snow removal using a shovel, a plow, and operations research

This month’s INFORMS blog challenge has the topic of politics.  I’ve written about politics frequently before, mainly as it relates to elections.  I have also written about voting systems as they relate to politics, the Oscars, and the Olympics.  Politics is a broad topic, but I’ll write about something I haven’t before: snow removal.  After all, I am at home during yet another snow day (I live in Virginia:  1″ of snow is enough to paralyze the entire city.  My Midwestern sensibilities do not understand this).

Mike Trick wrote a wonderful post about snow removal last year.  I won’t duplicate his efforts, but I will note that James Campbell from University of Missouri-St. Louis has written several articles about OR and snow removal as has Gene Woolsey.  Snow removal can be formulated as an optimization model using generalized assignment and partitioning problems.

Another way to optimally remove snow is by using OR to influence urban planning.  In many states, including my state of Virginia, new laws limit the number of cul-de-sacs that can be built in new neighborhoods.  Cul-de-sacs and neighborhoods with few entrances and exits cause many problems: they create traffic bottlenecks and accidents, increase ambulance response times, and increase the time for snow removal.  Models that can relate neighborhood design to the cost of providing public services are valuable for removing snow more efficiently for decades to come.

The politics of snow removal are interesting to me.  As a Chicagoland native, I grew up used to seeing buckets of salt dumped on the road before every storm and plows quickly responding to blizzards.  When I was older, I was surprised to learn that most of the country does not have such great public services.  My parents told me why:  the blizzard of 1979–when more than 88″ of snow was dumped on the city–was so mismanaged that the mayor of Chicago lost his reelection bid.  A good snow removal plan that used OR would have reduced or eliminated the public backlash.  We still see political fallout after blizzards, such as the controversy surrounding the EMS response in New York during the December blizzard.  On the other hand, Newark’s major Cory Booker was praised by just about every news outlet for personally digging citizens out of the snow.  Of course, this is not a very efficient method for removing snow, but sometimes appearances matter more than efficiency.

Related posts:

  • *vote* a post about election-oriented politics

5 responses to “snow removal using a shovel, a plow, and operations research

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