DULUTH - The city of Duluth expects to declare its first snow emergency this winter, now that more than 2,300 signs are installed along 120 miles of vital arteries for ambulances, fire trucks and other emergency responders.
Before this year, one of the snowiest cities in Minnesota has never declared a snow emergency. A 2019 Thanksgiving weekend blizzard that walloped Duluth with 22 inches of snow led to days of marooned residents, closed schools and served as a snowy wake-up call to the city.
"We have absolutely learned from that storm," said Noah Schuchman, chief administrative officer for the city.
But creating a citywide snow emergency system in a city where residents aren't used to moving their cars during storms is proving more vexing than officials thought.
Under the new plan, a snow emergency will be declared at 4 p.m. and cars must be moved by 9 p.m., allowing plows to move quickly through the priority routes before starting on residential streets and alleys.
The plans designates seven city-owned lots around town where residents can park for free during a snow emergency, similar to what is offered in Brooklyn Park.
But the location of the free lots is creating some concern among residents. Five of the lots are in the touristy area of Canal Park and two are in Lincoln Park, a few miles west of downtown.
East Hillside resident Alex Schult said she lives near the two major hospitals, where it is already hard to find on-street parking. The closest snow emergency lot is at least a 20-minute walk at the entrance to Canal Park.
"I could pay for an Uber, but a lot of people don't have that luxury," she said. "[The city] owns multiple parking lots all over town. ... Hopefully they're coming up with more lots."
Ashlie Castaldo, a member of the city's Commissions on Disabilities, said the plan doesn't lay out what people with disabilities should do.
An informational snow emergency brochure mailed to every residence in the city says nothing about whether residents with Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) parking spots and window stickers must move their cars during a snow emergency. (They aren't required to.)
"People aren't aware they won't be ticketed this year," she said of people with designated ADA spots.
Central Hillside resident Scott Burnes has such a spot. The 65-year-old retired iron worker has an arthritic left knee and no cartilage in his left hip.
"I don't like going out, because it's painful," he said. "The whole idea of trying to get out in a blizzard with my leg, I can't even tell you how horrifying the idea of that is to me."
City officials say residents who have an ADA parking spot on a snow emergency route should move their car if they safely can, but aren't obligated.
"If you're physically unable to move, we will not be towing from those spaces," said Mark Bauer, parking services manager for the city.
The city didn't have all the "Ts crossed" when the brochure was sent, because it was awaiting information from the state, said city Human Rights Officer Carl Crawford.
"We are working with folks on an individual basis, and if they have concerns they can give my office a call," he said. "We all want the same thing: clean, safe streets after a snowfall."
Duluth's community relations officer Alicia Kozlowski stressed that the initially offered lots are part of a pilot project, and the city continues to ask private lot owners for help this winter.
"We looked at neighborhoods with lots of congestion, who have been on the forefront of ticketing in the past," she said, when choosing city lots. "We felt strongly about the Hillside and Lincoln Park."
She said the lots are a voluntary option for people who struggle to find a spot on a street that's not a snow emergency route, or who don't have a neighbor they can ask for help. Minneapolis and St. Paul, for example, don't offer such lots. She said the city's parking services department can help residents find something closer.
The plan "isn't perfect," said Nicole Birch, who lives in far western Duluth, "but it needs to happen."
"During the 2019 storm I was stuck in my house for three days," she said, missing a day of work and requiring her supervisor to pick her up another day. "There is really no neat, clean convenient way for the city to do it. No matter what, it's going to be a pain. Snow just is."
The city will alert residents of a snow emergency through a Northland Alert message — sign up at duluthmn.gov/northlandalert — local media, its website and social media.