Streets and Sanitation boss looks at ways to improve side-street snow removal

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Snowplows hit the streets during a 2016 snowstorm. | Mitch Dudek/Sun-Times

Newly-appointed Streets and Sanitation Commissioner John Tully said Tuesday he’s exploring ways to “improve the efficiency of side-street snow removal” that will not eliminate Chicago’s time-honored “dibs” system.

Two years ago, South Side Ald. Roderick Sawyer (6th) suggested alternate-side-of-the-street parking as a potential solution to the side-street snow removal dilemma.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel said then he was open to the idea of requiring motorists to move their cars from one side of the street to the other whenever heavy snow is forecast.

It never happened, presumably because the city couldn’t find enough places in parking-starved neighborhoods where motorists could temporarily move their cars, allowing snow-removal crews to plow residential streets all the way to the curb.

After breezing through his City Council confirmation hearing Tuesday, Tully hinted that City Hall may revisit alternate-side-of-the-street parking or some other idea to bring quicker and better snow removal to Chicago side streets.

“I can tell you that we’re piloting some stuff that I’m not prepared to announce right now. But, we’re looking at ways to improve the efficiencies of our plowing on the residential streets,” Tully told reporters.

Tully said he can’t say exactly what he has in mind.

“Right now, we’re actually in a testing mode,” he said. “And I want to make sure that works before we say anything.”

The new commissioner made clear the changes would not put an end to Chicago’s time-honored “dibs” system.

That’s where people lay claim to parking spaces they’ve shoveled out — using what Emanuel calls “sweat equity” — by placing lawn chairs, old furniture and toys in the street.

“You’re talking about dibs. It doesn’t have anything to do with that. We ask people with dibs to be considerate of their neighbors,” he said.

John Tully, recently named commissioner of the Chicago Department of Streets and Sanitation, says some ideas to improve snow removal are being tested but he can’t talk about them just yet. | Fran Spielman/Sun-Times

John Tully, recently named commissioner of the Chicago Department of Streets and Sanitation, says some ideas to improve snow removal are being tested but he can’t talk about them just yet. | Fran Spielman/Sun-Times

In 1999, now former Mayor Richard M. Daley tried to privatize side-street snow removal, but only one company was willing to perform the service citywide.

The poor showing — and almost universal opposition from aldermen fearful of losing control over a service that can make or break them — prompted Daley to drop the idea like the political hot potato that it was.

Also on Tuesday, Tully acknowledged that “chronic contaminators” who simply refuse to recycle might have to be singled out for punitive action at some point. But he’s not willing to pull the trigger on that yet — not until he sees whether a massive public education campaign can boost the city’s anemic recycling rate.

“First, I want to have a conversation. Everything starts with a conversation. It’s not about this being a revenue generator. We want to talk to the residents and make them understand what they’re doing to contaminate that container,” he said.

“We want to make sure we’ve done everything to have the right number of containers out there. We want to make sure that people know that, by putting a pizza box into a recycling container, that’s contaminating. They may not know that. Sometimes, someone doesn’t have a cart in back of their home and they decide to put it in their neighbor’s. We want to look at all of that.”

But Tully made it clear that his patience with Chicagoans who thumb their nose at the recycling edict is not unlimited.

“A nine percent or ten percent diversion rate for recycling is unacceptable. I know it’s unacceptable to the mayor,” he said.

Under questioning, Tully also said he plans to test new products and techniques in Chicago’s never-ending war on rats and make greater use of cell phone technology to speed graffiti removal and other services.

“We want to have that real-time interaction with the residents so we can address problems quicker,” Tully said.

“If a resident sees graffiti, they can take that picture, send it into our crews and then, our crews can say, `Hey, we’re going to be out there in the next few days.’ And we’ll send that notification so people know we’re doing the work that they’re requesting.”

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