With the passage of the solstice at 12:08 a.m. on Saturday morning, winter officially begins and the days will begin to lengthen once again. This new season is already old hat around Madison, though, as this snowy December has already made for plenty of traffic problems around town and depleted snowplow funds for the city. It's also created a political headache for Mayor Cieslewicz and the city, with concerns beginning with the approach taken towards cleaning up the initial storm on the first of the month. More snow and complaints piled up over the following weeks.
Only days after the first pair of snowfalls, three alders offered a series of proposals calling for updated city policies to deal with significant winter storms, focusing particularly on official Snow Emergency Rules.
Now on the Friday afternoon before what will be for many a long holiday weekend, the mayor has issued a memo addressing "downtown snow-related issues" caused by the wet December. Along with thanking the Madison Streets Division for their work, Ciesliewicz addresses the snow removal issues faced in the densest part of the city.
"Within the downtown Madison area, there are several unique issues that demand attention," he notes. "These issues are primarily related to the problems that arise when vehicles parked on downtown streets are not moved in compliance with snow emergency rules. As a result, plows have been forced to navigate around numerous parked vehicles, resulting in narrow streets, snowed-in vehicles and reduced parking.'
As a result, the mayor has been meeting in recent weeks with city staff and five downtown and east-side alders (Satya Rhodes-Conway, Brenda Konkel, Mike Verveer, Marsha Rummel and Eli Judge) on updating snow policies. They have reached consensus on four proposals:
- Extend the free parking program at City-owned parking ramps. Currently, free parking in City ramps is allowed during snow emergencies, from 1:00 a.m. - 7:00 a.m. To make this a more attractive option for downtown vehicle owners, this program would be offered from 9:00 p.m. - 7:00 a.m.
- Allow free parking at parking lots operated by the City Parks Division during snow emergencies. For many downtown residents, these lots are more conveniently located than parking ramps. Lots currently identified for this initiative are located at the Tenney Park boat launch (east side of the Yahara River); Burr Jones Park (at East Washington Ave. and First Street) and the Olbrich Beach parking lot.
- Expand notification efforts when a snow emergency is called. Work with the University, downtown neighborhood associations, business organizations and others to help notify downtown on street parkers when a snow emergency has been called. Other notification options will be explored as well (e.g., text messaging, etc.)
- Make the Clean Streets/Clean Lakes parking regulations year-round. These regulations prohibit parking in certain downtown neighborhoods for four hours, one day per week. They are currently in effect from May 1- November 15. Extending them year-round will help ensure that at least one day per week, vehicles are not parked on certain downtown streets and will be easier to plow.
This group has also discussed two other, less-popular proposals. One would raise parking fines for Snow Emergency violations from $30 to $60, while the other would create an ordinance allowing for faster towing of cars parked in streets that the city Fire Marshall declares to be "snowbound."
Cieslewicz emphasizes that these discussions are only the first phase of a process for updating snow policies that will differ in other parts of the city. "Note that some of these proposals will require Council approval, and others will require some time to be administratively put in place," he concludes. "They will not be in place for this weekend's weather."