Stung by criticism that some Manhattan boulevards were not plowed out of political motives, Mayor Bill de Blasio hurried Wednesday to the Upper East Side to defend his young administration’s response to a snowstorm that began earlier than expected.
“After hearing concerns about street conditions on the Upper East Side,” de Blasio said in an early Wednesday evening statement, “I headed to the area to survey the streets for myself, and to hear from residents directly. While the overall storm response across the city was well-executed, after inspecting the area and listening to concerns from residents earlier today, I determined more could have been done to serve the Upper East Side.”
De Blasio instructed the sanitation commissioner, John Doherty, to “double-down” on cleanup efforts. An additional 30 plows were deployed to the area.
Earlier, the mayor said the cleanup effort was equitable and robust, though complicated by traffic and the storm’s timetable. Those factors made it difficult to plow and spread salt, Doherty said. The wind and snow were so blinding that police pulled traffic agents out of many intersections.
“We had a coordinated, intense, citywide response,” de Blasio said.
De Blasio, a Brooklyn resident who campaigned on closing gaps between rich and poor city residents, was asked Wednesday morning why some Manhattan avenues, including in the wealthy Upper East Side neighborhood, were still covered in snow when a Brooklyn thoroughfare was plowed clear to the pavement.
“No one was treated differently,” the mayor said.
The plowing problems combined with a late-night decision to keep open the nation’s largest schools system had some parents grumbling. All other schools across the storm-beaten Northeast were closed.
One parent, Pamela Murphy Jennings, said her two children navigated snowy sections of tony Madison and Park avenues to get to their public schools on the Upper East Side.
“Children have to walk to city bus stops and cross these streets to get here,” she said. “Cars are sliding on roads. If there was any day to close schools, this was the day.”
De Blasio said officials made the right call in anticipating that streets would be passable enough for students to get to school safely, adding that his own teenage son Dante had gone, if grouchily.
Citywide, 100 percent of primary streets were plowed by 6 a.m. Wednesday, along with 90 percent or more of other streets, Doherty said. There are 6,300 miles of city roads to plow.
Some residents were understanding. Upper East Sider Lou Riccio agreed cleanup was a problem in his neighborhood, but he didn’t see it as the mayor’s fault.
“It was just the problem of a bad snowstorm coming at a bad time of the day,” said Riccio, who teaches public affairs at Columbia University.
The storm that stretched from Kentucky to New England hit hardest along the heavily populated corridor between Philadelphia and Boston. As much as 14 inches of snow fell in New York City — Central Park got 11 inches — before tapering off. Temperatures were in the single digits in many places Wednesday and not expected to rise out of the teens until after the weekend. But wind chills will remain below zero.
New York City’s 311 call center nearly tripled from an average of 50,000 calls a day to about 120,000 during the storm period. The 911 emergency call center increased by about 20 percent. In response, an extra 160 ambulances were deployed.