Blizzard of Discontent

We haven’t had the full reckoning promised by the City Council yet, but it seems safe to say that a few things contributed to the uproar over unplowed NYC streets over the holidays: 1) There was a lot of snow; 2) the Bloomberg administration didn’t declare a snow emergency, and 3) apparently many motorists could have used the official government declaration telling them not to drive in a fierce blizzard, because stuck and abandoned cars made it harder for plow crews to do their jobs.

There didn’t seem to be much reflection, however, about the complications caused by driving and parking during an extreme snowstorm. In fact, as you can see in this rant by Council Member David Greenfield, who took umbrage that the Ocean Parkway malls got cleared so people can walk or bike in his district, some elected officials weren’t above using the occasion to take a swipe at the city’s bike policy.

The “blame bike lanes” instinct also surfaced at the Post and the Daily News, both running indignant opinions about bikeways getting cleared of snow. They may be pleased to hear that the Prospect Park West bike lane is impassable for cyclists.

One of the ironies here is that some anti-bikeway types, including opponents of the PPW bike lane, have claimed that snow clearance would be an Achilles’ heel of the new, physically separated facilities. In the eyes of the opposition, NYC’s bikeways are damned if they get plowed, and damned if they don’t.

  • Yeah, thank god PPW Bike path is unploughed. Had it been cleared, it would have been proof that in the current city administration there is a Manchurian Candidate who will one day sieze the Reigns of State, ban automotive travel, turn us all into bicyclists (gasp!), and send the dissenters to re-education camps where presumably they will be forced to ride tricycles…

    Note in the video above, as the city council member sputters in outrage, there are actually some pedestrians who seem quite happy to be walking along the cleared path.

  • Larry Littlefield

    “Apparently many motorists could have used the official government declaration telling them not to drive in a fierce blizzard.”

    When I actually read the snow emergency ordinance, I was surprised to see that it does no such thing.

    It requires those parked on designated “snow emergency streets,” which are limited in number, to move them elsewhere (and there may be spare spaces elsewhere) and requires that those driving on snow emergency streets have snow tires or chains (which many people had in the 1960s but few people have today).

    In addition to the rules, the map is obsolete. The only “snow emergency street” in Windsor Terrace is the Prospect Expressway. Theoretically if I had a heart attack in a blizzard, an ambulance could park on the expressway, and carry the stretcher up the access ramp and the five blocks to my house, and then back to the expressway before taking me to the hospital. But not Methodist Hospital, which is not on a snow emergency route.

    There was some talk in the press as to how the assertive Rudy Giuliani handled snowstorms. I don’t remember, but it may be that he announced “I’m declaring a snow emergency so no one is allowed to drive” even though he lacked the authority to order cars off the roads, and no one realized the latter.

  • Marcia Kramer’s Eyebrow

    This whole crud about bike lanes being cleared was probably because there were one or two that were actually plowed, but the rest were not. Someone should also talk to Ken Coughlin who just yesterday had to shovel blocks and blocks of a bike lane to make one rideable.

  • Instead of grandstanding, Greenfield should shut up and grab a shovel. Yeah, sure, the #1 priority in NYC after the blizzard was clearing bike lanes. Moron.

  • Someone should ask Greenfield why he’s in favor of senior citizens slipping and falling. The Ocean Parkway malls, even in cold weather, are a favorite spot for sitting and walking among the area’s elderly population.

  • tom

    An elected member of the Council of the City of New York speaks out and you all say he “rants” and “sputters in outrage” and is a “grandstanding..Moron”!

    David Greenfield’s main effect was to motivate his political rival Dov Hikind to go even further(fire DS commissioner, the Mayor has lost it, put this issue on national news). Chill out. The Mayor doesn’t need you keeping this story running.

    You’re not winning friends and influencing people here.

  • Behold as I lose friends and influence nobody with this hastily-done caricature of Dave-O, from last months “hearing” on bikes!

    http://criticalmasspanic.blogspot.com/2011/01/confounding-ironies-of-scapegoating.html

    I’d recommend that cyclists show up en-masse to the city council snow hearing next week and show them how we can jam up the “democracy” as well as cars (and snow) can jam up the streets!

    If being upset at people who want to demonize cyclists, make the streets less safe for non-motorized transport, and register a minority for the sake of controlling them makes me an anti-semite, so be it!

    Fa, Fa, Fascism!?

  • I can’t stand this nonsense about how every street has to be cleared before any bike lane. The Broadway bike path Cuozzo complains about was only partially cleared, seemingly for the New Year’s Eve revelers. Most other bike paths were partially or completely impassable for the last week, including the Columbus Avenue and First and Second Avenue bike paths. And virtually every unprotected bike lane was full of snow. And those non-protected bike lanes that were cleared, were used as parking by motorists with impunity.

    If there was to be an absolute hierarchy followed for snow removal, it should prioritize mobilizing the maximum number of people, by prioritizing major arteries, sidewalks (I know this is legally property owner’s responsibility, but the city should at least remove the snow at intersections and where property owners fail to), and bus routes. And the higher priority would go to the areas of greatest population density. Clearance of snow from parking lanes would be last priority. Is that what Cuozzo and his ilk want?

  • Larry Littlefield

    Well it looks like part of the Prospect Park West bike lane IS cleared — but only the part up north near the bike lane’s most influential retired opponents.

  • Marty Barfowitz

    Greenfield is rapidly emerging as the #1 troglodyte in City Council.

    His district also happens to boast the city’s highest rate of brainless, entitled, car-obsessed dipshits who took their vehicles out in the snow storm, got themselves stuck, and prevented their own streets from being plowed.

  • Larry Littlefield

    “His district also happens to boast the city’s highest rate of brainless, entitled, car-obsessed dipshits who took their vehicles out in the snow storm, got themselves stuck, and prevented their own streets from being plowed.”

    His district also includes a high proportion of people who feel compelled to live in high density, walkable areas because they spend at least one day per week car free, every week.

    Think about how rare that is in the United States. I’ve often wished the Catholic Church was still morally strong enough to suggest an “energy fast” of some sort to use less during lent, which it isn’t. And these folks do it year round, although not with that intent.

    Perhaps we need a rabbi to reach a finding that riding a bicycle on the Sabbath isn’t “work.”

  • IHATEYUPPIES

    Damn yuppies. Your bike lanes have caused nothing but problems. Go back to Kenconowa! NO SLEEP TILL BROOKLYN! BIATCHES! Welcome to the big city. Welcome to the jungle baby..you’re gonna die.

  • Larry Littlefield

    Note that Neighbors for Better Bike Lanes want people to ride their bicycles on 8th Avenue with the above poster, who is probably heading toward Downtown Brooklyn with his parking placard and already pissed as hell that he caught the last light on Ocean Parkway before exiting the Prospect Expressway.

  • Ben, would the new year be a good time to implement a no-threats-of-violence-in-the-comments policy? In my opinion, I don’t think threats and imprecations like no. 12 add a lot to the site.

  • The commenter has been banned, in accordance with our comment moderation policy. I’m leaving this comment (#12) in there for the historical record, so Larry at #13 can be legible to others.

  • Larry Littlefield

    As to the issue at hand, the outrage that bike lanes are cleared, lets look at some anectodal evidence.

    1) It was reported that the West Side Greenway was cleared.

    2) It was reported that the Prospect Park West bike lane was being cleared, “until cooler heads prevailed” according to Steve Cuozzo. It is partially cleared. The sidewalk on Prospect Park West was mostly cleared, after Monday night when I walked home on it.

    3) It was reported that the Ocean Parkwway Malls were cleared, by David Greenfield who objected to that.

    4) A Parks Department employee was quoted as saying he had been asked to plow the streets, “for the first time ever.”

    5) Walking from Windsor Terrace to the 4th Avenue/9th Street stop on the R train to get to work, the only vehicle I saw plowing the streets was a Parks Department pick-up. There were several Sanitation/Transporation plows stalled in the vicinity of the intersection of 9th Street and 5th Avenue.

    So what does this mean?

    1) The bike lanes were being plowed because they were on Parks Department property, and the Parks Department was clearing them as it always does.

    2) When a “foofarah” was raised, the Parks Department stopped clearing sidewalks and bike paths and started clearing streets.

    3) At least one bike path is still not cleared. That is probably true of sidewalks in and near parks.

    4) What do those complaining about this want? Save the OT and have the Parks Department not do any snow clearance, until long after the streets have been cleared?

  • Apropos Larry #16, Concerned Citizens can buy a snowplow for $250 and hook it up to their giant SUV or pickup truck and plow until the snow melts. I understand how folks would like the city to clear the streets for them, but doing it yourself seems like a more constructive approach than complaining about it.

  • Remember that this is the same Greenfield who wanted to reduce the space given to fire hydrants and give some of it over to more parking. That would mean less space for oil trucks and less space for excess snow.

    Tune in to David’s springtime and summertime video when he comes up with yet more contradictory reasons for the mayor’s war on cars.

  • Marty Barfowitz

    His district also includes a high proportion of people who feel compelled to live in high density, walkable areas because they spend at least one day per week car free, every week. Perhaps we need a rabbi to reach a finding that riding a bicycle on the Sabbath isn’t “work.”

    That’s a great point. You want to observe Shabbos, you need a walkable community.

    One of the things I find most mind-boggling about Brooklyn’s Orthodox Jewish community is their eagerness to ignore the fact that much of the money they are pouring into their gas tanks is going straight into the wallets of rulers of countries that utterly, totally hate them.

    You want to reduce the power and influence of Iran and Saudi Arabia? Riding a bike around NYC is one small but easy way to do start to do that.

  • Suzanne

    Ihateyuppies – no, he certainly didn’t add anything to any sort of rational discourse but he was damn good for inadvertant humor. My two cens is that he forgot to take his meds today.

    …Unfortunately, this mentally disturbed nutjob probably has a car. He’s one more reason it should be harder to get a license. Maybe drivers should be required to pass psychological tests, like they do in the FBI.

  • rhubarbpie

    I’ve lived through a fair number of New York City storms and blizzards, including a giant storm in ’95 or ’06 during which I admit I drove from Manhattan to Brooklyn so my girlfriend at the time could have her car buried near her apartment rather than mine (wasn’t too happy about that). Wouldn’t do that today, and in fact had the opportunity to head upstate by car on the day of the storm; when I heard the word “blizzard,” I realized it’d be a mistake.

    Too bad the mayor and the MTA chief didn’t pay as much attention. My sense is that this storm was miserably handled — much worse than in past storms — almost entirely because of poor decision-making by the city and the MTA.

    Yes, there was a lot of snow, but the city really can deal with that pretty well and has in the past. Yes, there were cars stuck, but plenty of people didn’t see their streets plowed for days, even when no cars were stuck. (And usually cars don’t get stuck, because a snow emergency has been declared — which has the effect of keeping people off the roads.)

    For guys who claim to bring world-class managers — Bloomberg and Walder — this was just a horrendous performance, especially since at least two people died.

    Both the city and the MTA were were late to get the word out to stay off the roads, and late to get the troops out to keep roads and subways passable. I’ve never seen buses stuck in the middle of the street, as happened this time around the city (including two blocks from my house) or heard about folks stuck on subway trains overnight.

    But, believe it or not, that’s not my point. Since it’s pretty obvious that these guys just fell down on the job, I’m more interested in the things that happen EVERY time there’s a snowstorm and how they affect pedestrians and bus riders. Have you ever seen a bus stop cleared after a storm? Why not? How often are the crosswalks cleared after a storm? Are they cleared well enough so that a person with even the slightly trouble walking can get by? Who is responsible for keeping bus stops and crosswalks clear? Do they know it, and is there ever any consequence for not clearing them?

    Taking care of bus stops and crosswalks can’t be all that hard to figure out, yet the only reason many older people and people in wheelchairs or using canes, etc. can get around today is because the snow melted. (And in some cases, they’re still stuck at home, because there are still uncleared areas.) It’s worth some research by Streetsblog or others, since chances are the streets will be cleared the next time — but those of us who walk or take the buses, especially those of us who don’t do that so easily — will be once again stuck. And that’s not my definition of a city really looking out for pedestrians and non-automobile users.

  • tom

    Just looked over your comment moderation policy and it sees fine and should be implemented liberally to achieve the desired dialogue.

    I would have one addendum: “Please take your meds before accessing Streetsblog.”

  • Joe R.

    “One of the things I find most mind-boggling about Brooklyn’s Orthodox Jewish community is their eagerness to ignore the fact that much of the money they are pouring into their gas tanks is going straight into the wallets of rulers of countries that utterly, totally hate them.”

    I don’t get this, either. The quickest way to bring the influence of these countries down to zero is to totally starve them of oil revenues. When they’re starving, they’ll learn to be good citizens because they’ll have to be given that they’ll likely need tourism income just to survive.

  • Joe R.

    “But, believe it or not, that’s not my point. Since it’s pretty obvious that these guys just fell down on the job, I’m more interested in the things that happen EVERY time there’s a snowstorm and how they affect pedestrians and bus riders. Have you ever seen a bus stop cleared after a storm? Why not? How often are the crosswalks cleared after a storm? Are they cleared well enough so that a person with even the slightly trouble walking can get by? Who is responsible for keeping bus stops and crosswalks clear? Do they know it, and is there ever any consequence for not clearing them?”

    This is a great question for which I would also like an answer. I’m increasingly annoyed by the fact that plowing for the convenience of motor traffic makes it harder to get around as a pedestrian with mounds of snow at every corner. This shouldn’t be. More people walk in NYC than drive. Keeping pedestrian pathways clear should be higher priority than clearing the roads. And I would personally like to see greater enforcement against people not shoveling their sidewalks. That means the entire width. I saw far too many people take the lazy way out, only making a one or two foot wide path. This makes it difficult for two people walking in opposite directions to pass each other.

  • J:Lai

    Joe R,
    Taking your point a step further, why should clearing sidewalks be the responsibility of private property owners or merchants, while public resources are used to clear the streets? Systematic sidewalk clearing would allow the snow piles at intersections to be pushed into the middle of the intersection as well.

  • Joe R.

    @ J:Lai,

    I agree 100% that the city should clear sidewalks. Of course, the city will claim they lack the manpower for this. But in any case, you’re right, the burden shouldn’t fall on private property owners, many of whom can’t physically do it themselves, but must pay someone else to do it for them.

  • Larry Littlefield

    Well, I’m not about to call for a bankrupt city to shovel the sidewalk. And the streets do have to be paid for emergency access.

    But I’m wondering when it became the property owner’s responsibility to maintain the sidewalks, which are city property?

  • Marty Barfowitz

    You visit European cities during the winter and you often see small vehicles that can be used to clean and plow sidewalks and public spaces. I can’t imagine why the City wouldn’t do that, at least, in Midtown.

  • Andrew

    What is the auto ownership rate in Boro Park? Is there any way to determine the auto ownership rate among Orthodox Jews in Boro Park? I wouldn’t be surprised if we’re hearing from a very vocal (and well represented) minority.

    In principle, I agree that the city should be responsible for clearing sidewalks, but given that, in this past snowstorm, sidewalks were clear in much of the city before the streets were, I’m not so sure it would be a good idea. But I certainly agree that bus stops and crosswalks need far more attention than they get now!

    I’ve also found that city agencies are among the worst neighbors when it comes to clearing the sidewalks fronting on their property. And who is responsible for traffic islands, some of which house bus stops and subway station entrances?

  • R Thibault

    I second Marty Barfowitz & Joe R. We need some innovate thinkers in NYC govt. And until we get them the boroughs will be buried… in snow (except for HappyFunPlaytime Times Square apparently).

  • J. Mork

    Something plowed the Manhattan Bridge bike path, so there’s at least one mini plow around.

    In other news, my idea that all drivers be required to drive around non-stop in a blizzard so the friction of their wheels melt all the snow on contact isn’t gaining much, er, traction.

  • Menachem Goldstein

    The bike lane doesn’t look any more plowed than the road there, Greenfield…

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