Control the Snow – Part 2

Continuing on with a synopsis of a few of the sessions I recently attended at the APWA Snow Show held in April of this year in Louisville, Kentucky:

One of the great benefits of attending a conference is the chance to find out what is new in our industry from others who are already using these tools and products. For me, some of the products I discovered at the show were the APWA training DVDs covering snow control and removal. Although I had previously seen these discs at past shows, I never really knew much about the product. A disc sitting on a shelf does little to convey the content within, and I had never really seen anything offering more information about the DVDs.

Fortunately one of the sessions I attended presented in detail how the training videos were developed, showed examples of the content, and then demonstrated the ease of use and interactive interface.

Mark DeVries from McHenry County Division of Transportation and Steve Gannon with GanTek Multimedia discussed how an APWA snow and ice committee met in January 2006 to help develop the products with funding from Clear Roads. AASHTO is managing the computer based training project.

The Winter Maintenance CBT Suite is made up of the following topics:
– Equipment Maintenance (released July 2007)
– Proper Plowing Techniques (released Sept. 2007)
– Deicing (soon to be released)
– Blowing Snow Mitigation (released March 2008)
– Winter Maintenance Management (scheduled for release in June 2008)

Each DVD covers one topic and can be set up by an organization to be available for their entire staff to use at their own pace. After finishing each DVD and successfully passing, each member of the staff receives a certificate of completion.

Without having seen the demo given at the session, I would have never realized how professionally done, interactive, and easy to use these training DVDs really were. Training is important for our industry as older and more experienced workers retire and more regulations and rules add to the knowledge base required for us to perform our job. And now in today’s world, the need to conserve energy and decrease trips adds to the benefit of CBT products. It definitely is a product that my department can make good use of.

More information about the training videos can be found by clicking here.


Control the Snow

In today’s world, rapid changes in technology are even reaching into the world of snow and ice control. I just spend three days at the annual APWA Snow Show in Louisville, Kentucky, and learned an incredible amount of new information to take back home.

On the first day, Richard Hanneman from the Salt Institute introduced a new software tool that can be used by an agency to determine the most cost effective chemical to use. This program, offered by the Transportation Research Board (TRB) as NCHRP Report 577, requires the user to input the costs of the chemicals to be considered along with the importance of cost, performance, the environment, or infrastructure. Using this information, the model predicts which chemical most likely meets the users objectives with respect to those four parameters.

Hanneman showed the outcome of two different scenarios. The first had the following assigned percentages for each objective: Price, 45%; Performance, 35%; Environment, 11%; Infrastructure, 9%. The outcome using current market pricing was that above 15 degrees F, salt earned a score of about 90 while the other products only reached about 60-70. Once the temperature dropped below about 10 degrees F, Magnesium Chloride moved up to a score of about 90 while salt dropped significantly.

Then he showed what happens if cost is not a factor changing the priorities to: Price, 0%; Performance, 25%; Environment, 37.5%; Infrastructure, 37.5%. The outcome was that above 15 degrees F, all products clustered close to scores of about 60-65. Below about 5 degrees F, Potassium Acetate moved up to a score of about 70.

For some reason, the TRB Web site was not working well when I wrote this. I found a place to download the tool at the Salt Institute Web site. You can access that link here:

(The download link is at the bottom of the page.) Tune back in later for more about the show….


Popular Mechanics – Not your father’s magazine anymore

This week I was reading an e-mail with an interesting link that ended up taking me to the Popular Mechanics Magazine Web site. Wow, was I surprised at the content I found there. You have to understand my father was an service manager for an automobile dealer and a loyal subscriber of Popular Mechanics. Therefore, I saw that magazine every month of my life until he passed away a few years back. Occasionally I would read it, but I never really considered it a magazine that was focused on the public works industry.

So, if you visit the site today, you will see why I was pleasantly surprised to find a whole site focused on public works. Because this seemed to be the result of a special report, I don’t think the magazine has decided to shift its focus to public works. But at least the magazine has dedicated a portion of their print space to the coverage of our industry. There are also videos and links to webcasts that were recently held. You can explore the special report yourself at


Buying Real Products in a Virtual World

Our city just bought a new sign making machine to replace the old heat press antique that we had to make signs, and over the last couple weeks, our crew has been learning and becoming more familiar with this computer-based system. Now we are ready to begin our city-wide updating of our street and traffic signs. As part of this effort, one of our first steps is to purchase the materials necessary to make the signs, so I told our crew to search on the internet for the materials and get some prices. They came to me yesterday frustrated that they had spent two hours searching and in the end could only find some of the materials and could not find any prices. They felt that they had invested a lot of time and didn't accomplish much.

I knew exactly how they felt. Many times during design I spend way too much time searching and navigating Websites to locate the right product for my project. There are usually no prices listed on the site so an e-mail or phone call must be made just to get a budgetary price. This often then results in having to meet with a salesman in my office or worse having to travel to a trade show to be able to view and compare products and brands. Few of us have this kind of time to spend on picking out a piece of equipment or product. This method also results in not finalizing a product choice until weeks later.

But because I do this type of product research all the time, I did offer to sit with my crew and try to locate these products myself. They watched as I managed to find a few of the items, but only because they were offered through a state contract that we located on our state's Website. And although that took relatively little time, we ended up spending a total of about an hour on the internet because in the end we could not find aluminum sign blanks.

Frustrated, I told them my dream of a time when I can log into Second Life, search for a sign store, teleport to that location, touch the product I want, and either get the purchase information or purchase it there on the spot. Because they have not seen Second Life, I decided to demonstrate to show them what I meant.

We logged on, and I went to search and typed in "signs." I scrolled down to one of the sign stores and teleported to that location. There were all the signs available for purchase. I explained to them that if this was a real company that had the capability to set up a purchase and shipping agreement with the city allowing my avatar to purchase materials, we could have bought that sign, and it would be on its way to us with a click of the "buy" button. They saw how any materials could have been displayed at the store in a manner that would allow us to find them so much more easily than on a Website. They also saw how a salesperson could have been there or available through IM to provide assistance.

The whole process of logging in, searching, and "purchasing" could not have taken more than 5 minutes. They agreed this method would be so much better and had several good questions including how would we know that this company would ship to us. I told them I thought we could have a state or location associated with our avatar, and when we tried to purchase something, this information would be transmitted so that if the company does not ship to my location, it would not allow me to purchase the product. Instead I would receive a message telling me they do not ship to my area. This information could also be provided in the search or through a notecard or sign at the store.

They also asked about comparison shopping so I explained how you can save landmarks to places you visit and how there are other tools to track where you have been so you could note the prices at each location and return to the one with the lowest price or best product. I also thought the amazing scripters in SL would probably come up with some type of tool to make this easier.

This crew also takes care of the city's fleet, and they told me how they are often frustrated in having to navigate through parts manuals to find the right part to order. How much easier it would be to go to the International Truck virtual "store" and go up to the virtual truck of the make and model they are working on and "touch" the part that they need to order, and then "buy" it. The company could also have a record of your ownership to make sure you are not ordering parts for vehicles you do not own.

As most of us who are involved in the "business" community of SL know, the potential of this virtual world is incredible, and it is available now if only real life companies would catch on and open shop.

Until then, our crew will be spending more time looking for sign blanks, and the rest of us will continue to waste time searching through endless pages of Websites, attending meetings with salespeople and suppliers, and driving or flying hundreds of miles to trade shows, all the time knowing there is a better way.


Our city crews only work in our city…

Like many other public works departments, we received our share of complaints over this winter season. Every year there are a few that stick in your mind and are hard to forget. Usually for me, these are the complaints involving an angry tirade from an irate citizen. This year the two that remained with me came from two different people and involved no yelling at all.

 The first was from a citizen in a neighboring city. In a statement to the local paper, he expressed his disagreement with our council's decision to spend a large sum of money on a particular project in our city. He felt that instead the money should be spent fixing his road.

The second complaint came from another citizen in the neighboring city. It was during a snowstorm, and he insisted that we immediately plow his road in front of his home.

Now, the key point in both of these complaints is that the person complaining did not live in our city, and addressing the complaint would have required our city to perform some service for them in their city. Initially, the first reaction to these types of complaints might be to either ignore them or just shake our head. In our case, we obviously could not address each person's complaint because our city is not responsible for performing work or services in another city unless there was a pre-existing agreement, which in this case there was not. However, I could not stop thinking about these requests.

 From the calm, confident tone and manner in which each person expressed his concern, I think that each truly believed that he was making a valid request. If so, this is proof of a significant lack of understanding by the average citizen of how local government operates. (Actually, I have always suspected this, but now I have a specific instance to which I can refer.) I just cannot comprehend that somewhere in our upbringing, there is such a lack of education about how our governmental system works. Such a lack that someone living in one city would actually believe that another city has any type of responsibility to provide them services.

Everyone has become so much more dependent on government as families move apart and support systems break down. This imposes an even greater need for citizens to understand, trust, and get involved in their local government.  Unfortunately, this is rarely the case. Instead, this lack of understanding creates frustration for the citizen whose needs are not met and creates more issues and challenges for those of us working in public works as we try to take the time to explain the parameters in which we operate.

What is the answer? Whose responsibility is it to educate the public? Some public works departments across the country, as understaffed and unfunded as many of us are, do try to make an effort to do our part in spreading information about our operations. The American Public Works Association, APWA, promotes Public Works Week and offers advice and tools to implement an informational event in your community on their website at


Totally Missing the Point


On a trip to an establishment in a neighboring city, I noticed the ramp shown above. Something did not look right, and upon further inspection, I realized the curb was not depressed. With the implementation of the final decision concerning ramp design, I have been trying to go out of my way to check out the ramps in other communities. I realized there has been some confusion and lack of knowledge concerning the regulations and requirements governing ramp construction, but I never thought I would see someone put in the detectable warnings but not depress the curb. What were they thinking while they were pouring the detectable warning pads? 

I suppose someone could have thought that putting in detectable warnings prior to all roadway crossings, accessible or not, is a great idea. The problem is that due to the ADA regulation, people with reduced eyesight will reach this and expect a ramp with a depressed curb. This will confuse the pedestrian and could perhaps cause injury.

Clearly there is still a significant lack of training and education surrounding curb ramp construction. On publicly funded jobs, the engineer can be more involved and ensure that the requirements are being met. On privately funded projects where there may be no oversight by an engineer or architect, the owner is relying on the contractor to meet the requirements.

Last year, I was called to a new subdivision under construction because the developer was forming the public sidewalk and trying to conform to the ADA requirements that I had given him related to cross slope. A driveway had been poured from the private garage to the curb, through the area of the sidewalk, and the contractor for the homeowner had not met the ADA-mandated cross slope of 2% through the sidewalk area. The developer was having to match the nonconforming cross slope with his new sidewalk. I suggested he contact the driveway contractor to work this out. That driveway contractor called me and was extremely agitated. He felt it was the city’s responsibility to keep him informed about every federal, state, and local regulation that governed his work. Of course, it was all the city’s fault in his mind.   

I do think that public works professionals can educate to some degree but with reduced staff and funding at all levels of government, there is only so much we can do. There have been a few good articles published over the last year or so that are related to this subject:

Public Works Magazine, “Ramping up for Compliance”

APWA Reporter, “Is there a compliant curb ramp out there?”