Some Plows Were Too Big, Some Too Small

Thomas MacMillan PhotoAs a main Fair Haven traffic artery remained “a nightmare” for drivers a day after a snowstorm, aldermen from neighborhoods across town demanded answers from City Hall about New Haven’s handling of the historic mounds of white stuff. And a new explanation emerged for why some smaller streets went days without getting plowed.

Fair Haven Alderwoman Migdalia Castro is one of several city lawmakers up in arms about the condition of streets following Thursday’s snowstorm. She said on Friday that the current amount of snow still on Grand Avenue means that it takes an hour to get from Ferry Street to James Street. That’s a distance of about seven blocks.

Meanwhile in West Rock, Alderman Darnell Goldson said it’s taken multiple phone calls and in-person visits to get the Department of Public Works to plow streets in his ward. Some of those streets hadn’t been touched by a plow blade for three snow storms, until Friday afternoon, he said.

Fueled by frustration, Goldson and Dixwell Alderman Greg Morehead have submitted a request for a briefing on the city’s snow emergency practices and policies. They said they want answers on how the city does plowing triage, snow removal staffing, and communication between the city and the public during snow emergencies.

Chief Administrative Officer Rob Smuts said the city is ready to provide aldermen with answers and always interested in feedback. He also provided more detail of the plowing difficulties the city faces, including the fact that small trucks can’t handle big snow and big trucks can’t handle small streets.

Smuts said the snowfall total for January is up to 42 inches, including 18 inches from Thursday’s storm. That caught the city by surprise, since it was more than predicted, Smuts said.

“The main problem was that we just didn’t understand what was going on,” Goldson (pictured) said on Friday. Valley Place North and South—two dead-end roads off of Valley Street—were not plowed at all, he said. “I had to deliver milk to one of the ladies there because she couldn’t get out.”

“We just want to get an idea of what the process is,” he said. When do they start plowing when it snows? How do they determine which side to park on?

In some cities, as some Independent readers have suggested), municipalities put parking bans on the odd sides of streets on an odd calendar day, and on even sides on even days, Goldson said. “Why are we not using a system like that?”

“We just want to go through that process with them and maybe make some recommendations,” Goldson said, before offering several.

First, city plow drivers and outside contractors need better supervision and quality control, Goldson said. He said he called up the Department of Public Works to report that certain streets were unplowed and was told that records showed that they had been plowed. Someone needs to go out and make sure the plows are doing everything the drivers say they are, he said.

Second, the city should follow through with parking bans, Goldson said. If the city is going to threaten to tow cars, then it should do so, he said. “Now the message is you can do whatever you want because nothing happens.”

Finally, communication needs improvement, Goldson said. “You can’t just say, ‘Be patient,’” he said. People deserve to hear when they can expect their street plowed. “There’s no rhyme or reason as to when people are going to be done.”

Goldson acknowledged that the city is struggling with a winter of historic snowfall. “Again, it’s about communication. Find a way to tell people what will happen and when it will happen.”

“This is a nightmare. A nightmare,” said Alderwoman Castro on Friday. She echoed Goldson’s sentiment that communication is a central issue.

She said she and other community leaders worked hard to get out the message that there should be no parking on the odd side of Grand Avenue. Then traffic and parking came through and seemed to give tickets to everyone on both sides of the street, she said. But there was no towing and not enough plowing, she said.

She said she called public works and was told Grand Avenue would be cleared on Sunday. “Sunday?!” she said. Grand Avenue is Fair Haven’s main thoroughfare and needs to be passable now, she said.

“It’s chaotic out here. We can’t get out,” she said. “I want answers. What’s going on? Where is the communication here?”

Castro said neighbors are ready and willing to cooperate with the city, but they keep getting mixed signals.

“This is unacceptable. It’s completely unacceptable,” Castro said. “Where is it they’re doing the clean up?”

Thomas MacMillan File PhotoBy phone on Friday, Smuts (pictured) offered one explanation for why some streets may have gone unplowed. The amount of snow is such that the city’s smaller plow trucks don’t have the power to push through it on some streets, and the city’s bigger trucks don’t have room to work because the streets have been narrowed so much, Smuts said.

Smuts said that’s the case for a number of streets in town, including Frances Hunter Drive, where Alderman Morehead lives. Other such streets include Arthur Street, Hotchkiss Street, some in Fair Haven and some in East Rock, Smuts said.

So what to do? Smuts offered several strategies: On some streets, the city can send in a big snowblower, re-assign its most talented plow operators to handle tight spots, or start ticketing and towing. That last option is complicated by the difficulty of getting a tow truck in to pull out the cars, and by the inconvenience to residents, Smuts said.

Responding to Goldson’s criticisms about supervision, Smuts said, “It’s always necessary to have adequate supervision. We’ve been running our supervisors ragged.” The city has been operating a 24-hour snow removal operation for basically two weeks, he said.

“It’s a question of resources,” Smuts said. The city has reduced the number of supervisors in recent years, he said. “I’d rather have more plowers than supervisors.”

As for the complaints about communications, Smuts said it’s always a balance of too much versus too little. Some have complained that the city has been pestering them with too much information, Smuts said.

“We’ve been doing our best to get the message out there,” he said. People can sign up to receive phone calls through the city website and they can always call 946-SNOW for information, he said.

“People know there’s a lot of snow out there,” he said. “They should take some responsibility in finding out what‘s going on.”

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posted by: city workers on January 28, 2011  6:25pm

And making the plow guys live IN the city will make things better, right?

posted by: Toni on January 28, 2011  6:35pm

This is an unusual amount of snow and New Haven is doing the best it can. Residents who do not cooperate and move their cars or shovel their walks should be towed and/or fined.
It was a tough job to shovel. I did it. So should everyone else.
Be a good neighbor!!!!

posted by: Jon Doe on January 28, 2011  7:08pm

I would like to know why i seen city plow truck driven around with the plows up or the continue to plow the center lane that is already plowed and not working on the rest of the street.

posted by: Scott on January 28, 2011  7:16pm

I do not believe that New Haven is doing all that it can.  This is New England.  It snows in the winter.  We have been lucky in the past few years that it has not snowed as much as it has this year.  However, how can snow catch anyone by surprise?

All it would take is one major emergency in the city with emergency vehicles trapped behind gridlocked traffic in order for city officials to realize what should have been done.

Plowing the odd-side of the street on odd days and the even-side on even days is a viable option. 

It’s terrible that side streets have not been, or barely, touched, but it’s even worse for major arteries to be so narrowed that commuters/deliveries/emergency vehicles are unable to access in and out of the city without being held up for long periods of time.

posted by: anon on January 28, 2011  7:39pm

Snow or no snow, the city can not currently handle the amount of traffic. 

We should stop worrying about “major emergencies” that might be caused by a snowstorm, and instead worry about the “day-to-day emergencies” on our streets, such as children being unable to walk anywhere, high crash rates, asthma from motor vehicle pollution, and high unemployment rates which are directly caused by the very high average costs shouldered by middle-income families who own and operate vehicles. 

These “day-to-day emergencies” do not affect typical, upper income commuters and able-bodied city administrators, but they have an enormous impact on the typical families, elderly people, and youth of New Haven, the vast majority of whom do not drive to work every day.

The city should reduce street widths, institute dynamic metered parking, and use transportation and land use policy to dramatically raise the price of parking.  This will encourage more commuters to walk, bicycle, carpool and use mass transit.  Priority should be given to people who drive to retail areas for short shopping errands.  Currently, all of us in the city (whether or not we drive) create an enormous subsidy in order to have low-priced parking.

posted by: Fairhavenite on January 28, 2011  8:51pm

So snow in Connecticut caught them off guard? Is this not New England where snow is a given? No excuses for the condition of our roads. This city is falling apart at the seams. It is time for a change, New Haven deserves better. Call up a city with a real snow removal program and ask for a consultation.

posted by: Melissa on January 28, 2011  9:06pm

I have lived in “snow states” my whole life - Massachusetts, Minnesota, and now Connecticut. I have never seen anything as awful as the plowing during this recent snowfall. My neighbors and I shoveled out Greene Street ourselves. We also shoveled out the large mail truck that got stuck in the middle of our unplowed street. And I just watched a firetruck BARELY be able to make it down our street. That can’t be good.
We all know that other cities and states do this better - I do not understand why New Haven cannot contact the City of Boston, Minneapolis, St. Paul, Chicago, etc, figure out what they do right and then do it.
As for WHERE to put the snow - how about all the parks. It may not be optimal but there seems to be an awful lot of room for all that snow in, say, the Green, East Rock Park, Wooster Square Park, etc. It’s not like we’re going to be using them much for the next 5 months anyway.

posted by: Andrea on January 28, 2011  9:32pm

When Wednesday nights snow started falling my street still had 6 inchs of ice on it from the earlier blizzards. It was plowed once at night by a Parks Dept truck when the snow was still falling. On Thursday morning it had more than a foot of snow on it. 2 whole days later and Public Works haven’t come back to clear it. No one can move their parked cars. All the other streets in my neighborhood are as bad. Lombard and Chapel have been part cleared and are just passable. I think the city is just trying to save money and is not doing anything. If the Mayor thinks we’re happy with him wearing a Syracuse shirt he is out of touch with reality. Does he really think this cheap trickery is going to work. Not with me.

posted by: Dee Real on January 28, 2011  10:09pm

once again De Stefano is sleep @ the wheel. We need a real mayor

posted by: robn on January 28, 2011  10:57pm

Hate to say it because preparations were bad, but its not City Halls fault. There is just no way that a street is going to get plowed, light snow or heavy snow, if there are cars parked on both sides of the street. That was the case for all of the recent storms, even the last one in which everyone was warned to stay to the even side. We have nobody to blame except the portion of ourselves that parked cars on the wrong side of the street.

Thanks for giving it the college try DPW.

posted by: Brian V on January 28, 2011  11:16pm

“or start ticketing and towing. That last option is complicated by the difficulty of getting a tow truck in to pull out the cars, and by the inconvenience to residents, Smuts said.”

Not being able to get out of your driveway inconveniences residents. Start the process BEFORE the snow is a foot high and there wont be an issue pulling cars out.
Warn them to move, tow them when they don’t, and plow to the curb. Simple.
The city is short of money, start ticketing & towing. It works for street sweeping.

posted by: brian casey on January 28, 2011  11:31pm

The city has done a horrible job,from the first snow,to the last storm. Poor workmanship has put us in this place. This is the work of a poorly trained, unsupervised,and mismanaged workforce. I called traffic and parking, they tell me they do not work with public works.So, just because they tow,it does not mean they will plow. And when they plow, they will not leave legal parking spaces; and then they will ticket and tow. And that is if you are one of the lucky ones who even get that much service. City hall hates us. This Mayor needs to go.

  P.s. Do not tell me this can not be done right,I remember when it was.
                Brian Casey

posted by: HobartRes on January 29, 2011  4:52am

so.. the city doesn’t want to pay for plowing, doesn’t want to pay for fire protection, doesn’t want to pay for policing, doesn’t want to pay the teachers, but its cool to raise taxes so that all the executives can get raises. I just wanted to make sure that the message that city hall has been giving us all this month was correct.

posted by: Rocco on January 29, 2011  8:15am

When I was a kid in the 40’s & 50’s, New Haven was always a mess in the winter. Greenwich Ave had trolley like ice ruts that your car had to stay in, and it was a big deal when you had to turn. They used to have Even, Odd parking but it didn’t work. You would think by this time, with all the new equipment, they would have a plan of attack. I believe they are all to busy planning their next re election.

posted by: Cross Teacher on January 29, 2011  8:16am

Like any teacher, I like a snow day every once in a while.  However, some of these snow days, like yesterday’s, are due to the failure of the city to clean our streets.  When we list the services that our citizens are missing out on, we should include education.  I know we’ll make up the days, but the lack of continuity this month takes a real toll on what kids are learning.

posted by: Swatty on January 29, 2011  10:28am

Probably one the smartest things you could do is get the cars off the street. People could coordinate with neighbors to share driveway space.

City could create a plan for this to happen in the future, but right now we’re kind of stuck with what we have.

in places like east rock drivers could move their cars to specific streets and then those streets could be made one way for an emergency.

and the empty streets could be plowed.

like when people double park in brooklyn.

No snow plow driver can plow with a bunch of cars on both sides of the street!!!

move your cars!!! or face the tow. that’s the only way you’ll solve this problem.

On this one I say the city is doing the best it can do.

The aldermen would do a much better HELPFUL job if they got the car owners to move their cars!!! 

Matt Smith should put down his grade coffee and pick up a shovel already! Show some leadership. stop bitching and start helping!!!

posted by: john on January 29, 2011  10:45am

If the city is going to threaten to tow cars,[Goldson said] then it should do so, he said. “Now the message is you can do whatever you want because nothing happens.”

alderman goldson, i’m liking more and more what i hear from you. i may have misjudged before!

posted by: chris on January 29, 2011  10:58am

Suggestion: In order to get the streets cleared of snow, use the same process as street cleaning. Put up signs, the emergency signs so residents can move their cars and the plows could come by and clear the snow.

On my street, we frantically got everyone to move to the even side of the street, however, no plow ever came by. So now no one even cares about moving their vehicle.

Something have to be done; some of the streets are down to one lane when it should be two lanes.

According to the weather report, we might be getting another storm during the week. We cannot handle another big storm like the last one.

posted by: cityworker on January 29, 2011  11:40am

Years ago the practice was to use other city department supervisors to augment public work supervisors. We would be given a certain district to cover in a 12 hour shift and we had assigned plow drivers.  You would check the condition of the street and if it needed better plowing you would first ensure that the cars parked on the wrong side were towed and then call in the plow. 

This whole effort should be better coordinated with the EOC staff. But the EOC seems more interested in getting cameras to watch the old New Haven dump, and the harbor.  That would be great if someone was actually monitoring the cameras but all they are doing is recording history.

posted by: Tim on January 29, 2011  2:40pm

The simple fact is we got a lot of snow the past few weeks, there is only so much that can be done about it. People need to deal with it. As much as I would love to blame the Mayor and the people inside city hall, we cant. There is only so much that can be done with so much snow.

posted by: Ken on January 29, 2011  5:39pm

Why is there so much debate about this, the solution is simple when a storm is expected to drop more than 4 inches impose a citywide parking ban.  The lack of leadership and decision making is unbelievable.  The Mayor and his Boys were worried about towing cars because of VOTES, holy crap did that backfire on them. 

I’m beginning to think the cops are right about this whole leadership thing it’s terrible across the board.  Where were the Fire and Police Chiefs during this whole thing?  I would say this is a real big public safety issue.

Can we get a final cost of the cleanup due to The Administrations poor decision making.

posted by: Love our Gov't on January 29, 2011  6:03pm

Come on….do we really think that the blindingly high taxes we pay entitle us to a basic level of service? 

Can’t wait till this level of government skill is used to deliver my healthcare

posted by: Jon on January 29, 2011  7:12pm

How to do better?

1. Based on forecast, implement a “Snow Emergency Parking Ban” with alternate street parking for ALL residential streets following odd/even days of the week.  Ticket and tow cars beginning at whatever hour the parking plan begins but switch odd/even at the 2nd midnight.  Thus, the FIRST day would be longer than 24 hours and would follow the odd/even identity of the day before the 2nd midnight.  Thus, if the Snow Emergency Parking Ban began at 3PM on, say, Jan 29, it would include Jan 30 and cars could NOT park on the EVEN side of the street until midnight Jan 31, when all cars on the ODD side of the street would be ticketed and towed. 

2.  The “Snow Emergency Parking Ban” also must include NO PARKING at all on major designated streets.

2.  Ideally, plow the center of the street plus the side free of cars in the 24 hours available before cars need to be moved to the other side of the street.

3.  As nearly as possible, plow AS CLOSE TO THE CURB AS POSSIBLE, not 5 feet out.

3.  At midnight the next day, begin to ticket and tow cars again, and begin the plowing again.

4.  Continue with the alternate odd/even parking ban until streets are cleared, then end the Snow Emergency Parking Ban.

posted by: Nashstreeter on January 30, 2011  1:54am

I think the city is finally coming to the conclusion that this series of snow storms is not business as usual. DURING and after the post-Christmas storm, there were multiple plow passes down my street, whether we needed it or not (pushing for overtime, guys?).

When we got the second big hit, not a plow to be seen. I guess they had used up all of the overtime budget, thinking that Hey, it’s a storm. We’ll push it around and God will melt it. Well, God didn’t melt it. So then where do you push it to? Snow accumulation has apparently not figured into the planning. Like for instance, nobody has cleared the fire hydrant on my corner yet (tho they always came pretty fast when the kids turned it on in the summer).

What do they call it, “push back?” Like if we miraculously move our ice-locked cars over to the even side of the street the city will then clear the other side for people to park on. Not gonna happen. Never has happened. The Odd/Even edict is just bull and people know it (though many of us do it hoping for the best and praying that they don’t give us a hefty ticket). And on the side streets where there aren’t many driveways, the city is asking people to drive to some cleared-out parking area 3 blocks away, and all the while for the next week we’re looking at that nice wrong-side spot we spent 2 hours digging our car out of sit there undisturbed.

It’s too late for “push back” (pushing 5 feet of snow into a driveway that someone has spent half a day clearing). It’s time for removal. We’re getting another storm, and maybe another one after that. Where are we going to push them to?

“Stretched to the limit” is what they’re telling us. I’m sure they are. OVER the limit, no doubt. But what defines that “limit?” ‘Oooh. We can’t raise taxes!’ Well, I say, raise my taxes; charge me enough to provide effective city services—snow removal, garbage collection, effective fire, police and emergency protection. Just do what it takes, and do it right.

posted by: Toni on January 30, 2011  8:03am

The plows cannot go too close to the curb or they will hit and damage both blade and sidewalk. My curb was damaged State plows. They refused to take responsibility and the City said it was not their problem.
The sidewalk is an annoyance but a broken blade is big trouble.
There is no incentive for anyone in govt to do a better job, is there?  No one loses their job or is publicly reprimanded. How to inspire workers to be excellent?  I don’t know.
Any ideas?

posted by: pdh on January 30, 2011  8:19am

Lawrence Street between Whitney & St Ronan remains unplowed and virtually impassable. A couple of neighbors are trying to shovel it out by hand.

Thanks, Mayor John!

posted by: robn on January 30, 2011  11:03am


Check out page 248 of this years budget.

Eliminate a handful of the many $100K+ assistant principals in the school system and the plowing budget can be doubled.

posted by: Henry Lowendorf on January 30, 2011  4:54pm

One of my neighbors hired a private plow to clear my street enough so that cars could move. A lot of neighborhood folks came out with shovels to help. We can now move our cars but the street is still icy,  rutted and dangerous. Last evening a tow truck got stuck. See Youtube: <>

There are not enough driveways for all the cars. Since the city repeatedly said it would plow and then didn’t, nobody now believes the statements coming from city hall. Neighbors simply ignore the even side parking only commands.

For plowing to work the city has to specify a time to have our cars elsewhere and a nearby place to park them. And then plow during that time.

Young Street is still not on the city’s list of streets to be plowed.

There’s enough money to provide services to residents - it’s just being wasted on several insane wars, $83 million from New Haven this year alone is being burnt on those wars.

posted by: Nashstreeter on January 31, 2011  12:45am

Henry—that is the funniest video I’ve seen in a long time. I had a big DPW plow/truck stuck on my corner for an hour. Guys digging. Truck spinning. On and on. Doesn’t it strike you as odd that the “emergency” vehicles don’t even have snow tires, much less chains? Shouldn’t ambulances be required to have snow tires and 4-wheel drive to even be certified to operate?

I think robn is right about wasting money on $100k+ assistant principals, and that is something we may (MAY) be able to do something about in the short term. But ending all of our wars may take a little longer, and right now snow is an immediate problem.

Also, I think my motivation for wanting to end those wars does not really have much to do with how much money it will save the citizens of our city. That might be a factor, somewhere down in the list, but it’s not the major argument I have with our country’s foreign relations policy. I’d be happy if we got the snow problem (and the high school dropout problem and the high electrical cost problem and the teen murder problem and the non-taxable nonprofits problem and the beat-down cops problem) under control. That would give me quite a boost to then go and work for world peace.

posted by: Chuck on January 31, 2011  12:39pm

Just back from Japan, and I saw some of their methods in action.  They’ve got some pretty good ways to use roadway sprinklers and slush pumps: