Columbia’s veteran snowplow drivers practiced designated routes with newcomers Wednesday in preparation for winter.
One veteran, Gerod Crum, 59, has had his commercial driver’s license for 14 years and plans to retire next year. Having served in the United States Marine Corps for 20 years, he’s dedicated to serving others. He also knows that some people have the tendency to get in the way of his service.
“The biggest challenge of this job is the people. To me, it’s common sense,” Crum said. “If we’re out here plowing, there’s a good reason why, and it’s because the road conditions are unsafe.”
Crum is one part of the team of drivers, all holding commercial operator’s licenses, who gathered with the Public Works Department for their annual training exercise. The session — held almost a week after Columbia had its first dusting of snow — gave them the chance to review safety procedures, practice driving snow routes and place informational flyers on cars parked along designated snow routes. The city prohibits parking cars along those routes when snow accumulates to 2 inches or more.
Counting each direction, Columbia has more than 1,350 miles of streets, including 1,100 cul-de-sacs. They are organized into three priority levels.
The first level is major residential and arterial streets, followed by ones that connect to schools and hospitals. The third level includes connecting streets and residential neighborhoods. The Columbia City Council approved a staff recommendation Monday that adds an additional 50 lane miles in that level this year. There are approximately 520 lane miles of priority routes, according to city records.
“If there’s a school or a city bus, it’s a top priority route,” Crum said.
Working shifts that are 12 hours long all winter, Crum has seen his fair share of accidents on priority routes across town. One occurred on a snowy Christmas Day in 2008. He recalled going downhill near Indian Hills Park and swerving around a woman’s car after losing traction.
“When I looked in my rearview mirror, I saw her driver’s side mirror was missing,” Crum said. “I got out to ask her if she was OK, and she cussed me out.”
Crum said it’s hard to zigzag around cars that are parked along designated routes. He said he notices this too often and wishes people would be more patient and courteous so the city has a chance to do its job. Crum said he wants to keep people safe, but he also wants people to play a more active role in keeping themselves safe.
“People have to take their own personal responsibility,” Crum said. “Slow down, give yourself plenty of time, look at the road conditions and make sure you have good tires.”
Barry Dalton, community relations specialist for Columbia Public Works, said Crum’s concern is the most common frustration expressed by plow drivers. This is why the department focuses so heavily on a winter education campaign through its website, press releases and social media. Dalton said he’s seen a decrease in people parking on priority routes in the last few years.
“We don’t want to tow; we just want to clear the street,” Dalton said. “We’re trying to educate people for their safety as well as the safety of property and other pedestrians. It’s also for efficiency.”
Residents can find a list of all priority routes and a summary of all the city’s policies and procedures for snow on comosnow.com.