Plows missing in action, side streets impassable


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BY TONIA N. CIMINO

Additional reporting by Bob Doda
Driving down Cross Bay Boulevard after the blizzard was a cinch, said one Howard Beach resident – she just couldn’t get back to her home on 92nd Street between 158th and 159th Avenues.
“A Dodge Ram got stuck in the snow in front of my house,” she said.
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She said that the first time she saw a snow plow was on Tuesday night, December 28 – but that some other side streets in the area still remain buried on Wednesday.
“It has been over 48 hours since the storm passed and our lives are still being disrupted by the snow,” said Assemblymember Mike Miller. “This is just another example of how Queens and the residents of my district constantly get the short end of the stick. This is a disgrace.”
It was the same in other parts of the borough after the nearly two feet of snow stranded many.
While main roadways such as Bell and Cross Bay Boulevards received much attention, some residents on side streets continue to be frustrated by the lack of plowing.
Dice Garcia, a Whitestone graphic designer and art director, called 3-1-1 to file a complaint about her Beechhurst block. It had yet to be plowed on Wednesday, December 29.
“We didn’t once see a plow come through our street,” said Garcia.
Con Edison, which originally reported 3,500 customers in Queens lost power – primarily in Glen Oaks and Flushing – said that all customers were restored by 6 p.m. on Tuesday.
According to Garcia, her Whitestone community at 160th Street and 11th Avenue has a history of being overlooked by street-clearing vehicles.
“We are usually the last to get plowed in Whitestone. We are usually very disappointed. We have yet to see one plow. Most people I know didn’t work today, we just couldn’t get out.”
Department of Sanitation (DOS) spokesperson Keith Mellis said the order of operations, as in any snowstorm, is arterial highways and primary streets, then secondary and tertiary.
“The problem we’ve encountered in this storm,” he said, “is that people brought their cars out into the street, got stuck, and then abandoned them.”
“We’ve been covering the whole borough with the same manpower we usually do,” he continued, noting that the agency has not faced any layoffs. DOS deployed 2,000 workers, 1,700 plows, and other miscellaneous vehicles such as snow melters and salt spreaders. Employees have been working two split shifts, 12 hours each.
“I am disappointed and bothered by the lack of priority given to the residential side streets throughout our communities many hours after the snowfall,” said State Senator Joseph Addabbo. “These streets remained unplowed and unmanageable for emergency vehicles, people on their way to work and those who had doctor appointments.”
In fact, because of the severe weather, the FDNY, which operated additional ambulance tours, reported that responses were significantly delayed in some instances. Over 1,300 EMS calls were backlogged initially and dozens of ambulances faced delays after getting stuck in snow drifts or behind abandoned vehicles.
“The Fire Department’s response to a five-alarm fire in Elmhurst last night [Monday] was delayed because the streets were not cleared,” said State Senator Jose Peralta. “Unplowed streets kept fire trucks from getting close to the fire, compounding the difficulties created by the weather conditions in fighting the blaze.”
However, he said, earlier in the day, there was a fatality.
“Yvonne Freeman was having trouble breathing Monday, according to her daughter, who began trying to contact 9-1-1 at approximately 8 a.m. She finally got through at 8:20 a.m. unfortunately, by the time emergency responders reached the Freeman home at 11:05 a.m. – three hours after the first attempt to contact 9-1-1 – Yvonne Freeman was dead.”
Now Peralta is calling on officials to look into the incident.
“The city must immediately determine whether the death of Yvonne Freeman can be attributed to the impact the snowstorm had on the city’s ability to respond to emergencies — from an overburdened 9-1-1 system to unplowed streets impeding timely movement of emergency vehicles and lifesaving equipment.”
Glen Oaks Village president Bob Friedrich was concerned for residents’ safety as well.
“Not only do our folks have to get to work, our community is adjacent to LIJ Medical Center making it almost impossible for emergency vehicles to get to the hospital through our streets. In fact, on Monday an LIJ ambulance had to be towed out of an intersection in the middle of Glen Oaks Village.”
Tommy, a Glen Oaks Village resident, told The Courier that the area “had one plow Monday night but he did very little.”
He went on to say that he saw two buses stuck at 260th Street and Langston Avenue on Tuesday.
“In the southeast Queens community I represent, residents have vainly waited for three days for street plows that have never arrived. Due to the lack of available public transportation in this community, many constituents depend on their vehicles to get to work or to the supermarket- vehicles that are trapped on side streets that desperately need to be plowed,” said City Council Deputy Majority Leader Leroy Comrie.
At a press conference that same day, Mayor Michael Bloomberg addressed residents’ frustrations.
“So far, the NYPD and authorized tow trucks have removed approximately 1,000 vehicles from the Van Wyck, Gowanus, and Cross Bronx Expressways alone,” he said. “We know that many streets still have not been plowed – and I saw that myself, yesterday, when I was visiting small businesses in the Bronx, Queens, Brooklyn, and Staten Island.”
Bloomberg continued, “Sanitation workers and other people we brought in for services have been working long and hard hours and dealing with enormous obstacles to get our streets cleared. But the fact remains that many New Yorkers are still coping with the serious hardship as a result of the blizzard. And I want them to know that we do appreciate the severity of these conditions they face, and that the bottom line is we are doing everything we possibly can, and pulling every resource from every possible place to meet the unique challenges that this storm is posing.”
But City Councilmember Peter Vallone had harsh words for the mayor.
“Hey Mr. Mayor, this is Queens talking. Our hospitals are short staffed, our commercial corridors are impassable, and our buses, ambulances, and even the snowplows are stuck. Our side streets haven’t seen one plow all day. Stop telling Manhattan to go see a Broadway play, and focus on getting the outer boroughs plowed, now! Then give us the full explanation we deserve as to why we were forgotten.”
Vallone, chair of the Public Safety Committee, will hold a hearing in the coming days on the emergency response during the storm. He has also spoken to Transportation Committee Chair James Vaccca and requested a hearing into the city’s snow removal.
Mass transit did not fare much better, as several buses were seen immobilized, and on Tuesday there were still service delays and interruptions.
Martha Hernandez, who lives in Jackson Heights on 79th Street between 35th and 34th Avenues, said that her commute to Bayside by bus and train took two-and-a-half hours on Tuesday and two on Wednesday.
“The walking was the hardest part,” she said, noting that most crosswalks were not cleared.
In Long Island City, City Councilmember Jimmy Van Bramer said that Vernon Boulevard, rife with businesses, “is just one example of a poor response to this storm by this administration.”
“It took me over an hour to find a parking spot,” said Long Island City resident Matt DeTore, who noted that he got stuck twice in his sedan.
“All of Queens is a mess,” said motorist Roseanne Frankel. “I saw a tractor trailer jackknifed . . . I have a Hummer, so I shifted into four-wheel drive. This reminds me of the days when [John V.] Lindsay was mayor.”
City Councilmember Erich Ulrich had a different simile.
“The mayor telling me and my constituents to go see a Broadway play when there was no ‘A’ train service and the streets haven’t been cleared is like Marie Antoinette saying, ‘Let them eat cake.’”
The cost of the cleanup – or when it will be completed — is not known yet. City Council Speaker Christine Quinn said oversight hearings into the handling of the blizzard will begin January 10.