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City of Syracuse Invites Residents to "Plow Through the Data" and Find Ways to Improve Snow Removal

The city of Syracuse is turning to tech-savvy residents for new ways to make snow clearing more efficient with GPS-tracked plows.  Syracuse is partnering with Syracuse University's iSchool and AT&T to launch the “Plowing Through the Data” Hack-A-Thon, an initiative to publicize data on the routes plows take throughout the city.  The city’s Chief Data Officer Sam Edelstein says the data will allow residents to offer new ways to tackle street clearing.

"There are hundreds of thousands of rows of  data each day after all of this work gets done.  Figuring out what sense we can make from that data is a challenge.  So, we are asking is for help, from the community to say, take a look at this, see what you can find, then tell us and we can use that information to organize our operations going forward." 

Thirty-seven GPS-tracked city plows tackle more than 400 miles of roadway during every snow event.  Edelstein says they're releasing data gathered from a series of snowstorms last March that dumped three feet on the area, and from the beginning of this year.  Director of Operations for the city Corey Driscoll Dunham they're open to seeing if there's a way to do things differently, especially in neighborhoods.  

Credit Scott Willis / WAER News
City Chief Data Officer Sam Edelstein, SU iSchool's Jeff Saltz, and AT&T's Kevin Hanna want to use data to make Syracuse a smarter city.

"I'm interested to see in terms of more efficient routes.  Obviously there are the priority areas...the hospitals, main thoroughfares, the hills.  But a lot of the concerns we get from the community relate to residential side streets.  I'm curious to see what the community comes back with about residential streets in particular.”  

Dunham says the Hack-A-Thon is part of a wider effort under Mayor Ben Walsh to make snow removal a more transparent process. Leader of applied data science at the iSchool Jeff Saltz says the solutions residents propose could be anything from faster plowing updates for the public…to predicting where plows will go next.

"It could totally change the way people think about snow removal.  Rather than passively waiting, they could be part of the process and understand what's going on.  Obviously, it's a huge logistical challenge.  Rather than being in the dark, sometimes knowledge about how things are going can make you feel better that, yes, there's  progress is being made, so even though my street hasn't been [plowed], they'll get to my street in the future."

Hackathon details, instructions, a signup form, and downloadable dataset files are available online at the iSchool’s website

A Snow Safety Summit will be held next Thursday to address street plowing and other concerns like sidewalks.   The summit runs from 6 to 8 p.m. at Dr. Weeks School on Hawley Avenue.

Scott Willis covers politics, local government, transportation, and arts and culture for WAER. He came to Syracuse from Detroit in 2001, where he began his career in radio as an intern and freelance reporter. Scott is honored and privileged to bring the day’s news and in-depth feature reporting to WAER’s dedicated and generous listeners. You can find him on twitter @swillisWAER and email him at