The [Monday] Papers
"As another storm flung snow at Chicago, Alexandra Clark wondered how she'd get to work. Like an increasing number of snowbound city dwellers, she had a ready tool at hand: an app that tracks hundreds of city snowplows in close to real time," AP reported last month.
But something seemed out of whack.
Longtime readers know I think the city's Plow Tracker is useless, despite the media's unquestioning love for it. Even the headline of this story is "Snowplow Tracking Apps Hold Cities Accountable For Cleanup," despite the conclusion of the reporting, which is just the opposite.
Across the country, local leaders have made plow-tracking data public in free mobile apps, turning citizens into snow watchdogs and giving them a place to look for answers instead of clogging phone lines at city call centers to fume. Chicago and New York introduced apps in early 2012, and Seattle has gotten into the game, as have some places in Maryland and Virginia.
Look for what answers? Is my block plowed? Look out the window.
Boston briefly experimented, too, though their site was so popular it crashed during a February 2013 storm, hampering the response effort. The city hasn't made another attempt.
Not sure how the site going down could affect the actual plowing, but the site must not have been that popular if the city hasn't relaunched it.
The apps tap into GPS data already collected by the city to direct plows, so no extra money is spent in the creation. It's a politically deft move by cities where bungled storm responses have cost officials their jobs, and a way to show skeptics that plow drivers are working hard - and not just clearing the streets of the wealthy and well-connected.
If that indeed is what it shows. I'm not sure it does. Every time I've looked at, I've struggled to find its utility.
But in New York and Chicago, in particular, the tech savvy have scrutinized the sites. Armed with the ultimate proof - the cities' own data - they've needled public officials about snow-cleanup shortfalls on social media.
Like what? The city not getting to side streets as quickly as everyone would like? Happens every snowfall.
Clark remembers peering out the window of her Wicker Park apartment on the city's West Side in a January 2014 storm. A pair of heavy truck tire tracks suggested a GPS-equipped plow might indeed have passed, but with the blade up.
Um, okay. So Clark is now afraid to tweet to the city because of something that is probably - let's say undoubtedly - coincidence. I mean, how would they know which car was hers? Go to the trouble of looking up her license number? I mean, really?
Mayors in Chicago and other cities where snow is frozen into local lore know that storms can doom political careers. A botched response to a 1979 blizzard in Chicago is said to have cost then-Mayor Michael Bilandic re-election.
I don't get how cars stranded on Lake Shore Drive prompted the city to create a plow tracker. So we could all see when the Drive was finally plowed? I'm pretty sure TV handled that.
In the lead-up to one of the first storms this year, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel exuded confidence.
The app drew more than 2,500 visitors in the hours that followed, Department of Streets and Sanitation spokeswoman Molly Poppe said.
That doesn't strike me as a lot.
The city is not bothered by the extra scrutiny, says Poppe, who engages residents via the department's Twitter account. A typical exchange involves her explaining that blowing snow can make a freshly plowed street look like it's been skipped.
I just don't get it. Instead of complaining to the city that the tracker shows your street has been plowed but it really hasn't, why not just complain to the city that the view out your window shows the street hasn't been plowed yet? Now you've got two things to complain about - the tracker and your street! Next: A snow plow tracker tracker!
Web developer Derek Eder has crunched three years' worth of plow data with his own app, ClearStreets, and is convinced Chicago generally deploys plows fairly throughout the city. But that hasn't dispelled all suspicion to the contrary.
Related: Rahm's Fake Transparency.
Beachwood Radio: Debating Race & Rahm
SportsMonday: The Game Is Still The Thing
Diary Of A Lost Pregnancy, Part 9
The Weekend In Chicago Rock
The Beachwood Tip Line: Play your trumpet.
Posted on February 1, 2015
© 2006 - 2017, The Beachwood Media Company