As the weather heats up and the city becomes one giant pile of slush, New Yorkers are beginning to look for answers about why six inches of snow caused the city to grind to a halt after yesterday’s freak November snow storm. Their questions include why the city’s buses did not have snow chains on their wheels, why salt spreaders were unable to reach large portions of the city, and how a rush hour storm was able to generate gridlock that cascaded from the George Washington Bridge all the way to southern Brooklyn.
“We got 6 to 7 inches of snow, which was a record,” City Council Speaker Corey Johnson told reporters at a press conference in front of a fallen tree branch in Chelsea this afternoon. “But it was still only six inches of snow. We’re New York City, we get blizzards. Twelve inches — fourteen inches — two feet of snow! We should have been prepared to deal with six inches of snow even if it was a record.”
Traffic expert Sam Schwartz said Thursday’s storm created one of the worst traffic jams in New York City history. “Yesterday wasn’t just a city breakdown it was a breakdown of the entire region. In fact I’d say this is going to make it into my list of top 10 gridlock days I’ve seen,” he told WNYC / Gothamist.
Schwartz compared the city’s paralysis as comparable to a snow storm in Atlanta in 2014 that left motorists stranded and freezing on highways. He also believes the optics are as bad for Mayor Bill de Blasio as they were for Mayor John Lindsay in 1969, whose own mayoralty was left permanently stained by an ineffective response to a nor’easter that left 42 people dead.
Schwartz said he suspects the city won’t botch it again quite like this. “Every few years we have a snowstorm that cripples the city, there’s a post mortem, and we get it right next time. Believe me the next time there’s a hit of a dusting, a single snowflake, everything will be activated,” he said.
There were reports and videos of MTA buses stuck in the snow, sliding around, without chains on the wheels, which buses are usually equipped with during snow storms.
— chrismunns (@chrismunns) November 16, 2018
A spokesman for the MTA said the agency follows the forecast and on Wednesday night, with just one to two inches predicted, it wasn’t enough to put chains on all the tires. And once the snow began falling, it was too late to put on the chains because all the buses were already out on the streets.
The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which controls the George Washington Bridge, denies it was caught off guard.
“The day before the storm we had an agency wide meeting with all general managers at all facilities detailing preparations and what they planned to do, any thought we were blindsided or not prepared is false,” PANYNJ spokesman Steve Coleman, told us.
Coleman said the George Washington Bridge was salted and sanded before the storm. But that didn’t prevent a 25-car pile up from snarling traffic on the upper level. Coleman blames New York City and New Jersey officials for not plowing the entrances to the bridge.
Mayor Bill de Blasio blames the traffic on the George Washington Bridge creating a domino effect that led to Thursday night ranking in the top 10 most congested days in the city.
At his press conference in Chelsea, Johnson, who has no direct responsibility for the city’s response to weather events, apologized anyway, saying it was his job to oversee the agencies whose responses went so awry.
“I apologize,” Johnson said, and while he refused to join in on the finger-pointing, he appealed to politicians and officials to at least show some contrition. “It’s okay to say you’re sorry.”
Twenty-seven members of the City Council released a letter on Friday afternoon calling for a five-agency oversight hearing into the botched response to the storm.
“While the City is still assessing the emergency conditions and chaos caused by yesterday’s storm, there is very little doubt that despite forecasts and advance warnings of an approaching storm, the various City departments and agencies meant to protect New Yorkers did not perform their basic responsible and duties,” the letter reads.
Several City Council members spent hours trapped in their cars commuting home on Thursday, including Councilwoman Vanessa Gibson, who says she spent nine hours stuck in her car.
Johnson pledged to use the oversight powers of the City Council to get answers, but cautioned that might take a few weeks.
“We need a full operational review and its why the Council is going to use its full oversight authority because I think in less than twenty-four hours we’re not going to have answers to these millions of questions,” Johnson told reporters.
In the meantime, New Yorkers are just left with the harrowing memories of a devastatingly bad commute.