Two years after Route X: Do city leaders get their streets plowed first?

WCPO visits mayor's street for firsthand look
Posted at 3:38 PM, Feb 17, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-17 21:07:56-05

CINCINNATI — Bobby Sanchez lives on Paxton Avenue, a main road in Hyde Park which is a top-priority street for the Cincinnati Department of Public Services when it comes to snow removal.

Cincinnati Mayor John Cranley lives nearby on Pine Ridge Avenue, a hilly side street that is a second-priority, residential street for city plows.

“I don't know that he should get different treatment being a public official,” Sanchez said. “Some people may have an issue with that. I certainly wouldn't, but some people might.”

In the wake of an extraordinarily snowy, frigid and icy two weeks, WCPO decided to revisit a controversial story from 2019.

Two years ago, WCPO asked Cincinnati officials if a special snowplow route existed just for the streets of elected leaders. In response the city produced a list that included the home streets of a dozen current and former city leaders who were in office from 2013 to 2017. It was known as Route X.

City officials insisted that Route X was not an actual snowplow driving route but, instead, a list of streets where elected leaders live that DPS had used for “awareness” and “informational purposes” for at least 15 years and possibly for decades.

In response to WCPO’s story, city officials immediately ordered in May 2019 that no Route X list be used or maintained ever again.

Over the past 10 days, WCPO has examined how much time snowplows have spent on Cranley’s street compared to other side streets in his neighborhood.

Snowplow routes near Mayor John Cranley's Hyde Park residence by hour on Feb 16, 2019.

When WCPO visited Cranley’s street on Tuesday mid-morning, it was covered in snow and ice. A plow had not visited his street in nearly 24 hours, according to the city’s data.

While plows had cleared all of the main roads in Hyde Park by last Tuesday morning, the neighborhood side streets visited by WCPO remained snow covered – the same as Cranley’s street.

“It was a little surprising how much snow was on Pine Ridge,” Sanchez said, as he watched his children sled down a snowy sidewalk on the Paxton hill toward Cranley’s street.

But that’s not how Cranley’s street looked last week.

Using the city’s own Snowplow Tracker data available to the public on the city’s website, WCPO tracked how many visits snowplows made to Cranley’s street.

When unexpected snow fell overnight on Feb. 8, Tri-State residents woke up to 8 to 10 inches of snow.

WCPO took this screenshot of the city’s Snowplow Tracker from Feb. 9 at 12:30 p.m., which showed where plows visited first in Hyde Park – the main roads and Cranley’s street.

Screenshot of Cincinnati Snowplow Tracker on Feb. 9 in Hyde Park.

It appeared from that image that his street was the only side street cleared in the immediate vicinity.

“Of course I do not want any special treatment," Cranley said in a statement to WCPO. "All treatment and removal is conducted in accordance with DPS’ (Department of Public Services) treatment plan.”

During last week’s snow event from Feb. 8 to 12, it appeared that snowplows made 10 visits to Cranley’s street, according to the city’s snowplow tracker.

Snowplow routes near Mayor John Cranley's residence by hour on Feb 9, 2021.

Other nearby side streets received as few as four and as many as eight snowplow visits during that time period.

Nicollette Stanton, chief performance officer and director of the city’s Office of Performance and Data Analytics, said that in addition to primary roads, snowplows also give top priority to bridges, overpasses and hills.This includes the hilly stretch of Pine Ridge where Cranley lives.

“The mayor lives directly off two priority one routes of Paxton and Linwood and his stretch of Pine Ridge is classified as a hill,” Stanton wrote in a statement to WCPO. “These two combine for him to both receive visits for treatment (during active snow) and the configuration of the route requires some back-tracking … He then also would receive removal once the event ends prior to the surrounding residentials because of the hill classification."

Meanwhile, in Mount Airy, former Cincinnati City Councilman Kevin Flynn said Raeburn Avenue where he lives is clear. This main road into his subdivision is a priority-one level street for plows.

Photo taken by Kevin Flynn of his cleared street on February 16, 2021.

“Public services has done a great job on it … and I’m not even on Council,” Flynn said. “It gets treatment even before the snow starts and multiple passes during the storm.”

But Flynn admits that his street doesn’t get quite as much attention from city snowplows as it did before WCPO’s report on Route X in 2019.

Flynn’s street had been listed on Route X, although he said he never knew about it and was highly critical of the list when WCPO first brought it to his attention.

“It may be a little slower,” Flynn said.

Kevin Flynn approaches his wheelchair-accessible vehicle at his Mount Airy home, Feb. 10, 2020.

WCPO also monitored how snowplows treated the home streets of Cincinnati City Council members over the past 10 days. Overall, those streets received the same attention as other streets in their respective neighborhoods.

Flynn recently spoke with a current City Council member who jokingly wished her street was getting more attention from plows during this unusually snowy winter.

“I said, ‘What, you mean they don’t have a Route X anymore?’” Flynn said. “And she wasn’t familiar with the story, so I explained what you had brought about a couple of years ago and unearthed about this Route X.”

But this winter, without Route X, Flynn can’t help but point out the irony to WCPO.

“Her street was not getting cleared … and my street, even though I’m not on Council, was much clearer than her street was,” Flynn said.

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