Wednesday, December 29, 2010

NY Metro Area Still Digging Out of Snowpocalypse

The New York metro area continues digging out from the massive blizzard, but residents remain irate at Mayor Mike Bloomberg and his shoddy and nonchalant handling of the scope of the mess. He's finally admitting that the City could have done better, but that's still not an admission that he screwed up in not calling for a state of emergency.

Much of the city has yet to clear out from the piles of snow and the MTA deserves special scorn for their lackluster operation.

Details are now coming out about how poorly they handled the blizzard. One particular situation deserves special attention. Who exactly made the decision to dispatch subway trains into the teeth of the blizzard, particularly on the A line in the Rockaways? That seems to be a particularly disastrous decision as one such train was stuck with 500 passengers for nine hours. The motorman of that particular train was forced to leave the safety of the subway car and manually shovel and clear each stop signal.
"I had to get off at every signal because they were stuck in the upright position. I did this on the bridges above the water!" Hicks said. "We'd travel for a bit, get stuck, I'd get out, then we'd travel again. This happened about 20 times."

Hicks said he was astonished when his dispatcher told him to drive the train in the weather, knowing the subway couldn't handle the haul.

"I told the dispatcher, 'You've got to be kidding! You're sending us out in this stuff? This is suicide!' " he said.

And the risk of falling from the tracks was the least of his concerns

"Every time I jumped off the train, I couldn't see the third rail -- I had no idea where it was," he said about the high-voltage line that could have fried him had he come in contact with it.

When part of his train finally crawled into Aqueduct station, he was told he couldn't advance because a train carrying 500 passengers in front of him was stuck.
The MTA dispatchers should have canceled the subway operations once they saw how bad the situation was getting so that passengers and their crews would not get stuck in a dangerous position.

That mirrors the situation on MTA buses, where hundreds were dispatched despite the dangerous and impassible road conditions. Buses throughout the City remain stranded, along with hundreds of cars, trucks, and even emergency vehicles. 911 dispatchers had to triage cases, and it looks like they were overwhelmed with the volume of calls and problems with emergency crews themselves getting stuck in the snows.

There are now reports that a newborn died because emergency crews could not reach the mother and newborn for hours because the roads were impassible. That's completely unacceptable.

While investigations and hearings will be held in January, recriminations are already underway. Some are blaming job cuts and inadequate staffing due to the holidays. I think the situation is exacerbated by the Mayor's failure to declare a state of emergency at the outset of the storm, knowing full well that the weather forecasters were predicting a storm of extraordinary magnitude with the potential for crippling snow totals. Others are calling for Sanitation Commissioner John Doherty to be fired for his failure to deal with the storm adequately.

Sanitation Department records aren't clear as to whether streets are passable - they only report that they are plowed or salted.
Harry Nespoli, president of the Uniformed Sanitationmen’s Association, said in an interview that the 2006 snowstorm — when the 24-hour record for Central Park, 26.9 inches, was set — was “a benchmark” for the Sanitation Department’s response.

“We covered all city streets within about 36 hours of the last flake, meaning that they got plowed at least once,” he said.

But Mr. Nespoli said of the city’s response to Sunday’s storm: “I’ll tell you the truth: there are problems with this one. We’ll need more than 36 hours because we lost too much time. We are scratching our heads trying to figure out what happened on this storm.”
Now, the streets are clogged with stranded vehicles and plows are still unable to clear streets - secondary and tertiary streets where most residents of the city actually live. MTA officials should have taken better precautions to keep buses off the roads so that they would not contribute to the additional problems facing snow removal crews. Sending out bus after bus onto snow-clogged routes only further contributed to the problems in clearing snow routes.

Seeing is believing, and I had to travel to Brooklyn earlier today on a personal matter, and what I saw throughout the borough was absolutely astonishing.

Once you get off the Prospect Expressway, you're supposed to go onto Ocean Parkway, which is a wide boulevard with three lanes in each direction with a center median area that allows turn lanes with signal control. There are wide pedestrian paths on either side, and then access roads with parking on either side.

It is one of 250 designated snow emergency routes in the City. This is because Ocean Parkway is a major thoroughfare across Brooklyn, linking Prospect/Sunset Park with Coney Island. Several hospitals are in close proximity to Ocean Parkway and it is a vital transportation corridor parallel to Coney Island Avenue, which is a more commercial strip.

Instead of Ocean Parkway being free and clear of obstructions, it was down to two lanes in many parts - and cars were lining the center median. There were hundreds of cars stranded or parked on the median or on the driving lanes, making the parkway an obstacle course. With that being the opening course of my Brooklyn driving experience, I had to make my way to Coney Island Avenue near Avenue J.

I wouldn't hazard a turn at most intersections because the cross streets were virtually impassible - two way streets with double yellow lines were limited to one-way traffic and vehicles were stuck all over trying to get on to the tertiary roads that were not cleared at intersections. Avenue J was passable, although severely constricted despite being a bus route.

Coney Island Avenue was little better - and it too is a snow emergency route. Traffic was everywhere and while people were generally making due with the situation, it poses a tremendous health hazard if emergency crews cannot get to medical or fire emergencies in large parts of the borough.

The City is responsible for providing basic services and health, safety and welfare are its basic obligations. By not clearing the roads - and I'm referring to even the major snow emergency routes, an ongoing hazard exists and public safety is at risk. Despite Mayor Bloomberg's claims that the roads are plowed and cleared, the situation on the ground is anything but.

Moreover, driving to Brooklyn we had to pass two Sanitation Department depots on the West Side, which had dozens of idle snowplows when the Outer Boroughs were clamoring for assistance. These plows and equipment should have been marshaled to assist in clearing streets in Brooklyn, Queens, and Staten Island, but then again, they could have helped clear all the lanes on the West Side Highway below 57th Street. Two lanes were mostly clear, but this is a 3-lane highway in both directions, and the restricted lanes meant that traffic was not only slowed, but it created an ongoing traffic hazard as drivers had to negotiate through treacherous conditions.

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