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Duluth tows 50 vehicles during city's first snow emergency

30December 2021

DULUTH — More than 200 residents and visitors snagged a ticket or a tow after a foot of snow landed in Duluth earlier this week.

After years of preparation, the city declared its first snow emergency Tuesday, writing 180 tickets and towing 50 cars in its efforts to quickly clear roadways.

Despite those numbers, “we still feel the first time we declared a snow emergency was a success,” said Kate Van Daele, a public information officer for the city.

With the first of two winter storms beginning Sunday night, the city enacted its first emergency at 1 p.m. Tuesday and ended it at 6 p.m. Wednesday. Owners had until 9 p.m. Tuesday to move their cars off designated snow emergency routes and were towed if they protruded haphazardly into a road or blocked a driveway or street.

Duluth has long had the authority to declare a snow emergency but didn’t have signs to post routes. The city recently installed more than 2,300 of them along 120 miles of city roadways, and it mailed guidelines to residences with an unusual offer of seven free city lots to use during the emergency.

The Canal Park lots saw more use than those in Lincoln Park, Van Daele said, noting the city would communicate more with residents around Lincoln Park’s Wheeler Field lot, where more cars remained parked on snow emergency routes than any other part of the city.

Another trouble spot was in the downtown medical district, where most roads are snow emergency routes. The city alerted both St. Luke’s hospital and Essentia Health-St. Mary’s Medical Center of the emergency declaration, and they shared it with employees, Van Daele said.

The city will explore adding some of the parking lots meant for its parks for future emergencies and continue to ask businesses, churches and schools to offer their lots temporarily.

Michelle McDonald has lived in the Endion neighborhood near the hospitals for three decades. She stayed up late Monday watching parked cars become buried by plow action, she said, and when the emergency was called, some owners dug them out and some didn’t bother.

The quicker cleanup that a snow emergency grants means safer, better access for cars and citizens, McDonald said, but it creates congestion along nonemergency routes.

“Anytime they do this, it will be impactful in positive and negative ways,” she said. “Maybe in two years we will all say, ‘Remember when that started? Nope.’ It’s just something we are going to do.”

Duluth, a famously long and narrow city with steep, treacherous hills, met all its goals for snow clearance, finishing its 500-plus miles of main arteries, residential streets and alleys each in the time expected with fully staffed crews despite the holiday weekend. The city doesn’t have the equipment to plow every road within 24 hours, Van Daele said.

“There is rhyme and reason to how we plow and when we plow,” she said.

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