Streams

To Continue Plowing or Throw in the Towel: That is Connecticut's Question

Thursday, February 21, 2013 - 11:27 AM

(Neena Satija - CT Mirror) When the city threatened to tow all the cars on my street after the blizzard, I went into full-on panic mode. I paid a guy with a snow plow thirty bucks to dig out my car. And there was such a huge mound of snow between my roommate’s car and the road, that we actually drove it onto the sidewalk to get it off the street. And then the city never delivered. We live in the East Rock neighborhood of New Haven — and we’re not alone. All over the city, mounds of snow have reduced side streets from two lanes to one. Driving through them on Wednesday was a constant cat-and-mouse game with cars approaching from the opposite direction.  Check out this guy, who has just parallel-parked between two mounds of snow.

(All photos by Dru Nadler)

Chris Betances lives in the Beaver Hills neighborhood. Like me, he spent considerable time and effort digging out his car. Then the city never plowed the street. He nearly got towed earlier, forced to park in an illegal spot.

“Good thing I was actually walking out to my car,” he said. “And there was a tow truck literally right next to my car … I was like, there’s no way you’re towing my car right now. Where else am I going to park, you know?”

What I liked about my job today was that I could whine to the mayor of New Haven, John DeStefano, about this, and ask what gives. It’s a math problem and an energy problem, is basically what I was told.

“You know what? At some point, we do stop plowing, and we do stop removing snow,” he said. The storm has already cost the city more than $2 million; on Monday, with schools ready to be back in session, he decided enough was enough. “We’ve been essentially done except for emergency and safety issues for two days now.” It took as many as 30 payloaders — a few from the city and from the National Guard, but mostly contractors — to remove as much snow as the city did. A lot of it went here, to this public lot reserved for that purpose:

In Bridgeport, snow is even more of a political issue. Some residents are calling for Mayor Bill Finch to resign, and a Facebook page created this week to that effect has more than 120 “likes.” They say the city took too long to dig them out immediately after the storm, and now, they’re dealing with 20-foot-high mountains of snow piled at many intersections by plows. Imagine turning into an intersection and staring this guy in the face, for instance:

Clearly, the city can’t be finished removing snow with payloaders and dump trucks. And it isn’t, emergency director Scott Appleby tells me. He thinks it’ll take at least a couple more weeks to get rid of these dangerous mountains at intersections all over the city. He also vehemently defends Bridgeport’s response to the storm — originally, forecasters said the city would “only” (ha!) get 18 inches of snow.

Bridgeport actually got more than 31-38 inches. But no one realized that, apparently, until around 10:30 p.m. Friday night, the night the storm hit. That’s when, as Appleby puts it, “the system stalled.” Plow and truck drivers had already been pulling 12-hour shifts to deal with the amount of snow. And the people due for a second shift couldn’t get to work.

Appleby said the city learned many important lessons from the storm: Communicate better, with residents as well as weather forecasters. Institute parking bans and emergency declarations farther in advance, even if it may seem a little premature.

Cut down on contracting, by far the biggest expense, if at all possible – maybe even by using volunteers or other agencies. Maybe earlier parking bans would have prevented bizarre and hilarious scenes like this one:

New Haven’s mayor DeStefano was less forthcoming with “lessons learned” that can help during another snow emergency.

“I think there are things you can learn, but the things you learn may have nothing to do with the storm you next experience,” he said.

Or, the money to implement lessons may not be there. The city could try to lock in contractors in advance at a fixed price to save money – but that usually requires paying something upfront before a storm is even forecasted. Bringing in more equipment and staff means hiring more supervisors – which the city can’t afford. More outside contractors or National Guard members only go so far when they’re not familiar with New Haven’s streets in an emergency.

Maybe the most important thing we need to do, DeStefano told me, is temper our expectations. OK, fine. I don’t expect to find a legal parking spot on my street anytime soon. So I’m parking in the “no standing anytime” zone. And if I get a ticket, someone’s going to pay. Also, I’m going to walk on the street in situations like this, so I don’t get trapped on the sidewalk again:

Follow Neena Satija on Twitter.

 

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