Late yesterday, December 2, Denver Public Works made changes in the way it's been dealing with road-clearing in the wake of the massive pre-Thanksgiving snowstorm, ordering crews to drop de-icer on residential streets a few hours after telling us that doing so would likely be ineffective.
According to the agency, "This unprecedented effort is in response to concerns from the city’s residents as to the length of time it is taking the side streets to recover." And indeed, such complaints have been loud and plentiful, as epitomized by stories told by two people who recently reached out to us to express their frustration: a driver for Uber, whose job has been made much more difficult by the lingering ice and snow, and a woman who suffered a concussion from a fall on Thanksgiving night and continues to experience ill effects.
Barbara Addy has worked as an Uber driver for around two and a half years and, she says, "I don't remember there being such a negative impact on driving in certain areas of the city until this year. But I'll tell you what: This year has been a disaster, especially the side roads and the downtown area. The last large snowstorm we had, the streets in downtown were bad as well; they were just not cleared off, and it made it difficult to drive in those conditions. But this time, it's been even more difficult."
Addy acknowledges that "the main roads in Capitol Hill, like 13th, 14th, Colfax, are cleared, but the side roads are a mess. Even when I go really slow, and I do, the ruts in the road can just kind of push you suddenly, and that's really dangerous. You can hit another car or whatever."
Picking up passengers in such areas is a challenge, too. "I can't get to the curb because of the snow, and there isn't usually any area that's cleared off, so people have to trudge through the snow to get to me," Addy says. "It's hard for them and it's hard for me. And then they talk about how bad the roads are. I'm usually the one who brings it up, because I'm obviously involved in driving regularly. But everyone tends to agree that Denver has done a really poor job this time."
She recalls a recent ride in which "I had to take a man from one place through southeast Denver, and it was so terribly bumpy. I could see him going up and down and sideways, and I felt so bad I apologized to him," even though she had no control over the route's surface. "You've got to get them to where they want to go, and it makes things not very pleasant and very hard on my car."
When she's transporting folks to destinations beyond the city limits, however, the situation often improves. On Sunday, December 1, she says, "when I was driving, I could immediately tell when I would go from Denver to Greenwood Village. Greenwood Village is just fantastic with their snow removal, and so is Centennial. Centennial is great."
And Denver? Not so much.
As for the woman with the concussion, who asked that her name not be used, she didn't suffer her injury on a city street. Rather, she lost her footing in the parking lot of a big box store, where she was trying to get a jump on Black Friday shopping, "and banged my head pretty hard on the pavement," she explains. "I went to a CareNow [an urgent-care facility] and they made me go to an emergency room. They said, 'You have a concussion, you have a neck injury,' because when I fell, it was almost like a whiplash effect."
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The woman wound up at the emergency room of Rose Medical Center, and she soon discovered that she was among many people with snow-related injuries sustained a full two days after the storm moved away from the metro area: "Every person I came in contact with, from security to the people in the ER, was telling me about the unusually large number of people who were coming through there with broken bones, head injuries and all kinds of other injuries from the roads. The doctor said the same thing. I was surprised by how many people they were mentioning — and nobody seemed to be doing anything for the safety of the community."
The woman says that she still has a slew of concussion-related symptoms: "problems with speech, problems with vision, headaches, sleep issues." She's been unable to go back to work, and acknowledges that "I'm afraid to get back on the road, afraid to walk on the ice," which is still in evidence near the condominium complex where she lives.
When told how Denver Public Works has been addressing the fallout from the snowstorm, including the use of de-icing agents before the first flake fell, the woman, who moved to Colorado about a year ago, isn't impressed: "When I lived in Virginia, they had a three- or four-foot blizzard and it didn't take this long to clean the streets. In my opinion, there wasn't enough preparation done for a storm of this size. It's almost a week later, and you've still got major streets like Colorado Boulevard, where some of it was cleared but some of the lanes still had ice days later. And I've yet to see one snow plow. I looked online to see where they were, but they were so sparsely located, and none were anywhere close to me."
The city's explanations "might be good for a day or two," she says. "But we're a week out from the storm and there shouldn't still be this amount of caked-up ice on the streets and in parking lots. They should be ready for this kind of thing. After all, this is Denver."