WEST LOOP — The man charged with clearing city streets during the snowstorm said it's no time to claim dibs on parking spaces.
"Help your neighbors," Streets and Sanitation Commissioner Charles Williams said during a news conference at the Office of Emergency Management and Communication Thursday. "That would be my approach instead of dibs."
According to Williams, there are no plans to write tickets for "dibs" parking spaces, usually found where someone has shoveled out a car and claimed the space thereafter with old chairs or household junk. But he urged the opposite approach during the current snowstorm, which is expected to be followed by bitter cold next week.
"We do ask that you help your neighbors as you're shoveling out, particularly the elderly and those with disabilities," Williams said. He also asked residents to shovel out fire hydrants where they're covered with snow.
Williams said the city has augmented its fleet of 287 snow-removal vehicles with 26 smaller four-wheel-drive snowplows and 60 "quick-hitch" converted garbage trucks to make 373 vehicles available for plowing snow during the storm.
Williams said crews were clearing main traffic arteries first and would get to the side streets when the snow stops, but that main roads were passable.
The Divvy bike-rental program, however, closed at noon due to the weather. Registered Divvy users will be updated on the system's status by email, or people can call 855-55-DIVVY.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel was vacationing with family in Indonesia, but Williams said he was updating the mayor "several times a day" on the storm and the city's response.
Emergency Management Executive Director Gary Schenkel also called on city residents to help monitor their neighbors, saying, "Times like these can bring out the best in people as they help one another and deal with the weather."
Schenkel advised air travelers to check their flight status before heading to O'Hare or Midway airports, saying that as of late Thursday morning O'Hare was averaging 45-minute delays, with 300 canceled flights, while Midway was running 15 minutes behind schedule with fewer than 10 canceled flights.
Residents experiencing heat loss in a building or needing a warm place to stay were encouraged to call 311. The Department of Family and Support Services converts six community-service centers into warming centers on weekdays as the weather dictates, and the Garfield Community Service Center, 10 S. Kedzie Ave., is open 24 hours a day as an emergency shelter.
Williams advised drivers to "be patient, drive safely and allow that equipment to pass" when snowplows are in the area. He added that the salt being spread sometimes appears blue or red because it's augmented with "beet juice," a briny solution that "helps that salt work better in colder temperatures."
Both Schenkel and Williams said the city had been preparing for months for winter and scoffed at heightened concerns.
"We've been ready since August," Williams said, adding that during the winter four years ago there was a stretch of about 20 straight days of snow, "so we've gone through this before."
"This isn't the first cold winter we've experienced," Schenkel said. "This is a city that gets cold. ... This is more of a typical winter than we've had the last couple of years."
Williams dismissed comparisons with the "snowpocalypse" on Groundhog Day in 2011, saying, "It wasn't that bad, c'mon."