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Less snow, clear streets, few complaints in NYC

January 12, 2011 3:36:56 PM PST
The best New Yorkers could come up with Wednesday, after a storm dumped a foot or so of snow overnight, was that the scraping of snowplows kept them up all night.

Less than three weeks after the first snowfall of the season - more than 2 feet in places - paralyzed New York for days, streets were clear and Mayor Michael Bloomberg's reputation was on the mend as the city deftly responded to the latest winter blitz.

"Last time, we could barely get down the street," said Rosalie Casciorizzo, a resident of south Brooklyn, where many blocks were neglected after the Dec. 26 blizzard. "Now, it's no problem. They did a much better job."

City Hall's snow removal plan, revamped to be what the mayor called "more aggressive and more accountable" than the post-Christmas response, appeared to go a long way toward cleanup of a storm that swatted the South and New York before unleashing the brunt of its force on New England.

An upbeat and happy Bloomberg declared at a morning briefing that every street would see a plow by midday.

"Our goal for this storm was not merely to get back to business as usual," Bloomberg said. "Our goal was to deploy a more effective snow response operation than ever, more aggressive and more accountable, based on the lessons that we learned in the last storm, and that's what we've done."

New York City was feeling so confident about its cleanup that Bloomberg offered assistance and equipment to harder-hit Suffolk County on suburban Long Island, which got as much as 17 inches.

That contrasts with late December, when stunned city officials pleaded long after the snow had stopped falling for private contractors to respond to requests for backup.

That storm dropped 29 inches in Staten Island, 2 feet in Brooklyn and 20 inches in Central Park. The mayor and his commissioners have admitted mistakes in their response to that snowfall, and Wednesday's storm - the third in less than three weeks - was their chance for a comeback.

Lining up contractors early for this storm helped, officials said.

Before the snow arrived, the city positioned its 1,700 snowplows as usual but also deployed equipment from other agencies, as well as backhoes, Bobcats and front-end loaders hired from 106 contractors to help clear the streets.

Bloomberg had also declared a weather emergency Tuesday, something not done for the holiday storm that eventually trapped hundreds of buses and ambulances, blocking the paths of plows.

The weather alert does not have the legal heft of a snow emergency, which prohibits private vehicles without snow tires or chains from driving on designated snow routes, but the city believes it signaled to citizens the seriousness of the storm and made traffic lighter overnight.

"It was a very different dynamic when the plows arrived at the streets," Bloomberg said. "The plows did not have to contend with buses and trucks and cars stuck in the middle of the streets, and that made their job a lot easier."

Digging his black Ford Expedition out along 60th Street in Brooklyn, 71-year-old Tom DiGiorgi said the plows scraping the pavement kept him and his wife from getting a good night's sleep.

"They were going over and over," he said. "Everyone is complaining, but come on! It's snow already. Dig out your car, shovel your driveway and sidewalk and get over it. I'm 71 and I'm shoveling."

Pak Lee, 32, noted the trucks salting the streets Tuesday evening, before the snow even started falling.

"Last time there were cars abandoned all around, but people were smart enough to wait to see if the roads were clear today," he said. "And so the plows were able to do the work."

New York City Public Advocate Bill de Blasio said the difference between the December cleanup and this week "has been like night and day."

"While it was a less severe storm, the city got out in front of it and made sure New Yorkers knew what they were up against," he said. "That's far better than spending three days playing catch up."

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