NOTE: My statements are not necessarily my opinions. I often post point-counterpoint essays in which I strongly take one side of an issue and later counter that with antithetical views. This intellectual exercise helps me see the merit in opposing opinions and augments my creativity.

“Bureaucracy destroys initiative. There is little that bureaucrats hate more than innovation, especially innovation that produces better results than the old routines. Improvements always make those at the top of the heap look inept.”
Frank Herbert

How roads could be plowed free, faster, and more often
You could wait until hell freezes over to get an equally innovative idea from our government. Innovation is key to success. Businesses know this, but our leaders think that antiquated ways are good enough when they can always raise taxes—figuratively put a gun to our heads—to compensate for their lack of innovation.

“Bureaucracy destroys initiative. There is little that bureaucrats hate more than innovation, especially innovation that produces better results than the old routines. Improvements always make those at the top of the heap look inept.”
Frank Herbert

“Once genius is submerged by bureaucracy, a nation is doomed to mediocrity.”
President Richard Nixon (December 3, 1973)

Public roads in the United States are plowed during the winter by government employees using government equipment. Despite the many billions of taxpayer dollars spent clearing roads, drivers must often wait several hours to a few days after each winter event (such as a snowstorm depositing fresh snow or wind blowing old snow) before the roads are clear. Cash-strapped cities and counties often reduce plowing frequency to save money, but that increases road hazards that result in more accidents, more property damage, and more personal injuries and deaths.

road cleared of snow versus not plowed
Which would you rather drive on?

It is difficult to tell from this picture, but there is about a foot of snow on the portion of the road I didn't clear. (The picture was taken before I finished clearing snow on the sides, especially on the right.)

Is there a better way? Yes. Roads could be plowed more quickly, more frequently, and at zero cost by authorizing snowmobilers (or ATV drivers) to travel on roads if they were plowing or traveling to a road to be plowed or returning from it. Snowmobile and ATV snow plows are readily available, and heightened market demand would spur product innovation. After my experiments with snowmobile snow removal (not just plowing), I know that what is available now is adequate for road snow removal but even better ways are possible.

Why would anyone do it?

Now for the $64,000 question: why would a snowmobiler or ATVer use his or her equipment and burn his or her gasoline to plow roads?

Hint: the answer is a three-letter word: FUN. Few snowmobilers or ATVers own enough land to making driving on it enjoyable, instead of hamster-wheel boring. Before I learned that driving on Michigan snowmobile trails is too risky to justify, I'd occasionally load my snowmobile on a trailer and drive to a trail, but the hassle of loading and unloading was such a deterrent that I rarely did it. Accessing the trail head by driving to it on my snowmobile was also so bothersome that it sat idle most winter days.

However, I would love it if I could legally drive on the roads, taking perhaps a 20-mile drive each time it snowed. I'd have fun and enhance safety for local drivers, who would also save gas because it takes more energy to drive on snow. It'd be a win-win-win situation: Fun for me, better for drivers, and a way for the county to economize.

Can snowmobiles plow snow? Yes!

I've owned a few 4000-pound tractors, and even the 4-wheel drive ones couldn't begin to move as much snow as a 500- or 600-pound snowmobile. Weight helps, but the enormously greater ground contact area of a track gives it a marked advantage in traction. I have no ATV experience, but I know people who rave about their ability to plow snow. However, having much less ground contact area, I think they would not be suitable for deeper snow, especially one-pass clearing of one side of a road (that is desirable but not essential, because the road could be cleared in multiple passes, or one pass with multiple drivers riding in a group).

If the county gave me the green light to proceed, I'd begin by using one of my two larger snowmobiles, but I'd also whip out my welder and make a monster snow-clearing machine that would do things no county snow plow could do, such as precisely clearing around mailboxes. After county drivers flatten several mailboxes (they pulverized mine twice), they typically shy away from them, but that makes it more difficult for mail carriers to deliver mail. I have other related innovations that would make winter driving much safer and less stressful. I could post the engineering files for them online so others could easily duplicate my custom snow-clearing machine and its accessories.

Especially when snow is wet and dense, county snow plows often knock mailboxes off their posts even when they don't directly hit them; the force from the heavy snow is sufficient to damage the box and scatter the mail inside, often burying it. Smaller road-clearing plows and snowblowers, such as the ones I'm proposing, are much less likely to damage mailboxes in this manner.

Cars can plow, too. So can humans.

People usually assume one needs a pickup truck or something even beefier to plow snow. Wrong! I developed a plow so efficient I can pull it with one hand to clear my driveway or a single lane of a road. Moreover, it scrapes compacted snow (such as what results from vehicles repeatedly driving on snow) much better than my snowblower or even a tractor-mounted snowplow. It doesn't pollute, it's much less expensive (it could be sold for $50 or less), requires less storage space, and it is considerably faster than a snowblower or even my plow-equipped tractor. How much faster depends on snow depth and type, but it is usually five to ten times faster. After breaking my neck, I am very limited in the force I can exert without getting annoying pins and needles sensations in my hands and feet, so I use it only to clear 4 inches or less of snow. If I weren't injured, I could plow snow a foot deep—and I weigh less than 150 pounds.

Now think about this: If a partially disabled lightweight like me can pull that plow, it stands to reason that every car has enough power to pull it, too. Equipping a few cars (a fraction of 1% in most areas) with such plows would collectively save fuel because the minor increase in fuel consumption by cars pulling plows would be more than offset by fuel savings in cars that have less rolling resistance because they don't need to wallow through snow. Do the math:

Scenario A: 1 car burns slightly more gas so 99 others burn less.

Scenario B: 1 car saves a bit of gas but 99 others burn more.

Scenario A is clearly the winner.

Suitable for all roads?

I wouldn't feel comfortable plowing busy roads, but ones in my area are rarely used at various times of the day. That is especially true in winter, when it would be a busy day if one car passes per hour.

Plowing faster and better

I could make a variable-width plow that simultaneously clears both lanes of roads (when oncoming cars aren't around) and clears the entire lane: local plows often leave a foot or two unplowed at the edges, thus encouraging drivers to move closer to the centerline: exactly what they shouldn't do, especially in winter.

But is it safe?

A plow-equipped snowmobile or ATV is larger and heavier than most street-legal motorcycles, and snowmobiles have much better control on slick winter roads than automobiles—even 4-wheel-drive trucks and SUVs—the drivers of which often forget that all cars have 4-wheel braking!

I would feel considerably safer sharing the road with cars while driving a snowmobile than I would driving it on a state snowmobile trail. In Michigan, most trails are too narrow, poorly maintained, and with frequent blind corners. (See my article on Snowmobile trails painted with blood.)

Road use would of course necessitate turn signals, a horn, mirrors, and flashers. Safety could be enhanced by extending the penalties for injuring or killing a highway worker to include volunteer snow removal personnel.

Essentially perfect safety could be ensured by legally mandating that vehicles stop, and pull over whenever feasible, when snowmobile or ATV plows approach. This would be similar to laws requiring drivers to clear the way for emergency vehicles (police, fire, and ambulances). Based on my snowmobiling experience, if automobile drivers are anything like snowmobilers, they would willingly pull over, very grateful for what is being done for them. On snowmobile trails, riders commonly wave to trail groomers, and their drivers wave back, likely because they appreciate the wide berth given to them.

Whatever time drivers lost by pulling over would be more than compensated by saving time driving on roads that were cleared and hence safer. Those time savings would multiply considering the time people wouldn't waste in medical treatments necessitated by auto accidents on snowy roads. Even if you're fortunate enough to survive the accident, you might not be physically or mentally the same ever again. Many people—even young ones—with head injuries got them from winter auto collisions, which can instantly transform a brilliant neurosurgeon into someone who is mentally a child. True story, BTW.

Enhancing winter driving safety would reduce the accident rate and hence lower auto insurance rates. Since money can help you save time, saving money on insurance gives you more money to spend on other things, including those that save you time.

Organizing the road plowing services

It would not be efficient to have volunteer snowmobile or ATV drivers look down their roads and try to guess which others need clearing. The obvious solution is a website and cell phone app to organize and keep track of the plowing, as well as to authorize road access for those vehicles. A secure digital chip could receive an authorization that police could authenticate to quickly verify that a snowmobile on a road was traveling to or from a plowing area, not just joyriding.

Clearing snow off sidewalks

Lawn & garden tractors, or anything larger, equipped with snowblowers can easily and safely remove sidewalk snow. In my opinion, doing this would be a blast in addition to performing a useful public service. Some municipalities mandate that homeowners clear their sidewalks, but snow doesn't always conveniently fall when they are off work, at home, gassed up and ready to go. Some residents may be elderly, disabled, or unable to afford equipment that enables them to rapidly remove snow.

Then there's the hassle factor: Removing snow requires people to don winter clothes, check the gas and oil in their snowblower, clear their snow, clean snow and ice off the snowblower, remove their snow clothing, and clean up the mess they track in. Wouldn't it make more sense for me, for example, to clear the snow off sidewalks in front of 200 homes? That would save 200 homeowners from the need to perform all of those steps.

Hence, volunteer sidewalk snow removal makes sense.

The government does what's best for the government, not us

My road is usually plowed in the late morning or occasionally afternoon; never during the night or early morning even when snowfall from the prior day or early night stopped in time to give county snowplow drivers enough time to clear roads for morning drivers. Why do they always wait until what is obviously their day shift? Because it is more convenient for them. Think about it: So a few county snowplow drivers can avoid the hassle of being on-call, many thousands of people must drive on roads before they are cleared, slowing their travel and increasing the risks of it.

Isn't this nuts? Aren't public servants supposed to serve us? To do what is best for us, not them?

Volunteers usually drive groomers to smooth snowmobile trails during the night.

I enjoy plowing snow and would do it free. Train me how to drive their plows and I'd do it day or night. So would other volunteers. Isn't it odd that volunteers would willingly work when it is best for others but paid county workers will not? However, that is typical of government; they do what is best for them. They have us by the balls, to put it colloquially, so they can get away with forcing us to pay for a service that could be done without any labor cost, and performed more quickly.

The latter factor is very important since the more cars drive on snowy roads, the more they pack the snow down so much that even county snowplow trucks have a difficult time removing it. On my road, that hard snowpack sometimes lasts for weeks, making the road much more dangerous to drive on. All so county snowplow drivers can get their beauty sleep!

icy road
This paved road is covered with a sheet of ice due to infrequent plowing too late after snowfalls. The best time to plow is before many cars have a chance to drive on roads. That's less traffic to contend with and more effective in terms of snow removal. That is logical, but when county workers fond of their beauty sleep set their priorities, we get icy, deadly roads so they can work at times convenient for them.

Most cars can plow

You don't need a big truck and expensive plow to remove snow. I designed an affordable rear plow (different from the one mentioned above) that can be pulled by any car with a trailer hitch. Plowing depth can be adjusted to suit the car's capability, removing all snow in one pass or just a fraction of an inch.

Why the latter? Let's say each car removes only ½ inch of snow, and ten such vehicles travel on a given road every hour. That means those cars could clear 5 inches of snow per hour or 120 inches — ten feet! — per day: a once-in-a-blue-moon ultra-blizzard. As an additional benefit, my rear plows could assist emergency braking in slippery conditions. Want more? My plow could cut through snow so heavily compacted that even huge county snowplows usually don't clear to bare pavement.

“The person who says it cannot be done should not interrupt the person doing it.”
Chinese proverb

Why not do it?

cold woman

I've demonstrated how volunteer road and sidewalk snow removal is feasible and safe. It's definitely doable, so why not do it?

As I discussed in another article explaining why people often ridicule good new ideas instead of embracing them, people tend to cling to the old ways of doing things even when much better ways are introduced. People say they like creative ideas, but they often envy them, loathe them, or fear them.

Most people just want to keep doing what they've been doing, and they want the rest of the world to do the same, even when the system is broken (as ours is) and much better alternatives are available.

For example, I know how to make paying taxes so appealing many people would willingly pay more, and how we could give more to folks who receive money from the government while lessening the burden on taxpayers. I offered $100,000 to the first person who could prove why those plans could not work, but they obviously would, so no one attempted to collect that reward. The ideas in that article could restore our prosperity and give us brighter futures than we imagined (especially now when many fear that the economic shit is about to hit the fan), yet voters still bubble with joy when listening to candidates rehash freeze-dried ideas from bygone politicians.

So when you are suffering under the current political system, or when you're skidding in terror on a snowy road, or when you're dealing with chronic pain resulting from a car accident that could have been prevented if the road were plowed more quickly, remember: there is a better way. Why not embrace it? Why keep punishing yourself and your children by clinging to the old ways of doing things when better ones are available?

UPDATE: After completing the paragraph above, I cleared the snow off my driveway and the road in front of my property. A friend stopped by and said that a local woman was killed earlier today when an SUV, skidding out of control on a snowy road, plowed into the side of her vehicle. There's a price to be paid for clinging to inferior ways of doing things, and she is just the latest statistic. You might be next.

PUBLIC SERVICE MESSAGE TO PEOPLE WITH 4-WHEEL DRIVE VEHICLES: All cars have 4-wheel braking. Too many people with 4-wheel drive vehicles travel way too fast on snowy roads, evidently thinking that because you have 4WD, you have some magical ability to stop. Nope.

Plowing could also put people to work

If anyone doubts there would be a shortage of volunteers, there are certainly an army of people with snowplow-equipped trucks sitting at home during the winter wishing for more customers. Those trucks can unquestionably remove snow from roads, and do it safely. If the government paid them, they could plow more quickly after snowfalls, which would save lives and reduce stress as more drivers drove on clear pavement than snow and ice. But when government has a monopoly and refuses to innovate, people get second-rate service, suffer from it, and sometimes die. Yet the government never sees the need to think of better ways to provide needed services.

Plowing could revive snowmobiling

It's no secret: snowmobiling is dying. Snowmobile magazine editors and dealers like to stick their heads in the sand and ignore evidence of it, but sales figures paint a bleak and undeniable picture. Activity data is even more alarming. I live in a region of northern Michigan that once was a mecca for snowmobiling, but in the 14 years I've been here, perhaps 100 snowmobiles total passed by my home, and when I drive around the area, I see considerably fewer snowmobile tracks than I did decades ago. Even though there are fewer snowmobile dealers, visiting them in the winter is usually like visiting a ghost town.

Why snowmobiling is fading is obvious, but's that's a subject for another day. What's relevant here is that snowmobiling could be revived by using snowmobiles to plow roads. Not only would that increase usage and sales for people like me who enjoy plowing, but the substantially increased visibility would result in snowmobiles being seen (in a positive light, BTW) by more people. Imagine a child riding in a car with his mother: “Mom, what's that?”

“That is a snowmobile, dear. He's one of the people who volunteer to plow roads so they're safer to drive on.”

“That looks like fun, Mom. I want to drive one, too!”

There you have it: the seed planted for a future snowmobiler.

I often saw snowmobiles driving down my road when I was a kid. It looked like fun, and it was for many years, being the primary pleasure in my life that gave me indescribable joy. While I still enjoy it, the thrill is gone unless I'm using a snowmobile to accomplish something. I like helping people and being productive, so I'd love to plow roads for free. So would many other snowmobile and ATV drivers.

Expanding the concept

In addition to plowing roads, snowmobile or ATV use on roads could be authorized for other socially useful activities, such as taking food or medicine to elderly or ill people, or driving children to or from school. That would be more fun for kids and it could save money for school districts, especially when students live in the middle of nowhere. It could save time for children, too. My bus route for two years in high school was about 20 minutes going to school and 45 minutes coming home because I was one of the last students to board and depart on a long route. Thus I wasted over an hour per day commuting for school when driving directly (in a car or on a snowmobile) would have taken 20 minutes both ways.

In the years I've spent collecting evidence for an upcoming book on germs I plan to give away, I found many scientific articles providing evidence that even seemingly trivial, common infectious diseases can have serious long-term consequences—hence why I might title the book Why Germs Are Nothing to Sneeze At.

Incidentally, all that time on school buses helps spread germs: lots of kids crammed into metal boxes: a recipe for transmitting infectious diseases similar to aircraft that are notorious for doing that.

Thus school bus time (not perceived as fun by any child I've heard of) could be replaced by snowmobile FUN time so kids have at least two fun times per day. By helping fulfill their need for fun, children would be less resistant to doing homework or household chores.

For even more fun, snowmobiles could pull sleighs (tow-behind partially enclosed sleds with suspensions) holding perhaps three children, plus one on the snowmobile. As much as my brothers and I loved snowmobiling, we loved riding in sleighs towed by snowmobiles even more.

Related articles

Snowmobile trails painted with blood

Notes:

  1. Every Degree Fall in Winter Air Temperature Equals 1 Percent Drop in Ambulance Response Time
    Excerpt: “Increased demand and treacherous road conditions during the winter months combine to stretch ambulance [response times].”
  2. Worried about snowmobile ski carbides damaging roads or snowmobiles not steering well on roads with insufficient snow? Don't be—there's a technical solution to this problem.
  3. Question: Wouldn't putting kids in snowmobile sleighs help transmit germs if a rider had a cold or similar infectious disease?
    Answer: Their average risk would be less than what they'd experience on a bus because they'd have fewer potential germ sources and much greater airflow. Furthermore, they could wear masks with their helmets that filtered incoming air.
  4. County plow drivers usually don't clear the full width of my road, often leaving a foot or more unplowed on each side. That's dangerous because it increases resistance for car tires on that side, which tends to pull cars in that direction and sometimes even off the road.
  5. Improved pavement markings can save lives
    Excerpt: “… snowplows are the biggest culprit in erasing roadway markings.”
  6. Better products, services for winter maintenance, traffic safety
The views expressed on this page may or may not reflect my current opinions, nor do they necessarily represent my past ones. After reading a slice of what I wrote in my various websites and books, you may conclude that I am a liberal Democrat or a conservative Republican. Wrong; there is a better alternative. Just as the primary benefit from debate classes results when students present and defend opinions contrary to their own, I use a similar strategy as a creative writing tool to expand my brainpower—and yours. Mystified? Stay tuned for an explanation. PS: The wheels in your head are already turning a bit faster, aren't they?

“The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.”
F. Scott Fitzgerald

Comments (0)

post commentPost a comment or subscribe to my blog