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Department of Sanitation

SNOW PROBLEM: Ex-Sanitation Commish Reveals Why City Clears Bike Lanes So Poorly

More than 36 hours after the storm ended, this is what many protected bike lanes look like. Photo: Gersh Kuntzman

The Department of Sanitation appears to be doing a better job clearing roadways and bike paths from the remains of this week's massive blizzard, but the agency is still hamstrung by its years-long failure to buy the right equipment to clear narrow protected bike lanes — years after the de Blasio administration went on a bike-lane-construction spree.

How Streetsblog covered the Multihog debacle.
How Streetsblog covered the Multihog debacle.
How Streetsblog covered the Multihog debacle.

And this time, his biggest critic is his former long-serving Sanitation Commissioner Kathryn Garcia.

On Tuesday, as the cleanup began, Streetsblog asked Garcia why the agency that she led for six years has failed to obtain nimble, narrow-width snow-removal equipment that can make quick work of plowing tight spaces. Streetsblog referenced the city's refusal to buy a single such Multihog machine that two East Side council members agreed to fund.

"They wouldn't let me buy them!" said Garcia, who is currently running for mayor. "I love the Multihog! They work, but they would not let us buy them. The Office of Management and Budget is not a fan of bike lanes. I said, ‘You're changing the street and you're not giving me any of the tools to maintain it. And I've told you over and over again.' If you are going to change the streets, which is what we were doing it, you have to have the right tools to take care of them.”

Streetsblog had reached out to OMB for our story last month about Council Members Ben Kallos and Keith Powers' personal tragedy: Both lawmakers had allocated money from a pool of capital funds that council members control for the purchase of two Multihog units — only to have OMB reject the allocation, citing an obscure ruling by the Comptroller's office claiming that city capital funds cannot be employ to purchase any equipment that has detachable or seasonal parts.

Kathryn Garcia
Kathryn Garcia
Kathryn Garcia

At the time, the OMB cited that Comptroller's ruling. This week, City Hall declined to comment again, citing that ruling. And Sanitation Department spokesman Joshua Goodman said what he said the last time.

"The Multihogs themselves are capital-eligible, but are useless without attachments for plowing snow and cleaning roadways [and] the attachments are not capital eligible per the Comptroller’s Directive #10, FAQ’s under section C, 2c and section D — 1d with regard to initial outfitting of vehicles," he said. "We do not have expense funds to be able to purchase these attachments, given the city’s current financial position. That is the issue preventing purchase at this time."

He also took issue with Garcia's frontal attack on OMB.

"Personally, working with OMB as often as I do, I would say that 'not a fan of bike lanes' is not a characterization I’d agree with given the ... administration’s strong track record of supporting bike lanes," he added.

Members of the biking public can quibble on the extent to the mayor's support for bike lanes, but Kallos, for one, does not feel enough support. "It’s total bullshit" that OMB will not buy the Multihog, he said.

Comptroller Scott Stringer refused to accept responsibility for the current snafu between the East Side council members and City Hall.

"The comptroller is a longtime advocate for safe streets and supports efforts to clear paths for bikers and pedestrians, but we simply cannot revise a citywide accounting directive to permit the purchase of a single snowplow," said Hazel Crampton-Hays, a spokeswoman for the comptroller. "We encourage the Council Member to pursue appropriate routes to resolve this issue.”

While that "issue" gets "resolved," cyclists around town are left to deal with the failure of the city to purchase the right equipment, whatever method is used. As Streetsblog reported in December, the DSNY is, to paraphrase "Hamilton," outgunned, outmanned, outnumbered and outplanned: Sanitation has bought zero — zero as in Vision Zero — narrow snow removal machines designed for bike lanes since it bought 50 Gehl tractors for the 2014-2015 winter. The remaining 54 machines in the fleet are older than that.

The Gehl tractors are not up to the job. Here's a video from today that demonstrates that clearly:

Come for the cleanup, stay for the sad trombone sound effect.

There is some evidence that bike lanes are being properly cleared in some areas:

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