And it probably will save lives in the long run.


Fri, Dec 30, 2011 : 4:39 p.m.

I disagree. I think it is a waste of money more than a benefit. The only benefit I think would be a supervisor may be able to quickly find a truck near a problem area, but that also could be quickly determined on the two way radio, or just by contacting a truck assigned to a particular area. It is also another item of equipment that may break down and require repair. I also do not think it is a big benefit for the public and could result in more complaints called in.


Fri, Dec 30, 2011 : 4:58 a.m.

Historically, how long do you suppose winter snow storms have been an issue in Ann Arbor? Since the city's inception, perhaps? And in more modern history, how much has the streetscape actually changed? Not a LOT, right? So couldn't one assume that over the last 50 or so years the city could come up with a decent plan (or even several different plans) for handling snowfalls? It isn't like February 2012 will bring about a 3 foot snofall on a set of roads that is different than the set of raods they had last year. Instead, the supervisors could probably come up with set routes (which they likely already have) and assign them to drivers and then use two-way radios (which they already have) to communicate with the drivers. Besides, just because the bosses can look at a computer map and see that Hieftje's street had a a plow drive down it at the beginning of the shift, the map won't tell him things like the truck was out of salt when it drove down the road (because the city's salt is centrally located in Pittsfield Township, miles away), or the truck was unable to effectively plow because all the morons on the street left their cars parked on the street. Or there is a particularly bad patch of ice that needs more attention, or so on. This system is effectively useless.


Thu, Dec 29, 2011 : 3:59 p.m.

How about equipping the mayor and city council with devices to track their produtivity? Unfortunately, I doubt we would see any movement even if a time lapse shot was done year to year. We would see a lot of movement on tracking wasteful and unnecessary spending in Ann Arbor. An app that could track that activity would need to refresh by the millisecond.


Thu, Dec 29, 2011 : 3:26 p.m.

Awesome!! Now I'll know when to get my car off the street.

Ron Granger

Thu, Dec 29, 2011 : 2:30 p.m.

This is a very important tool for managing where these expensive resources are, where they have been, and where they still need to go. Without a system like this, managers are largely in the dark. They're driving around in their trucks, determining trouble spots. They're responding to complaints from other government officials (board members), and the public. This allows them to be more proactive in their management of resources rather than reactive. This allows them to review historical response data to improve response in the future. And it also helps keep drivers from slacking off when they should be working, whether during snow emergencies or otherwise. It's nice that they are sharing the data with the public. That is some great transparency. And yet people still complain, demonstrating that some people will complain about anything.


Thu, Dec 29, 2011 : 3:10 p.m.

Finally a well thought out lucid reply. Thank you Ron.


Thu, Dec 29, 2011 : 2:14 p.m.

Apparently the city of Ann Arbor is responding to the loud and clear demand of thousands of residents for such a tool. You remember, last year about this time, when the residents were filling the pages of and storming the city council meetings en masse demanding the city give them the ability to track the snowplows on-line. Ummm... wait a minute.... you don't remember that?


Thu, Dec 29, 2011 : 2:12 p.m.

If it cuts down on calls that have to be fielded by city staff, it'll pay for itself after a while. Personally, I'm the kind of geek who will actually use this tracking tool, so no complaints here ... except that it doesn't seem to actually, you know, work. I did manage to pull up the site successfully earlier this morning, but now I'm seeing the same "under maintenance" message that others have reported. If they resolve the technical issues they seem to be having, I look forward to having this resource available.


Fri, Dec 30, 2011 : 4:33 p.m.

Cuts down on calls? I am thinking it will increase calls when some folks watch the plow not turn down a particular street.


Thu, Dec 29, 2011 : 2:09 p.m.

The drivers of plow trucks will figure out a way to disable it on their truck when parked at the local coffee shop.


Thu, Dec 29, 2011 : 4:04 p.m.

I bet you never take a coffee break, lunch break or generally waste time talking to coworkers do ya? Oh yea the only time that's not ok is in the perceived opinion that's it's YOUR money getting wasted. Them lowly civil servants. How dare they even think about taking a break.


Thu, Dec 29, 2011 : 2:08 p.m.

"RSIAVLWeb Site Under Maintenance The application is currently offline for maintenance. Please try again in a few minutes... RSIAVLWeb Administrator"


Thu, Dec 29, 2011 : 1:51 p.m.

we shall see if it works. i hope it does. how does the art commission feel you took the money out of their budget. they only have 1.75 mil and 300k first of the year. i will have more ideas on this tduring 2012?


Thu, Dec 29, 2011 : 1:28 p.m.

Well - it appears the nifty new system isn't working anyway: Five minutes after first clicking the link to it - a browser page FINALLY opened, telling me I should restart my browser to solve the undefined problem. It's been so long, I can't even remember when I last saw a "restart your browser" message! How quaint! Who created this tracking website and how much did Ann Arbor pay them?? It was too much, it looks like, because it's worthless at the moment. Hey Ann Arbor: why don't you install a webcam set up so we can watch the too small, too costly, non-working new "monument to public art" in front of city hall? A cutting edge trend seems to be developing here: services and features which cost too much and don't do what they're supposed to do - but are also beyond control of tax payers. Oh wait, that's been the case for almost as long as this country has been in existence.


Fri, Feb 22, 2013 : 7:07 p.m.

works fine & snappy... imac & firefox, even.


Thu, Dec 29, 2011 : 1:50 p.m.

I stopped waiting after 5 minutes. Apparently waiting on ( > Server: Address: Name: Address:


Thu, Dec 29, 2011 : 1:25 p.m.

It would be interesting to see this on a county-wide basis.


Thu, Dec 29, 2011 : 12:58 p.m.

@jinxplayer: doesn't matter. the cuts to our public services and safety began and were in the works before last year. mayor hieftje and the city council like toys. now, i got an idea! how 'bout we all line up on plymouth road to watch the snowplow progress ( in our 90% never happening major winter storm) on our iphones while we bask in the harsh glow of disco strobe lights? i'lll bring my grill if you bring the beer. we can burn our voter registration cards since we all only use them when we feel like self destructing anyway. we'll call it occupy stupidity.


Thu, Dec 29, 2011 : 12:19 p.m.

The money was spent in last years budget people. Either brush up on your reading comprehension, or go back to youtube with the ignorant comments.


Thu, Dec 29, 2011 : 5:49 p.m.

They laid off firefighters and cops last year.

average joe

Thu, Dec 29, 2011 : 1:01 p.m.

I don't see where the first two commenters said it was a waste of taxpayer's money from this years' budget. It is, in my opinion, a questionable use of taxpayer's money in any budget year. I guess I don't see the benefits. Are there any annual costs, or is this a one time deal?


Thu, Dec 29, 2011 : 11:57 a.m.

Wow! Another excellent idea and use of tax payer funds. Rather than complaining about the wasteful spending habits of our mayor and city council, I can spend my time tracking the snow plows during heavy snow storms. Yes - watching a GPS signal will definitely replace the need to talk to someone to lodge a snow removal complaint. Yes - avoid talking to the tax payers at any cost.


Fri, Dec 30, 2011 : 2:40 a.m.

best of all - letting managers know when city employees are screwing around instead of working


Thu, Dec 29, 2011 : 11:37 a.m.

But we have to layoff cops and firefighters.


Thu, Dec 29, 2011 : 3:59 p.m.

No. Actually they don't have time to do that either because of all the brilliants minded people in Ann arbor who cannot seem to drive and they are plowed in to the rear of every other car. I'm sure everyone would love it if you did your part Ron and picked up a shovel and started helping or stayed off the road.

Ron Granger

Thu, Dec 29, 2011 : 2:30 p.m.

Cops don't shovel. If the roads aren't clear, they just sit and eat doughnuts.