New Yorkers still irked as roads finally begin to clear

December 30, 2010 2:50:14 AM PST
Mayor Michael Bloomberg urged continued patience among New Yorkers as the city works to clear previously unplowed streets.

Bloomberg, speaking in the Bronx, said that deliveries were returning to normal. And while he said he understands that people are still struggling to get to work, he urged patience.

He says the city is doing everything it can and using all its resources to get the streets plowed and neighborhoods dug out.

Bloomberg said 1,200 laborers were hired Wednesday and will be again Thursday to help ailing city residents.

The mayor said 100 percent of primary roads, 96 percent of secondary roads and 89 percent of tertiary roads have been plowed, and that most of the unplowed streets are residential areas, mostly in Brooklyn.

Bloomberg said the city will not rest until all streets have been plowed, and alternate-side and metered parking will remain suspended on Thursday.

The anger had been reaching a boiling point over the slow removal of snow on so many streets in New York City.

The City Council is calling for an investigation into why so many neighborhoods were still buried in snow, and Public Advocate Bill de Blasio sent a letter to Bloomberg demanding to know what happened. (You can read the full text of that letter at the bottom of this article.)

Three days after the blizzard, buses and cars were still stuck in snow. And the many cars that were abandoned made it even more difficult to plow.

"It's already two days! He never touched side streets. It's terrible," Astoria resident Mel Giorgio said.

So with shaking hands, the 72-year-old Giorgio decided to take his own shovel to the unplowed street in front of his home. Vehicles have been getting stuck there since Sunday.

The untouched streets were not just diifficult for commerce, but made it impossible for those caring for the sick and elderly.

"The mayor needs to stop acting like Baghdad Bob and saying everything's okay," City Councilman Peter Vallone said. "It's not okay, and we can see it with our own eyes."

The mayor said cuts to the sanitation department personnel had no effect on snow removal efforts, yet cleanup is clearly hampered. Many blame the mayor.

"He don't care about the other boroughs," one resident said. "It's all about the money, and Manhattan has the money. If this was Manhattan, it's gonna be cleaned."

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Bloomberg was much more contrite and less defensive about the city response on Tuesday, admitting the city doesn't have the resources to tackle the massive job easily.

"We can't do everything all the time, and we are doing the best we can," he said.

But his handling of the situation is not sitting well on Staten Island, where residents are boiling over.

"The block hasn't gotten snow plowed at all," resident Salvatore Lanza said. "Finally I took matters into my own hands. I told my wife I'll just come right out of the driveway and I'll just start plowing."

He and his neighbors on Latham Lane have seen snow plows drive by and clear out nearby Woodrow Road, but they haven't made any right turns onto their block.

"You see what they did? They blocked the intersection with the cross street," Mike Poracaro said.

Folks in Brooklyn are also fuming.

Brooklyn Heights side streets are just now seeing plows, while Flatbush and Bay Ridge had acres of untouched snow.

Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz told Eyewitness News that the system didn't work this time, and he's demanding answers.

"This was a royal screw-up,," he said.

In Howard Beach, Queens, the storm made isolated pockets of the city even more remote and fueled politicians' outrage that other neighborhoods were favored by city street plows.

"The lack of attention to secondary streets is shocking," state Sen.-elect Tony Avella wrote city officials. "(Even Main Street by the U.S. Post Office has not been plowed.)"

The cost of the storm, in neighborhood after neighborhood far from the city's center, went beyond snowed-in streets. Subways and buses ground to a halt, particularly on the elevated tracks more common in outer boroughs and susceptible to snow drifts.

Pedestrians in hiking boots squeezed past each other in the narrow pathways between sidewalk snowbanks.

Most small businesses were open along Cross Bay Boulevard, the neighborhood's main drag, though snow was piled high in front of a Japanese restaurant.

Chris Wierzbicki shoveled out his driveway to clear a path for his mother-in-law. "She's got to get to Social Security tomorrow," he said.

About 50 blocks north, in Ozone Park, Willem Buis was trying to help his neighbors get out of their front doors.

"I just came from an old man who is 83 and hasn't shoveled on the corner there," said Buis, who is 73. "I started at 9, I stopped for an hour. Over three hours already, and it's still not done."

Buis was at his weekend job as an Access-a-Ride dispatcher during the height of the storm Sunday. He said 12 vehicles got stuck in the snow. The city said on Tuesday that hundreds of buses and dozens of ambulances were stuck on snow-packed streets, slowing plowing efforts.

Bloomberg said ambulance drivers probably erred in driving down unplowed roads. He said they should have remained on cleared streets and walked down those streets to respond to calls.

Hayden Hunt was upset about a stuck ambulance he'd seen in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn.

"Now how you expecting somebody having a heart attack, you're going to help them out and the ambulance can't even get through?" he asked.

Hunt was waiting with a dozen other people at a bus stop in Bed-Stuy.

Then word came from a woman who seemed to know what she was talking about: The B46 bus wasn't running because some of the streets on its route weren't plowed yet.

Semone Lucas had waited an hour.

"Now come to find out it's not even coming at all, and it's just through word of mouth," said Lucas, who was trying to visit a friend at Kings County Hospital. "There isn't anyone here."

Many of the side streets in Sheepshead Bay and eastern Brooklyn were still untouched by snow crews as of late Tuesday night. With cars and buses trapped in snow banks and only the main roads safe enough for driving, many residents were walking to wherever they had to go.

Artem Shmeriga, 20, of Sheepshead Bay, was stuck in Bensonhurst for two days until he finally made the 3½-mile trek home by foot Tuesday.

"I was walking along Avenue X and it was like something from 'I Am Legend.' There were six or seven buses pulled over and cars everywhere - even on sidewalks," Shmeriga said. "It was very creepy."

Steve Tropper, 62, of Brooklyn, saw much of the same during his 16 hours of driving for a car service Tuesday - and his shift was far from over.

"The main streets are cleared, but they didn't even start plowing the avenues until 5 tonight, and the side streets still haven't been plowed," Tropper said shortly before midnight Tuesday. "It was atrocious. If I was grading the mayor, I'd give him a 'C' on this one."

Tropper said he counted seven stranded buses on a one-mile stretch of Coney Island Avenue.

Text of Bill de Blasio's letter to Mayor Michael Bloomberg:

Dear Mayor Michael Bloomberg:

I am writing to express concern and seek answers about the City's response to this past Sunday's snow storm. My office has become aware of concerns voiced by New Yorkers who are unable to leave their homes or immediate vicinity as a result of unplowed roads and public walkways. It has become evident that the outer boroughs have been disproportionately affected by the lack of plowing after Sunday's snow storm.

The storm on Sunday was severe and although the City is working feverishly now to clear the streets, I believe that the City could have taken a more precautionary approach. I am concerned that the City did not take the necessary steps to help minimize the disruptions to transportation, sanitation, and emergency services. Additionally, I think the City should have made more decisive steps to keep drivers off the roadways and prevent so many abandoned vehicles from obstructing the City's snowplows. With more winter storms ahead, it is imperative that we learn from our experiences to better prepare ourselves for future storms and natural disasters.

To better understand how the City handled this Sunday's severe storm, I request the following data from the Office of Emergency Management, the Department of Sanitation, and call information from 311 and 911. This data will be a key tool in evaluating what steps need to be taken in the future during severe storms.

Office of Emergency Management

The Office of Emergency Management is responsible for helping New York City plan and prepares for emergencies, as well as coordinates for a timely response and recovery. I have several questions regarding the Office's preparation for Sunday's storm.

  • It is my understanding that the Office decided against declaring Sunday's storm a Snow Emergency, which would have moved cars from the arterial roadways essential to moving emergency vehicles. Please explain the rationale behind this decision.
  • What is the protocol for declaring a Snow Emergency? What factors are considered? Who declares a Snow Emergency and how is this declaration reviewed?
  • Besides implementing a Snow Emergency plan, what other tools are at the City's disposal to quickly remove cars off the street so that they do not block emergency services or snow plows?
  • What alerts did the Office have in place for motorists prior to Sunday's storm that would have informed them about the storm and alternate parking options?
  • Based on news reports, snow banks caused serious obstacles for emergency services vehicles trying to access individuals in need of medical attention. What measures were taken to pair sanitation workers who were operating plows with emergency service vehicles?

    Department of Sanitation

    I have several questions about the process the Department of Sanitation undertook to ensure that streets were being plowed in a timely fashion.

  • Understanding that the Department is experiencing a hiring freeze, please provide details about the Department's current staffing levels as they relate to snow clearance. What positions at the Department are responsible for clearing the streets during snow storms? If these staffing levels are divided by borough, please provide my office with the information by borough.
  • Please provide a description of how the Department responded to specific requests for assistance from 311 and my office between Sunday, December 26th and Tuesday, December 28th. On what timeframe were those forwarded complaints addressed? Through what process were those complaints incorporated into the Department's snow clearance activities?
  • Please provide my office with detailed timelines regarding the plowing of primary, secondary and tertiary streets for each borough following the storm.
  • Please provide my office with a detailed budget that shows how snow removal resources are allocated by borough.
  • Based on a Wall Street Journal article, Jason Post, a spokesperson for the Mayor stated that administrative workers were being employed for field work. How were these individuals trained and prepared for snow clearance?


    My office has received hundreds of calls from constituents regarding the snow storm and many of them are being placed on hold for long periods of time when they contact 311. To that end, I have several questions about the handling of calls regarding the storm.

  • Please provide my office with a detailed call summary related to the storm from Sunday, December 26, 2010 until Sunday, January 2, 2010.
  • What was the average wait time for calls during the snow storm and what is the wait time normally?
  • Please provide my office with details on how 311 queued snow storm calls and made referrals to other agencies.
  • Did 311 issue complaint numbers to each individual caller?
  • Please provide information about 311's backlog of calls regarding the storm.


    From my understanding there is a review taking place regarding the processing of 911 calls. Please provide my office with the scope of this review and the methodology being used.

    Thank you and I look forward to your timely response. Please do not hesitate to contact me if you have any questions.


    Bill de Blasio