Shelter, From The Storm

As a payloader finally freed his street from impassable snow, Gary Lloyd got the chance to ask the man in charge of the plows the question on every New Havener’s mind: What took you so long?

The encounter took place on Shelter Street Tuesday afternoon, as plows wrapped up a first pass of side streets after days of trying to free up New Haven’s more heavily traveled roads for emergency vehicles.

Lloyd, a social worker, lives on Shelter Street. He’s been stranded on Shelter Street since Winter Storm Nemo dumped an historic 34 inches of snow on New Haven.

New Haven public works chief Doug Arndt was there along with a posse of other city officials and politicians to greet the governor, who was whisking into New Haven’s Fair Haven neighborhood for a photo-op while touring the storm’s damage. The visit coincided with the last throes of one-block Shelter’s excavation.

Until that point, the city’s response to Shelter Street had been “non-existent,” Lloyd said, standing on the sidewalk alongside neighbor Cornelius Washington and Arndt. (Click on the play arrow above to watch part of the discussion.)

“All of a sudden the governor shows up, and everyone’s doing the job.”

Shelter ends at Grand Avenue, Fair Haven’s main commercial street.

“This front end right here [where Shelter meets Grand] wasn’t even plowed right here,” Lloyd complained. “The hard[-working] citizens of the neighborhood came and shoveled it out. ...

“I understand that people need to be patient for the most part. But my gripe is Grand Avenue is getting plowed 101 times when it doesn’t even need to be plowed. ... This street hasn’t been touched even one time.”

He sought an explanation from Arndt.

Arndt, who started his job last month, obliged matter-of-factly, with no hint of defensiveness.

“Grand Avenue was one of the main roads we kept open for fire response throughout the storm. A lot of vehicles that came here were traveling to the east end of the city ... although its condition was still poor until yesterday when it softened up,” Arndt said.

Thrown by the ferocity of the once-in-a-century storm—in which 8 of the 34 inches fellow in just two and a half hours, buffeted by 55 mile-per-hour winds—the city did triage. It decided first to try to keep a single lane clear on the most heavily traveled arteries like Grand so ambulances and fire trucks and cops could get as close as possible to emergencies.

Only Monday afternoon did plows turn to the less traveled streets. Even then the idea has been to open a single lane for emergency vehicles. The city plans to return its platoon of pay loaders and plows to make the main drags wider Tuesday night in order to enable people to return to work downtown on Wednesday. Then the city plans to return to the neighborhoods Wednesday night to fully clear the Shelter Streets around town for car traffic on Thursday.

That’s the plan at least. Even with a forecast of a few more inches of snowfall overnight Wednesday.

When Arndt finished explaining, Lloyd was asked what he would have done in Arndt’s position. If he were in charge of plowing 225 miles of buried city streets, would he have hit Shelter sooner? Instead of Grand?

“I would have did Grand Avenue a few times instead of doing it 101 times ... then come down and start focusing” on streets like Shelter, Lloyd responded. “People need to come out.”

Arndt listened quietly, and let him have the last word.

A half-block away at the Grand intersection, surrounded by reporters awaiting the governor’s arrival, New Haven Mayor John DeStefano pointed down Shelter to ... make a point about the challenge of urban snow removal.

Streets like Shelter developed more than 100 years ago, he noted. “Automobiles were not ubiquitous. People would have walked to work. Or streetcars,” DeStefano said. The street wasn’t built with parked cars in mind. Now in 2013 it’s clogged with cars. And it’s hard to get plows through.

With that in mind, DeStefano announced that the city will aggressively tow cars parked on downtown streets Tuesday night, so the plows can get through. Then it will aggressively tow cars parked on the odd-numbered side of neighborhood streets like Shelter on Wednesday night, so the plows can get through.

And Gary Lloyd won’t have to worry about getting to work.

Unless, of course, a 10-foot mound of plowed snow lands on his car.

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posted by: streever on February 12, 2013  6:39pm

I imagine many of the plows on Grand were not even plowing it, but travelling to their destinations. Side streets and small streets were the last (as they should be).

All in all this looked like a good response by the city.

Communication was vastly improved from the past, and we truly had all hands on deck.

I was ECSTATIC to see that the City took care of many bus stops. Does anyone remember the last time? Bus riders were stranded without places to sit/wait for about 2 weeks. I am so happy that the Mayor learned his lesson (but, my one gentle criticism, is that this should be part of city policy, and not something he has to specifically request).

Good job to all!

posted by: Breisch on February 12, 2013  6:42pm

Just let it melt now. The plowing was an epic fail, this isn’t going to fix things.

Regarding the recent plowing, or lack thereof, the guys operating the payloaders, at least two that I watched (one much worse than the other), seriously need training. This is not to pick on hard working guys – it is about their management making the poor decision to obviously not have these guys properly trained for their equipment. I watched this guy struggling to operate the payloader properly for as much as I could bear. He had no idea how to position the bucket (or the payloader itself) and could barely pick up snow. He seemed to only be able to go in straight lines with the bucket down and even then he had the bucket angle way off. He was using the bucket incorrectly to such a degree I could hardly watch. He was so slow, the guys in the other two plow trucks were standing in the street doing nothing. (They actually should have been driving around plowing stuff instead of sitting there talking in the street with their trucks running.) It took the guy in the payloader over three hours to do what should have taken thirty minutes. The supervisors need to get these guys trained.

Also, I sat and talked with one of the guys from a plow truck and he made it clear that they had no real plan. They didn’t know anything about any of the streets, what was done, not done, nothing but a vague idea – like just drive around and plow stuff. They had no list of streets to do, or any order in which to do them. They had no map with a strategy. They were driving (and standing) around without a plan. They were doing touch ups in some areas while other streets hadn’t seen a single pass. Don’t they have a supervisor to direct them? Who does the planning?

I now know why, in addition to the horrible decision to bail out of the plan of continual plowing (unlike the State, which got it right), the entire town was buried in snow for so long. It wasn’t a conspiracy after all. 

Ward 14 support me on the 22nd and I will come through for all of us for future events.

Matthew Breisch

posted by: THREEFIFTHS on February 12, 2013  11:20pm

I want to know why the city is dumping snow in peoples driveway.

posted by: Dean Moriarty on February 13, 2013  2:38am

Breisch, I agree.  This plan to work in “phases” was ridiculous.  This should have been a continual effort, in shifts.  The State got it right, NH failed significantly, and we all have a right to be outraged at the poor planning and implementation.

Streever, I agree and disagree.  Yes, there was vastly improved communication, but what the City communicated and what was actually being accomplished were two very different beasts.

posted by: Anna Mariotti on February 13, 2013  11:41am

@Dean Moriarty,

To clarify, the City’s snow removal operation was—and is a continual—round the clock effort.

The “phases” are operational goals, not breaks in the snow removal process.

The first goal was to clear areas around the hospitals and main arterial roads, then fan out and make every section of the City accessible to emergency vehicles. This had to be done to ensure public safety.

Once all areas of the City were made passable and accessible to emergency vehicles, another phase of work began; but work did not stop. The goal of the next phase includes plowing more snow and widening the cleared area of streets, as well as moving the massive piles of plowed snow to another location, off of City streets.

The City’s snow removal operation is now working with 94 pieces of equipment; almost twice the amount of equipment typically at the City’s disposal. The extra equipment, necessary to remove the massive amount of snow that fell in 24 hours, was secured from the National Guard and from contractors. The equipment consists of 32 heavy duty plows, 22 pay loaders and 40 tri-axle dump trucks.  Garbage pick-up was cancelled for the rest of this week so that all Public Works employees can assist in the snow removal effort and to man the extra equipment the City has secured.

At the same time, day laborers have been hired and are going out in crews with Livable City Initiative (LCI) staff on shovel-out duty clearing bus stops, sidewalks at intersections for pedestrians, areas around schools, fire hydrants and more.

posted by: streever on February 13, 2013  12:05pm

@Breisch and Moriarty
Do you really think that one guy driving a plow (possibly an independent contractor and not even a full time employee) knew the plan if there was one? A guy who had probably spent the better part of 48 hours working without a break?

I imagine that there was indeed a plan, but he was dispatched to each spot in the plan without being told the full plan.

I once worked in a factory. I have no idea what we built because it was irrelevant. I just had to put piece B with piece C.

A single plow guy in a blizzard has a manager, who has a director, who has a boss themself. The plan doesn’t always seep down to the lowest rungs.

posted by: Breisch on February 13, 2013  2:41pm


It was not “one guy driving a plow”. They were a crew of plows and a payloader—and definitely city employees (everything was marked and they wore city clothing). They may have been working long, hard hours, but the man I spoke with was completely coherent.

The plowing was not continual. The plowing stopped as soon as it should have been stepped up. The state managed to continue their plowing through the snowfall and succeeded (and perhaps other towns, as well). Some people working for us (We the City) decided to bail at the crucial point and the City suffered.

Let’s get our hard working employees trained with their equipment before next winter. Even if half the guys are really good doesn’t mean there is not any benefit in further training and the guys who need some help will get it. Does that not make sense? Beginners train until they get it right; experts train until they get it wrong. 

BTW, I am sorry to say that my paperwork was not submitted in time to run in the special election for alderman of Ward 14. I will run in the next election in a few months.

posted by: streever on February 13, 2013  3:27pm


I don’t know, there seemed to be a plan where I was.

The city has already detailed why they couldn’t maintain continual plowing in many stories on here: I don’t know if that speaks to your issue or not, but I do honestly think that—considering the severity of the storm and the rarity of this type of storm here—the city did the best job it *practically* could do.

New Haven, Hamden, Milford, and most towns in the region seemed to be dug out in roughly the same amount of time, which is amazing when you consider how financially mismanaged New Haven is and how little we have in the way of resources in our incredibly poorly planned city.

I am one of the biggest critics of the city and our administration, but I honestly haven’t seen anything yet that gives me real cause to fault them on this storm response.

I think that we live in a fast changing climate now, and need to start coming up with proactive plans to address the future of climate change, storm severity, and resource conservation, and I hope that the storm severity and frequency we’ve been suddenly experiencing convinces our administration of that.

If I don’t see them start passing new legislation and improving planning, I will absolutely criticize them. Our City Plan and Economic Development departments needs a comple re-shuffle, as they continue to approve and actively seek out large contextually inappropriate developments instead of working toward a more cohesive and comprehensive walkable city.

The only criticism I have at all about this storm and our city is that our city is so bizarrely and ridiculously car-dependent, and is increasingly built to be more so.

If every neighborhood was pushed toward a walker friendly model, you’d have neighborhood markets with groceries, milk, bread, and other supplies and wouldn’t have to worry so much about roads being plowed for small personal cars. If we had a better network of satellite parking lots & busing, we wouldn’t need so many personal cars in this city, which is the number one problem with the storm response—the number one thing that hurt and slowed down our response as a city is the disproportionate number of personal automobiles here.

I think there is no reasonable critique of the specifics of plowing, but rather a need for long-term institutional change that was highlighted throughout this historic storm.

posted by: streever on February 14, 2013  11:21am

(and p.s. I am sorry you can not run in the special election coming up. Good luck in your future run! Democracy works best when engaged citizens who care about daily life in their city like yourself are involved. I find it interesting that the NHI has a small number of commentators who only crop up to defend union backed politicos and apparently have no interest in anything else happening here.

They are a formidable foe, Breisch, so make sure you have a good network of people in your neighborhood to talk to friends and residents.)