Snow job! Brooklyn pols blast lackluster storm response

Snow job! Brooklyn pols blast lackluster storm response
Photo by Greg Mango

Brooklyn received a one-two punch this week — first when Mother Nature pummeled us with the fifth-largest snowstorm ever, then when City Hall didn’t do enough to clear the streets of the most-important borough.

And Tuesday wasn’t much better.

At a post-storm press conference in Brooklyn Heights, Mayor Bloomberg called Brooklyn “one of the cities hardest hit by the blizzard” — yet many streets throughout Brooklyn remained untouched by city plows all day, stranding and endangering residents, and infuriating critics.

According to the National Weather Service, the blizzard that dumped two feet of snow ended in the wee hours on Monday, and elevated subway tracks — common in Brooklyn, though virtually unheard of in Manhattan — were rendered impassable all day long (though limited service on the F line was restored by 10:30 pm and was available for Tuesday’s rush hour).

“This isn’t the worst storm we’ve ever had, but it seems to be the worst response to any major storm in recent memory,” said Councilman Steve Levin (D–Williamsburg).

Indeed, much of Brooklyn remained inaccessible by public or private transportation. Major arteries, such as Nassau Avenue in Greenpoint and Fourth Avenue in Park Slope were impassable.

Entire neighborhoods, such as Greenwood Heights, from 24th Street to the Prospect Expressway, were unplowed.

“Nothing’s been cleared,” said Aaron Brashear, a Greenwood Heights activist. “The city should have been prepared, but I haven’t seen a plow or anyone from the city to deal with this.”

And Southern Brooklyn was no better off.

“Here, in the ‘outer-boroughs,’ we are used to being the step-children of Manhattan and waiting for available plows, but there are major streets in my district that haven’t see a plow at all,” Councilman David Greenfield (D–Midwood) said around midday. “I’ve never seen such a wholesale failure of government to provide basic services.”

In Flatbush, secondary roads such as East 19th Street remained winter wonderlands. Utica Avenue and Avenue D weren’t much better.

All work, all play: Jihad Hasan jumps off a huge mound of snow that his father, Ammar Hasan, created in front of their house on 21st Street.
Photo by Greg Mango

“The city appeared completely unprepared. There is no excuse for mismanagement of this magnitude in one of the largest cities in the world,” blasted Councilman Jumaane Williams (D–Flatbush).

The borough’s predicament prompted the creation of a “wiki-map” to track — and grouse about — the city’s glacial response.

The neglect harkened to 1969, when just 15 inches of snow unexpectedly fell on the city, yet paralyzed Queens, whose streets remained unplowed for days. Rumor had it that sanitation workers were out to sabotage the Lindsay administration, which played hardball during a worker’s strike in 1968.

When Lindsay’s finally made it to the so-called Borough of Roses, he was jeered. In Fresh Meadows, a woman told him, “Get away, you bum.”

Borough President Markowitz branded Brooklyn 2010 the Queens of 1969. “I would doubt the Upper East Side is like this. Or the Upper West Side for that matter,” he said.

“Something happened in this snowstorm that we got behind the curve. Something came up short, and Brooklyn … took the brunt of it.”

But Sanitation officials saw things differently.

“There is no difference for any borough,” said agency spokesman Keith Mellis. “It’s the same plan we use for the entire city.”

The city insisted that the culprit was simply the storm’s ferocity, though abandoned cars at a variety of intersections didn’t help the clean-up effort.

At the intersection of Fifth Avenue and 21st Street in the South Slope, for example, a traffic jam of abandoned cars imprisoned a plow, rendering the vehicle impotent.

The same scene played out down in Midwood, on Avenue N and East 13th Street.

Good advertising: This Manhattan Avenue hardware store knew the perfect way to get the word out.
Community Newspaper Group / Andy Campbell

“I don’t want to hit the parked cars,” a Sanitation worker told our photographer on a side street, explaining why he didn’t risk moving down the narrow road.

The agency said it assembled 365 salt spreaders, 1,700 plows and 2,000 workers to clean up the mess. Meanwhile, Mayor Bloomberg didn’t exactly feel the borough’s pain, saying at a Monday news conference that “the world has not coming to an end.”

“The city’s going on,” he added. “Many people are taking the day off. Most stores are open. There’s no reason for anyone to panic.”

At press time, no weather-related deaths have been reported, but there were five-hour delays in responding to 911 medical calls and three-hour delays responding to priority calls, such as heart attacks.

The ambulance shortage forced a Flatbush mom-to-be to improvise, hopping a ride on a fire engine get to the hospital, where she delivered a healthy baby, according to the New York Post.

The roof of a parking garage on Second Street in Park Slope collapsed because of the snow, shutting down Fourth Avenue from Atlantic Avenue to Eighth Street. Wind and snow damaged the “bubble” covers at the Prospect Park Tennis Center.

And things weren’t all bad. At least not for WR Hardware on Manhattan Avenue in Greenpoint, where White Monday became Black Friday.

“People were lined up in front of the door this morning,” said manager Martin G, whose hottest sellers were ice choppers, shovels, window-washing fluid and salt. A snowstorm “always helps,” he added.

And in Gowanus, fresh air was a welcome respite from the familiar, fetid odor arising from the polluted Gowanus Canal.

“This is one of those rare occasions that you can’t smell the stink,” said President Street resident Linda Mariano.

Brooklyn’s business hub — the Metrotech complex, which includes the Community Newspaper Group Building — was all but abandoned, save for a handful of hurried pedestrians, and a small boy with plastic bags strangely tied over his winter boots, frolicking in a massive snowdrift.

Round round get around: A cyclist certainly didn’t need a bike lane as he made his way along Coney Island Avenue on Monday.
Photo by Arthur De Gaeta

Train service was suspended in much of southern Brooklyn, trapping the area in a snowy isolation.

“We haven’t been plowed and we can’t get out,” said Edith Storch, a resident of Sea Gate, a private community near Coney Island, that is without public transportation altogether. “I don’t see my way out of here. We were praying we don’t need medical care.”

Transit spokeswoman Deirdre Parker said the storm scuttled the agency’s pre-blizzard preparations, which included moving trains from outdoor yards to enclosed areas.

“It just overwhelmed our equipment,” she said. Ice on the electrified rail stalled trains, some as long as seven hours. “We had snow blowers, but at some point during a blizzard, it just blows right back.”

As of Tuesday, Brooklyn’s public transportation was still a mess:

• The B and Q trains remained suspended.

• The Franklin Avenue Shuttle was suspended.

• The L train was suspended between Myrtle Avenue and Broadway Junction

• The N was suspended between Whitehall Street and Stillwell Avenue.

• Buses remained a disaster: The B1, B2, B4, B6, B9, B11, B13, B31, B35, B36, B44, B49, B61, B64, B67, B68, B69, B70 and B74 were all out of service as of Tuesday afternoon.

That said, suspended train service meant a rare day of silence for those living adjacent to the elevated tracks.

Out of service: This B9 bus was stranded on Avenue M between Coney Island Avenue and E. 19th Street — and just wouldn’t budge, even for a fare-paying customer.
Photo by Arthur De Gaeta

“It’s very quiet here today,” said Barbara Donnelly, who has lived on E. 15th Street and Avenue P, near the Q and B trains, for the past 55 years. “It seems strange without them.”

To voice your snow removal concerns, call 311, or call Borough President Markowitz’s office at (718) 802-3777 or e-mail [email protected].