A “Brutal” Commute
by Melissa Bailey | Feb 13, 2013 1:40 pm
Posted to: Transportation, Downtown, Winter Storm Nemo
Black ice and narrow roads contributed to 22 accidents overnight, making a grueling commute for drivers, bus-riders and pedestrians returning downtown for the first time since the blizzard.
Downtown officially opened for business Wednesday for the first time since Winter Storm Nemo dumped a historic 34 inches of snow on city streets over the weekend. Yale, Gateway Community College, state court and city government all resumed normal operations. Officials no longer urged downtown businesses to stay closed.
Between 5 p.m. Tuesday and 9 a.m. Wednesday, there were 22 car accidents around town, police Sgt. Ricky Rodriguez (pictured) reported at Wednesday’s briefing in the Emergency Operations Center underneath 200 Orange St.
Cops stationed nine officers around downtown to monitor traffic between 7:30 a.m. and 9:30 a.m. At one of the spots, on North Frontage, a cop had to get out and wave traffic on to alleviate congestion, Rodriguez reported.
“The commute was pretty brutal this morning,” said Chief Administrative Officer Rob Smuts. He urged police to “go aggressive on the traffic posts” during the afternoon commute.
“People get really frustrated by these backups,” he said, “especially when they have experienced so much frustration already.”
Moments after Sgt. Rodriguez gave his morning update, another accident popped up on his computer screen. North Frontage, again. At College Street.
There, a dump truck tapped into the left rear bumper of an Audi A4 at 9:25 a.m., snarling traffic for half an hour. Cars were backed up from Exit 1 of Route 34 all the way to College. One driver said the offramp went from two lanes, then narrowed to one lane at one point because of snow, creating a bottleneck.
One driver stuck in that queue was trying to get home to Elm and Howe with her young daughter, who was strapped into a car seat in the rear seat.
“Terrible,” she said of her commute.
Below the College Street overpass, cars were stuck in traffic as far as the eye could see. (See the picture at the top of this story.) One driver with an open window was asked to describe his commute.
“Horrible!” he responded.
Elsewhere through town, commuters reported having a particularly difficult time returning to work, school and other appointments.
Benjamin Fontanez, a volunteer with the Embassy of United Chaplains of Connecticut, took Felix Rodriguez (pictured at the top of the story) to an appointment Wednesday morning at the state courthouse at Elm Street. Fontanez said he picked up Rodriguez in Fair Haven by car.
They showed up at court at 9 a.m. wearing matching winter hats. The court, which is awaiting long-delayed repairs, lay cloaked in blue tarp. Court-goers lined up in a covered passageway between snowy steps to get into court.
Rodriguez, who’s 53, travels by wheelchair. He couldn’t make it up the steps. So they headed for a handicapped-accessible side entrance on Elm. They tried getting through the sidewalk, but the travel lane through the snow was too narrow at one point for the wheelchair to pass.
So Fontanez pulled a K-turn in the snow and headed onto Elm, walking in the street against traffic. Then he turned into large pool of icy water, tipping back the wheelchair so Rodriguez’s feet wouldn’t get soaked.
“OK, Papi, I got you,” said Fontanez. He made it up onto the sidewalk and into court.
Students at Gateway Community College reported a tougher-than-usual commute.
Ciara Cassidy (at left in photo), 19, of Branford, joined a fellow student in a carpool at 8:25 to begin what is usually a 10- to 15-minute commute to Gateway’s new downtown campus at George and Church. I-95 was “completely backed up,” she reported. “I’ve never seen it like this.”
The carpool ditched off the highway onto Forbes Avenue, but found that it was narrowed from two lanes to one. “It was just a mess,” she said. The commute took half an hour. She showed up five minutes late for her 9:05 a.m. psychology class.
“I was late,” she reported, “but my teacher wasn’t there.” The teacher, also caught in traffic, showed up at 10.
Fellow student Brittany Hayes (at right in above photo), 25, took a more conservative approach to get to campus from her Winthrop Avenue home. She usually takes the O bus on CT Transit. She knew the buses have been getting stuck, so she planned to hop on the earliest one possible, at 6:42 a.m.
“I knew I the first bus always runs right,” Brittany said. After that, the delays pile up, she reasoned.
She left her house in black sneakers and headed for the bus stop at Winthrop and Legion. Then she encountered something she didn’t plan for: Ice on the sidewalk. Through she lives only five houses away from the bus stop, that stretch took her “ten minutes” to navigate because of the ice. She said she saw the bus, and started running—no, skating—in her sneakers to catch it.
“I found a dry spot to get traction” and “waved” down the driver, she said. The driver heeded her request and waited. The bus picked her up in the intersection, not at the bus stop, because of the mounds of snow, she said.
After the morning adventure, Hayes got to campus at 7 a.m. with plenty of time to spare.
“I’m pre-med,” she explained. She had a lot of studying to do before her first class, biology, at 9:05 a.m.
Tags: Winter Storm Nemo
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Have you gone down to the trauma room to do reporting from there?
Private landlords, the city, and the state were simply not prepared for this weather. But there are no excuses. As anyone who walks around our neighborhoods and doesn’t just hole up at the EOC knows, the exact same thing happens every single winter and can very easily be prevented by having more people on call to do snow clearance, plus more rigorous enforcement.
The sidewalks around Yale and in some of our business improvement districts provide a good example.
The blame for injuries or deaths that result from these oversights will in all likelihood fall squarely on the shoulders of the city administration and delinquent property owners in equal measure. I hope that the victims file many lawsuits.
posted by: William Kurtz on February 13, 2013 2:08pm
Quite a cross-section of concerns, here. 15-20 minutes added to a morning commute seems trivial and one is also forced to wonder how substantial this bumper ‘tap’ was that tied up the connector for 30 minutes. I’ve seen a lot of ‘accidents’ that lead to no real damage or injury yet stop traffic during rush hours. Is that really necessary?
In contrast, having to push a wheel chair against traffic on Elm Street to get into the courthouse is disturbing.
What never gets counted or reported is how many accidents, even deaths, a storm like this PREVENTS, because people stay inside for days and days during a period that would, just by the law of averages, contain a certain number of traffic accidents and other traumatic events, some of them fatal.
I bet nobody much was picking fights at downtown bars Saturday night, or driving drunk on two-lane roads in Bethany or North Haven at 20 mph over the speed limit.