Craning his neck to see out the windshield, Ray Rivas worked the steering wheel with his left hand and the plow-blade controls with his right. Could he pass his 2008 Sterling plow truck between two parked cars on one-way Chestnut Street?
Nope. He hit both cars.
The city, he said, should have enforced a neighborhood parking ban in the storms leading up to this one.
Rivas, a 26-year veteran of the Department of Public Works, admitted it was his fault he scraped the two cars. He also said that the city should have banned parking in neighborhoods during the snowstorm that hit town Thursday. That would have made it easier to plow.
Rivas’ supervisor Rich Christensen, who showed up to document the damage, agreed: The city should have declared a residential parking ban.
Neighbors agree too. Throughout this year’s snowy storm season (four storms in two weeks), people have been clamoring for parking bans enforced by ticketing and towing.
Hasn’t happened. Technically, the city told people in previous storms not to park on the odd side of neighborhood streets, so plows can clear them. But despite a consensus developed three years ago during similar storms, the city chose not to enforce the ban with ticketing or plowing. So the narrow streets never got cleared. Now, in Winter Storm Pax, they couldn’t be cleared.
As a result, officials said Thursday, they may revisit the issue yet again and resume trying to enforce neighborhood street-parking bans in future storms.
History Repeats Itself
Without a ban, the streets have become narrower and narrower after each storm. Mounds of uncleared snow force cars to park farther and farther away from the curb. When cars are parked on both sides of small side streets made even narrower by snow, plow trucks sometimes can’t enter streets at all.
Public works chief Doug Arndt said the city’s plowing resources are stretched thin. The combination of repeated storms and cold temperatures has made it impossible to clear the streets fully.
“At this point, we have so much snow on the ground that we are really having a physically difficult problem,” Arndt said. “With our tight residential streets, it really becomes very intensive work to go into these neighborhood, and we basically can’t get out there unless we are allowed to bring in additional resources.”
Asked if the streets might now be clearer if the city had enforced residential parking bans in earlier storms, Arndt said that weather has been the problem. “We’re supposed to get thawing in between these storms. That’s not happening. We have had very cold temperatures and repeat storms,” he said.
In fact, that was the point made in 2011 during a series of storms: The snow doesn’t always thaw in time for the next storm. Officials reached a consensus at that time, after narrow side streets were blocked by snow accumulated from multiple storms, drawing the wrath of neighbors. In the wake of those storms, the then-DeStefano administration concluded, along with some of the vocal neighbors, that the city needs to declare a ban on parking on one side of those streets—before the snow starts. And then the city needs to tow cars aggressively, and promptly. Otherwise it will never be able to dig out. “We learned the public will appreciate [aggressive towing] as long as we’re [clear] and follow through,” Mayor John DeStefano said at the time. “We’re going to be more aggressive about towing. People are pretty accepting and really cooperating.”
Despite the city’s failure to enforce residential parking bans this year, traffic tsar Doug Hausladen promised that cars will be ticketed and towed during future bans.
“When we call a snow ban, there is going to be enforcement. Right now there is no snow ban on residential areas.”
Rivas Keeps Plugging
With no ban in effect Thursday, Rivas maneuvered his enormous white plow truck between parked cars on narrower and narrower streets Thursday. He couldn’t fit through a gap between two cars on Lyon Street and had to back out. On Chestnut Street, he thought he could squeeze between a red Taurus and a gray Ford Focus. He was wrong.
Rivas, who’s 56, showed up for work at 4 a.m. Thursday, driving in from his home in West Haven just as the snow was starting up. He climbed into truck 160 and headed out to plow Route 2—one of 22 in the city—which covers Wooster Square and part of East Rock.
By 11 a.m. he was on State Street, taking his second pass on some of the side streets there. On Bishop Street (pictured), he marveled at how fast the snow was piling up. “This was plowed before 9:30” he said. “By the time you do it once and go around, it’s covered over.”
Rivas took a couple of passes on Humphrey Street, an important artery. He turned down Clark Street, slowing down to maneuver carefully between cars.
“Any more snow and I won’t be able to come down here,” he said. “They should have a parking ban when it snows like this.”
At the intersection of Clark and Pleasant, Rivas decided he couldn’t fit his truck down the western half of Clark, and turned up Pleasant.
Eld Street was also narrow. As he inched down the street between parked cars, Rivas kept a close eye on the two yellow antennas that mark the edge of his 12-foot plow blade.
“This is going to be tight,” Rivas said, as he turned from Orange Street onto Bradley. His plow blade slid at the mouth of the street, slipping on a sheet of ice left over from previous storms—unplowed snow compressed into ice. After squeezing down the street, Rivas said Bradley was the most narrowed street he’s seen this winter.
Rivas pointed his plow toward Wooster Square, wove between cars on William Street, then contemplated Lyon Street.
“This is a bad street, right here,” he said. “I usually can’t fit down here. Let’s see ...”
Rivas found his way blocked by a Ford Fusion and a Subaru Outback. “This is one street they need a parking ban real bad.”
Rivas backed out and headed back up William Street. He radioed in to request a smaller truck be assigned to Lyon Street, then found his way to Jefferson Street. He pointed out a green Civic that he’d accidentally scraped while plowing the week before. He had stopped and found the owner, a teacher, who was nice about his mistake, he said.
Moments later, it happened again. Trying to thread the needle on Chestnut Street between the red Taurus and the gray Focus, Rivas saw the Focus move. That meant he’d hit it, nudged it with the plow. Pulling back, he scraped the right rear fender of the Taurus (pictured).
Rivas jumped out and inspected the damage. He’d dinged the bottom of the rear driver’s-side door on the Focus. He called his supervisor and looked around for the owners of the cars.
“I feel awful,” Rivas said. “But what am I going to do? Hey, it happens.”
Christensen, the supervisor, showed up, wearing an orange hoody and holding the end of a cigar between his teeth. He called a cop to make an accident report, then took pictures of the damage with his cell phone.
The woman who owns the Taurus ventured out to inspect the damage. “It’s not bad,” she said. The city will take care of it, she said. “That truck’s too big to get down this street,” she noted.
“They should do a parking ban before the storm starts,” Christensen said as he waited for the cop to arrive. “When we get to these small streets, we’d be able to get through them.”
As it is, people are bound to complain that the plow trucks didn’t touch their street, Christensen said. “We tried.”
Christensen said he lives in Stratford, where a parking ban went into effect Wednesday night. New Haven didn’t do that for Thursday’s storm, or for previous storms, so ice has accumulated on the streets, Christensen said.
The city needs to ban cars, and enforce the ban, Christensen said. “If they don’t enforce it, then we’re back to square one.”
After a police officer pulled up and took information for an accident report, Rivas backed his truck out onto St. John Street. “That’s one street I’m going to take off my list,” he said as he drove away from Chestnut Street.
An earlier version of this story follows:
That word came as officials prepared for yet another major storm, scheduled to begin before dawn.
It’s now too risky to try to clear residential streets to the curb, since the accumulated mounds of snow at the sides of streets have turned to ice that could damage city equipment. As a result, a debate that appeared settled three years ago has reemerged in this snowy winter of 2014.
Rick Fontana, the city’s director of emergency operations, offered explanation the parking plan at a pre-snowstorm briefing Wednesday afternoon in the city’s Emergency Operations Center at 200 Orange St. City officials gathered there to coordinate efforts to deal with Winter Storm Pax, the latest in a series of snowstorms to arrive in the city.
Pax is expected to hit town early Thursday morning, dump five to six inches of heavy, wet snow by lunchtime, then turn to rain. Forecasters say the rain will turn back to snow on Thursday evening, delivering another two to four inches. Fontana said the city could receive a total of eight inches of snow.
In previous snowstorms this year, the city has tried various forms of residential bans on odd-side parking, the side on which fire hydrants are located. In the first storm of the year, Hercules, neighbors were “encouraged” to park on the even-numbered side of the street. During the second storm, Janus, the city said that people parking on the odd side could face ticketing and towing. (Most, if not all, the ticketing and towing took place downtown and on snow routes, not on neighborhood streets.) During Winter Storm Nika, earlier this month, city traffic tsar Doug Hausladen asked people to park on the even side of streets, but announced odd-side cars wouldn’t be towed.
The policy for Thursday’s storm? Go ahead and park on the odd side if you want—and the even side, too.
There will be a parking ban downtown and on posted snow routes between 12 a.m. and 6 a.m. Friday. Parking is also not allowed 25 feet from intersections, fire hydrants, and bus stops. No neighborhood odd-side bans, as of right now.
Fontana said there’s no point asking people to stay off the odd side of streets in this storm, since plow trucks will be sticking to the middle of the street. The plows won’t try to tackle the thick accumulated slabs and mounds of ice in the parking lanes, at the risk of damaging their equipment, Fontana said.
Ongoing confusion and inconsistency with regard to residential parking bans during snowstorms has led to consternation and complaints throughout town. The issue goes back several years, and was supposed to have been resolved.
In 2011, some narrow side streets were blocked by snow accumulated from multiple storms, drawing the wrath of neighbors.
In the wake of those storms, the then-DeStefano administration concluded, along with some of the vocal neighbors, that the city needs to declare a ban on parking on one side of those streets—before the snow starts. And then the city needs to tow cars aggressively, and promptly. Otherwise it will never be able to dig out.
“We learned the public will appreciate [aggressive towing] as long as we’re [clear] and follow through,” Mayor John DeStefano said at the time. “We’re going to be more aggressive about towing. People are pretty accepting and really cooperating.”
The lessons of 2011 never led to consistent action. This year they have been abandoned altogether, leading to ongoing complaints from neighbors. The lack of enforcement on parking bans so far this year has prevented plows from fully clearing residential streets. Some narrow streets have parked cars walled in by mounds of snow that has turned to ice.
In a open letter sent Wednesday to Hausladen and Mayor Toni Harp, East Rock activist Lisa Siedlarz, called on the city to institute and enforce a parking ban before the snow starts falling—and enforce it.
“The city always, always waits until there is significant snow on the ground to ‘suggest’ people move their cars to certain lots,” Siedlarz wrote. “So now people are faced with having to dig out their cars in order to move them. And with no parking ban enforced, people choose to ignore the suggestion.”
Siedlarz concluded with a plea for action: “We beseech you to please put a parking ban into effect immediately, and provide alternatives to parking on the street. Please. We know what is coming. Lets take a proactive approach.”
Fontana (pictured) said the city decided not to call a parking ban downtown Wednesday night because of the timing of the storm. Since the snow won’t hit until Thursday morning and the city doesn’t institute parking bans during the day on business days, it doesn’t make sense to ban cars for just a few hours of snowfall Thursday morning, Fontana said.
The city doesn’t ban daytime parking downtown during snowstorms because it doesn’t want to hurt shops and restaurants, Fontana said. “If we put a parking ban into effect in the downtown area during a normal business day, we would really have an impact on the Town Green Special Services District and the the businesses downtown.”
In residential neighborhoods, the city doesn’t have to worry about hurting businesses. But it’s not setting a parking ban because of all the accumulated ice from previous storms, Fontana said.
Would that ice be there if the city had enforced residential bans during earlier storms this year?
“There’s always going to be that question,” Fontana said. He said the city is trying to change behavior in the city and has plans to be more aggressive about ticketing and towing in residential areas.
“It takes time to change behavior. Our goal is to change it,” he said. “At some point, we’ve got to become serious and say you can’t park on the odd side. It’s like street-sweeping. We have to aggressively tow people.”
As the snow “loosens up” with rain and warmer temperatures, the city will be moving “aggressively” to clear streets to the curb, Fontana said. That effort may include localized parking bans, he said.
• Snow starts at around 2 or 3 a.m. Five to six inches of heavy, wet snow expected until 11 a.m. Rain starts around lunchtime and will decrease the amount of snow on the streets. In the evening, the rain will turn back to snow, for another two to four inches. In the end, the city may have eight inches of new snow on the ground.
• Unlike previous storms, this one won’t come with a deep freeze, said Fontana.
• With a full moon, flooding could be a problem.
• Downtown parking garages on Crown and Temple streets will have a specials $3-per-day storm rate between 8 p.m. Wednesday and 9 a.m. Friday. The Granite Square parking garage will be free overnight Wednesday and Thursday.
• Public works chief Doug Arndt said his plowers will focus on keep the center of streets clear and accessible by public safety vehicles. Assistant Fire Chief Ralph Black said the fire department will be checking streets for accessibility by emergency vehicles.
• Board of Ed operations chief Will Clark said the school board will make a decision Wednesday evening about whether or not to cancel school on Thursday. He said cancellation is likely.
• As of Wednesday afternoon Yale was planning a normal Thursday. Southern Connecticut State University had canceled all day and evening classes Thursday.
• Senior centers will be closed Thursday.