Queens officials upset at city’s snow response

By Gabriel Rom

Almost half of the city’s snow-plowing equipment has been diverted to Queens according to the Mayor’s office, even as some streets in the borough remained unplowed as of Monday afternoon.
Councilman Eric Ulrich (R-Ozone Park) held a press conference Monday at 4 p.m. “to let the rest of the city know the truth about how this mayor failed to provide services to my district,” according to a post on Ulrich’s Facebook page.

Ulrich is part of a growing chorus of Queens lawmakers, civic leaders and residents who say their streets, especially in central Queens, have been neglected by city services after a record-setting blizzard blanketed New York with 26.8 inches of snow.

At a press conference Monday morning, Mayor Bill de Blasio reiterated that the clean-up effort in Queens could have been better.

“Some areas of Queens strong, others less so. I was out yesterday in Flushing, South Jamaica, Long Island City and Astoria,” de Blasio said at the Manhattan news conference.

“I saw good results even on the tertiary streets. I didn’t see the kind of results I wanted in Sunnyside, Woodside, Elmhurst, Corona.”

There are currently more than 2,000 pieces of snow clearing equipment being used in Queens, de Blasio added.

As of yesterday, Queens had a total of 850 plows while today they have 920, more than in any other borough, according to Amy Spitalnik, a spokeswoman for de Blasio.
de Blasio, along with DSNY Commissioner Kathryn Garcia requested more snow laborers.

“This was one of the worst storms to ever hit New York City, and we need all hands on deck to dig us out,” de Blasio said. “As Sanitation’s uniformed workers continue to focus their Herculean efforts on clearing our city’s streets, snow laborers will be critical in shoveling out other key locations, like crosswalks, hydrants, bus stops and more.”

Yet, over the past 36 hours, complaints over unplowed streets and unsafe conditions in Queens, particularly in the neighborhoods of Woodhaven, Glendale, Maspeth, Middle Village and Ridgewood, have flooded social media.

John Meritt, a Glendale resident, posted a picture on Facebook of an impassible 68th Street at around 4 p.m. Sunday. In the comments under his photo, dozens of residents chimed in with similar reports:

“Where are the plows for goodness sake?” one said, “done with hearing all the excuses.”

The complaints quickly reached the ears of Queens lawmakers.

“Too many streets in Ozone Park and Woodhaven remain unplowed,” Ulrich posted on Facebook Sunday night. “I will be giving the mayor’s office an earful. This is a disgrace!”

Ulrich added that he believed schools should be closed Monday due to the storm.

Early Sunday, Mayor Bill de Blasio also said that city had not done a good job plowing streets in Queens.

“I’m not going to be happy this morning, I’m not going to be satisfied this morning,” de Blasio said during a press conference at the city’s Office of Emergency Management in Brooklyn Sunday morning.

“There were specific areas in Queens that got over 30 inches and needed even further resources,” Spitalnick said in an e-mail. “Given the rapid storm intensification and up to 3 inches per hour snowfall, which stranded some plows. As the mayor said, that wasn’t acceptable, so as soon as they heard about the need for more plows, the mayor and commissioner immediately moved to send more in,” Spitalnick added.

To the chagrin of some in central Queens, the mayor only mentioned the neighborhoods of Woodside, Sunnyside, Ridgewood, Jackson Heights, East Elmhurst and Corona in his Sunday announcement. His Monday conference did little to allay frustration.

“We in Woodhaven are extremely disappointed by the city’s performance during and after the blizzard,” the Woodhaven Residents Block Association said in a statement released Monday morning. “Even now — 54 hours after the snow started to fall — dozens of blocks in Woodhaven still have not been plowed once.”

Snow plows were reportedly stuck across the borough and both Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley (D-Glendale) and Councilman Rory Lancman (D-Hillcrest) took issue with data from the city’s Snowplow tracker, which they said reported streets plowed that hadn’t been touched.

“We need thorough investigation how Snowplow tracker is so wrong so often, and its impact on resource allocation,” Lancman tweeted Monday morning.

Freelance photographer Robert Stridiron posted a picture of a plow that made it only halfway down 85th Street, and seemed to have crashed into a parked car, damaging it.

As the morning continued, more borough lawmakers vented their anger.

“I join my constituents in feeling extremely frustrated with the lack of a quick and appropriate storm response seen in Queens, particularly in my district,” State Sen. Joseph Addabbo, Jr. (D-Howard Beach) said in a statement Monday morning. “Many residents in neighborhoods such as Woodhaven and Maspeth have yet to see a plow on their streets, more than two days after the storm hit.”

Addabbo said that a nightmarish Monday morning commute had convinced him that keeping schools open was ill-advised

“In my home neighborhood of Ozone Park, school buses were seen getting stuck while trying to navigate unplowed streets near PS 64. As I took my girls to school Monday morning, I witnessed both road and school rage. It is my hope that in the event of another major winter storm, our mayor makes the more educated and safer decision of closing public schools while cleanup continues.”

Amid the chaos, there were stories of residents banding together to help one another. Numerous videos posted on social media showed Queens pedestrians helping cars stuck in snow to get free.

Reach reporter Gabriel Rom by e-mail at [email protected]cnglocal.com or by phone at (718) 260–4564.

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