Cleveland is ready for its next at-bat against the winter snow season, officials in Mayor Justin Bibb’s administration told reporters Monday afternoon – months after heavy snowfall stranded buses and frustrated residents in January and February. 

The city hired Rubicon Global, a smart-city technology firm, to retool snowplow routes and outfit drivers with tablets for navigation. Those tablets will replace the paper maps drivers have been using in their trucks, Public Works Director Frank Williams said. 

The new routes this winter will be more efficient, but that doesn’t necessarily mean drivers will be able to plow more quickly, Williams said. Improved efficiency could also mean fewer missed streets, he said. The process will improve with each snowfall as workers input more data into the new digital system, he said. 

It may not look pretty all the time, but we are working our best to keep things safe.

Public Works Director Frank Williams

Williams said Cleveland is also “rebuilding from scratch” the rudimentary online snowplow tracker it launched this year. The new tracker will show in real time what streets have been plowed recently, though it won’t tell residents where the plows are going next. 

Plow drivers give priority to main streets, followed by secondary streets and residential roads. The city aims to be working on residential streets 4 to 8 hours after the snow stops falling, Williams said. He said his goal in plowing is safety, not aesthetics. 

“Our idea is to keep the traveling public safe,” Williams said. “It may not look pretty all the time, but we are working our best to keep things safe. The other thing I would say is, we are coming. If you haven’t seen us yet, just be patient. We are coming.” 

The city is fielding 60 plow trucks, 13 pickup trucks, 11 road graders and 14 front-end loaders against the snow this year. The vehicles are equipped with locators that allow the city to track them as they drive their routes, Williams said. 

Cleveland agreed to pay Rubicon almost $285,000 for the first year of the contract, according to Board of Control minutes. The second year of the contract is priced at about $158,000. The city also agreed to pay up to $98,000 over three years for tablets.

In January, snowy streets stranded 50 buses. This season, the administration plans to communicate better with the Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority and community development corporations, Chief Operating Officer Bonnie Teeuwen said.

City officials have held regular meetings this year to prepare for the upcoming snow season, and drivers have been learning the new routes, Bibb told Signal Cleveland in a recent interview. 

“We’ve been preparing year-round,” the mayor said, “and so any chance I can get to even put more investment there, I’m going to always over-index on snow.” 

All that preparation has come with a cost: the city abruptly announced the cancellation of leaf pickup in order to focus on getting ready for the snow, the mayor said. After outcry from City Council and residents, Bibb reversed that decision. 

Government Reporter (he/him)
Nick joins us from the world of public radio. He has more than a decade experience covering politics and government in Cleveland and Cuyahoga County. In 2021, he produced and hosted "After Jackson: Cleveland's Next Mayor," an Ideastream Public Media podcast on the Cleveland mayoral race. He has also covered breaking news, opioid lawsuits and elections nationally for NPR.