How DC is preparing for this year’s wintry ‘Polar Coaster’

D.C. is preparing for what the Farmer’s Almanac says will be a “Polar Coaster.”

Regardless of whether the name sticks, the snow itself will stick at some point, and D.C. Director of Public Works Chris Geldart outlined Wednesday just how the District is approaching this season differently.

It starts with the plows.

“For the first time, the District residents will not have to wait for their streets to be cleared of snow and ice, while we transition from leaf collection to snow removal. Today, we have all the plows we need, so that all our drivers have to do is switch trucks,” Geldart testified Wednesday to Ward 3 Council member Mary Cheh, chair of the Committee on Transportation and the Environment.

Also different this year: a “hot mix of brine and beet juice before snow begins falling,” said Geldart. There are 86,000 gallons ready for use, he said, and the Department of Public Works has the ability to make its own mix.

In winters past, residents have had the ability to track where and when a plow will get to their street. Now, an app lets plow drivers rate how well a street was cleared. The District can then reference a map based on driver evaluations to assess if another round or two is needed to clear a street.

“So once they do a pass, they can rate it. And then behind that, our service verification team can come in and rate it,” Geldart said.

There are also 21 new smart spreaders, which electronically report where and for what distance salt was distributed on roads. The plan is to make it standard equipment on each plow.

“Protecting bike lanes has become a higher priority as more residents use bicycles as an alternative and even primary mode of transportation. The snow teams … are dedicated to keeping the bike paths, bridge deck, sidewalks, [disabled accessible] ramps, intersections and bus shelters clear,” Geldart said.

Cheh gave one of the track clearing vehicles a spin outside City Hall following the hearing.

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