COLUMN: Surviving winter on campus

How to not slip on the sidewalks and parking lots


Junior Austin Lobsinger tosses snow off a step Wednesday, Feb. 22 at Northwest Apartments. Lobsinger and three others were tasked to shovel all of Northwest's front door steps that afternoon during the snow storm.

Living in the Midwest comes with its very own set of challenges, from melting in the scorching summer sun to braving the frosty bitterness of winter. Even seeing it all within 24 hours, we in Michigan have to be prepared for anything and everything.  

As someone who grew up in the south suburbs of Chicago and now goes to school at Central Michigan University, I have had my fair share of winter experiences.  

Walking to class during the winter, which in itself isn’t ideal, I have not only endured the wind and blistering cold but have slipped walking on the sidewalks through campus.

Jonathan Webb, is the associate vice president for Facilities Management, oversees all of the daily operations maintenance engineering and landscape operations teams.

“CMU has 29 miles of sidewalks, 24 road lane miles, 83 parking lots and five outdoor synthetic sports fields,” Webb said. “CMU averages between 60-80 winter weather events per year, where staff respond with surface treatment and plowing.”  

He said CMU winter operations begin with reviews of the 10-day National Weather Service forecast in which, if needed, staff from CMU Police, Landscape Operations, Student Affairs, Athletics and Park Library communicate to start preparing.  

Webb said they receive one budget for the entire year.  

“We don’t receive a specific budget for it because it can vary so widely,” Webb said. “If we do have a winter event though, we have to respond.” 

Unsalted sidewalks 

Last winter, coming from the Towers dorms complex, making my way to Pearce Hall and walking up that slight incline to the doors, I have noticed that certain areas of campus are hardly salted or not salted at all, making it dangerous for students to walk through.  

As I’m making my way up to the doors, I stepped and suddenly fell on my hands and knees which caused bruising on my knee and scrapes on my hands.  

Although I was able to get up with a lot of caution as the area was still slippery, I realized I was more embarrassed than physically hurt so I made my way into the building for class.  

The next day came as I walked the same path to class, being careful as to not fall again, maybe even too careful. I was walking when I started losing my balance and couldn’t believe it.  

I fell again. The same way on the same path, on my already bruised knee injuring myself further.  

It could be argued as my fault for not paying attention or why I didn’t just take another path to class, but my real concern is for those who have stories like mine and how walking to class can be a potential hazard if not taken care of properly.  

Webb said they have different ways to deal with snow and ice on campus.  

“The staff have small, medium and large plows to address campus sidewalks, roads and parking lots,” Webb said. “Custodians remove snow that is close to most buildings on campus, while building maintenance workers focus on hard surfaces around residence halls.”  

He also said that they prioritize certain routes called critical paths over parking lots and other sidewalks.  

“The critical path is a route along CMU sidewalks that connect all buildings on campus,” Webb said. “The clearing of roads ensures police and other emergency responders can access each building.”  

It can take up to four days to fully clear out surfaces, Webb said

“(We) move snow piles to prepare for the next storm and routinely treat hard surfaces for ice that is created from daily snowmelt,” Webb said. 

Parking lot plows

It’s understandable that slipping on ice happens, almost a given in the winter season. One thing we can count on to protect us on the roads are snow plows. Driving in the snow is no walk-in-the-park but a test on your driving skills.  

Plows are also responsible for going through our parking lots, making it easier for us to drive in and out. 

My experience in the Towers dorm: Parking in Lot 39 during the winter is not the smoothest.  

As the plows come by shoveling the snow in the parking lot, it does make it easier for us to see the parking spaces and navigate through the lot. The problems begin when we realize all the snow they are plowing gets pushed to the side, creating a wall between our tires and the clear lot.  

Having to use the dented dorm shovel on the back door of Kesseler Hall before buying my own, I spent up to 10 minutes shoveling my tires out of the snow.  

This is when I realized: I wasn’t the only person with this problem. As I was making it back to the door to put the shovel back, someone had asked me if they could use it to shovel their tires out just as I did.  

Webb said that there are many factors that go into preparing for a winter storm such as when precipitation is expected to start, the intensity, temperatures and wind speed.  

“A snowfall of 0.1 inches an hour is usually manageable, while 1-2 inches per hour of snow can make for a challenging response, depending on the type of snow and total accumulated snowfall,” Webb said.  

All these factors are taken into account when CMU decides whether or not to have a delay in opening or closure for that day, Webb said. 

He also made clear the responsibilities of Facilities Management especially in parking lots.  

“CMU’s responsibility is to plow sidewalks, roads, parking lot drives and parking spaces,” Webb said. “To avoid damaging vehicles, crews primarily plow parking lot drives as parking spaces are plowed before and after vehicles arrive and leave.”  

Webb said every driver in Michigan should be prepared for winter weather.  

“It is each individual’s responsibility to remove snow from and around their vehicle,” he said. 

Useful tools and advice

With these two experiences, I have learned what tools or objects I would need to avoid or alleviate the inevitable ‘perks’ of winter.  

For sidewalks and walking to class, I learned it’s better to wear winter boots that can grip the ground and create traction as you walk. If winter boots are out of the question, to avoid ice, I simply just walk in the snow where the grass would be. I’d rather get my shoes a little wet than have to endure the physical pain and potential embarrassment of slipping on ice.

Brad Doepker from the Mount Pleasant Fire Department said it’s important to have a number of things with you in your car or at home for winter and other emergencies.  

“It would be important to have a blanket or even a silver heat reflective blanket, hats, gloves, boots, shovel and a small amount of sand or salt,” Doepker said.  

Doepker also listed a number of things that would be of importance to keep in your car when already on the road:

  • Cell phone and charger
  • First aid kit
  • Flash light and flares with a white flag
  • Jumper cables and tire pressure gauge
  • Jack and ground mat for changing a tire
  • Work gloves and change of clothes
  • Repair tools and duct tape
  • Water and paper towels
  • Non-perishable foods and medicine
  • Extra windshield washer fluid
  • Maps
  • Emergency blankets, towels and coats
  • Ice scraper 

Doepker said if an emergency was to happen, it would be important to stay in your car and don’t overexert yourself.  

“Let your car be seen, put bright markers on the antenna or windows and keep the interior dome light on,” Doepker said. “Be mindful of carbon monoxide poisoning and make sure your exhaust pipe is clear of any snow.”  

He also said that you should run your car but only for a necessary amount of time.  

“Run your car sporadically … just long enough to stay warm,” Doepker said. “Don’t run your car for long periods of time with the windows up or in an enclosed space.”  

As for plowed parking lots, I would purchase a mini shovel to keep in your car. I am convinced that the dorm shovel being there was pure luck. It’s important to be prepared for situations like that as to avoid using your hands to shovel your car out … and no one wants that.  

Driving in the snow

Transportation in the winter is very difficult and comes with its own set of challenges from turning the car on to accidents.  

David Coffman is a public information officer of the Mount Pleasant Police Department. He said that it’s important to stay home when you can during the winter time.  

“Give plow trucks a chance to get out and clear the roads,” Coffman said. “If it’s a necessity that you go out, give yourself ample time to reach your destination.”  

It’s important to take your time while on the road, he said.  

“The best way to reduce accidents is to slow down … if you do end up in an accident, the damage is minimal,” Coffman said. “Keep your eyes on the road and avoid any distractions while driving, slow for traffic signals early and be aware of changing road conditions.”  

Coffman said that there are five keys to the Smith Driving System to avoid any car accidents:  

Aim high in steering: Look ahead a minimum of 15 seconds. Scanning the road for possible hazards and looking for an emergency ‘out’ in case of an issue.  

Get the big picture: Keep a seven second minimum following distance. Scan mirrors every five to eight seconds.  

  • Keep your eyes moving: Avoid focusing on any one object for more than two seconds.  
  • Leave yourself an out: Anticipate potential hazards and plan to avoid it.  
  • Make sure they see you: Eye contact with other drivers can help avoid accidents.  
  • If you were to ever find yourself in an accident, Coffman advised to stay calm and take deep breaths.  

“After a crash, you could feel a wide range of emotions, all are normal,” he said. “Just take a few deep breaths and count to ten to calm down.”  

Coffman said if you can’t exit the car or it’s not safe, stay in your seat with your seat belt fastened and call 911 to report the accident. 

“If there are no injuries and your vehicle is drivable, make a reasonable effort to move the vehicle off the main travel portion of the roadway,” Coffman said. “Once (at) a safe location, dial 911 and an on duty police officer will come help.”

Headshot of Lauren Pocica, staff reporter.