Mayor Michael Bloomberg and company are still fighting off severe criticism of the city’s cleanup efforts after one of the biggest snowstorms in years hit the five boroughs.
Last Sunday, a day after Christmas, the Northeast was pummeled by snow along with thunder and hurricane-like winds. Subway and Long Island Railroad services were suspended in many places along with bus service. Unplowed roads made traveling difficult and unplowed sidewalks didn’t help the cause. The City of New York faced vitriol across the board from people frustrated with the efforts to clear city streets. Passengers on several A trains were stuck inside the trains for up to eight hours due to snow drifts on the third rails of the Broad Channel and Aqueduct train stops in Queens.
The MTA stated, “Limited service is operating on several rail and subway lines this afternoon, following round-the-clock efforts by MTA crews to clear and remove up to two feet of snow from the tracks, crucial signals and switches that make up our rail infrastructure. Crowding may be an issue on commuter rail service. We urge customers to plan ahead as much as possible.”
Bloomberg and the city of New York sent out a press release on Monday discussing the latest developments.
“New York City was hit with a winter storm that was as strong as the meteorologists predicted,” read Bloomberg’s statement. “Our Sanitation crews worked through the night but road conditions are bad and there are service interruptions and delays on mass transit. To keep the roads clear for plows and emergency crews, I encourage New Yorkers to avoid driving. New York City government never really closes, and it won’t today, but of course we understand that many will face travel obstacles.
Bloomberg reiterated some of his points during a Tuesday afternoon news conference at Office of Emergency Management in Downtown Brooklyn amid backlash to the way the city’s handled the recovery.
“Anyone who’s been outside recently can see that the storm is not like any other we had to deal with including the bug blizzard of 2006,” Bloomberg said. “In this case, the snow did not stop falling until 9:30 yesterday morning. … When the storm occurs over the weekend, it’s easier to deal with. The NYPD-authorized tow trucks have removed 1,000 vehicles from the Van Wyck, Gowanus and Cross Bronx Expressways alone.”
“We do appreciate the severity of the conditions they face and we’re doing everything we possibly can,” Bloomberg continued. “Today our number-one challenge are abandoned ambulances, cars and buses.”
But once video surfaced of a New York City Sanitation tow truck smashing a parked Ford Explorer while towing a stranded snowplow in Brooklyn Heights, the fight against public perception of the city’s operations have become a lost cause.
Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz is one of the many elected officials calling for City Council hearings into the slow progress of the post-blizzard clean up. Plus, talk that the sanitation workers went on a deliberate go-slow in protest of layoffs and pay did not ease the public’s angst.
On Tuesday, State Sen. John Sampson said, “I join with fellow elected officials in calling for the declaration of a state of emergency in the outer boroughs of New York City. All responsible authorities must undertake a thorough inquiry to determine the cause of the failure so it is not repeated.”
The state senator noted that Brooklyn received a one-two punch in the wake of the December 26th blizzard. “First, we were slammed with the sixth-largest snowstorm ever, then City Hall didn’t respond properly, causing unnecessary chaos. City plows have yet to cross hundreds of Brooklyn streets, stranding and endangering residents. MTA buses, cars and other vehicles are strewn in the middle of major transportation routes. Elevated subway tracks, common in Brooklyn, were rendered impassable and are only now becoming intermittently operational. Much of Brooklyn still remains inaccessible by public or private transportation nearly 48 hours after the storm.”
Sampson determined, “After speaking to the Sanitation Department, my colleagues in government, and Community Board leaders, I can state unequivocally that this response to a major storm was inadequate.”
He added that in the Brownsville section of his district, where nearly 90,000 people live, only three snowplows were assigned. They were directed to clean only main streets. More than 48 hours after the snow began to fall, major transportation arteries like Pitkin Avenue and Thomas Boyland Boulevard are only just being cleared. This pattern has been repeated all across the borough.”
On top of New Yorkers dealing with reduced mass transportation service and unplowed streets, fares for the city’s tolls, buses and trains went up on Thursday, December 30, 2010. A few New Yorkers, former and current, had a few things to get off of their chest when asked about the raised fares, the weather and the city’s effort to clear the streets.
“What are gas prices looking like out there? That might be a better deal,” said Merv Matthew, a native New Yorker who’s now an assistant professor at DePauw University in Indiana.
“I won’t be surprised if gas hits $4 for regular next year,” said Sawandi Boyke, a native of Brooklyn.
“I’m not as sad to move back to Pittsburgh this weekend,” said Cindy Usher, who’s currently attending Drexel University College of Medicine.
Sampson concluded, “The poor response by the City administration is clearly unacceptable. It should not take one and a half hours to get through to the city’s 311 emergency information line. Hospital personnel should not have to trek miles on foot to get to work. Emergency service vehicles cannot get to those who need immediate medical attention because of blocked roads. This situation puts our senior citizens, the sick and infirm in a life-threatening position. My district office has been informed of two New Yorkers who have died because EMS could not get to them after emergency calls were made.
“We are left to conclude that the Administration was not adequately prepared for a storm that it had ample notice to prepare for and failed to allocate adequate manpower and resources.”
Pending the outcome of inquiries, Sampson said a blueprint should be put in place, including:
– Setting priority bus and subway routes in all five boroughs.
– Making sure these routes are cleared first, kept clear, and that transit lines are operational.
– Providing the public timely status updates about priority transit lines.
“There should be a review of the official communication protocols so that we do a better job of informing the public not only about when the storm is expected but about what they should expect in the aftermath,” said Sampson.