Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Snow App

From Yahoo:
"Snowplow tracking apps hold cities accountable for cleanup"

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. But something seemed out of whack. "Plow tracker said my street was plowed an hour ago - Pull the other leg," the 31-year-old video producer tweeted to the mayor's office, including a photo of her snowed-in street. 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.  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. 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. 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.  "It puts a lot of pressure on everybody involved to be more responsible and to be more accountable," said Priscilla Dixon, a Chicago lawyer who has used the app and is a believer in engaging the city via social media.
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. 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. More recently, a 2011 blizzard entombed cars and buses and stranded hundreds of people for 12 hours overnight on Chicago's Lake Shore Drive, and a December 2010 blizzard did much the same in New York City. Those debacles prompted both cities to create plow trackers. Then-Mayor Michael Bloomberg talked of wanting to fix the disconnect between what NYC officials were saying and what people were seeing.
 
 
^ When I was in college I remember that Massachusetts wanted to require all of their plow trucks to have GPS locators so the officials could know what was going on (it wasn't made public) and the snow plowers fought to not have them. I don't remember if they won or not, but the fact that they didn't want anyone knowing that they weren't doing their jobs correctly speaks volumes as to  why these kinds of apps are needed. I have lived in places that get lots of snow for mist of my life and the only way things continue to move after a snow storm is if the plows come. Every locality that gets snow should have a free app that allows both officials and ordinary people know real-time results so they can plan their next move. It will also mean the plowers will have to start doing their jobs more effectively or loose those jobs. ^
 

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