More cities across the U.S. are making snowplow-tracking data public on free mobile and online apps that track the cities plows in real time.
Boston and Chicago launched sites in 2012, and other cities including Seattle have been quick to follow, according to an Associated Press report. Pittsburgh launched a real-time site this winter. According to this same report, Boston's site crashed in 2013, and no efforts were made to launch the site again.
"There was a time when we would have to assume, and guess, that the plow was on your street," said Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto, in a press conference on Jan. 16. "This new program allows, for the first time, people in Pittsburgh to see the operations of our city real time."
GPS devices are installed on snowplows, tracking their routes as they clear the roads. Depending on the city, the site provides other options. The tracking site launched by the city of Pittsburgh shows residents if their street is a primary, secondary or emergency route. People can also enter a specific address to see when and if a snowplow came through.
But these apps have also enabled regular citizens to act as watchdogs holding cities accountable for inaccuracies and streets that are not plowed.
In the past, botched street management during snowstorms has strained, and even cost, political careers, according to the AP. These trackers can show the public that snowplows are working hard to clear streets, but also reveal shortcomings.
Have you seen @CityPGH's new online Snow Plow Tracker? Well, it's as cool as it sounds. http://t.co/SylW6UX2aS pic.twitter.com/2XACj5eVFN— BikePGH (@BikePGH) January 21, 2015
Citizens are using social media to engage with cities, holding them accountable for street management.
"It puts a lot of pressure on everybody involved to be more responsible and to be more accountable," Chicago lawyer Priscilla Dixon told the AP.
But even the best of apps can crash during heavy storms, which is something else to watch out for. According to the AP, Boston's site was so popular that it crashed due to heavy traffic.
Dialing 311 can provide people with more information about snowplows and clear roads.
According to PlowNYC, a plow tracker website in New York, real-time data may also have inaccuracies. Some streets with low-level priorities may be plowed by non-GPS equipped plows during severe weather conditions.
If a road or plows seems to fall off the radar, other new apps such as Plows & Mowz allow residents to order a snowplow to their address during storms.