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Snow Removal Operations in New Rochelle Get a Grade of B+

Written By: Robert Cox

As residents dig out from the Blizzard of 2016, I wanted to take a few minutes to share what I observe over the weekend and respond to some of the complaints made about snow removal which I believe are misguided.

New Rochelle received, unofficially, 21 inches of snow with greater amounts further from shore. The City of New Rochelle ran four 12-hour shifts with 22 trucks over the weekend.

Generally, main and connector roads remained passable throughout the storm and overall the New Rochelle Department of Public Works did an admirable job keeping up with heavy accumulations of snow which came down in short periods of time over an extended periods.

Some New Rochelle Residents have been complaining that the city did a bad job with snow removal and that as a result the roads were a mess. Driving around during the storm and throughout the weekend, I believe this assessment is myopic and wrongheaded.

So, first a few facts:

1. 80%+ of the roads were pre-treated with salt, and better treated than in the past; a vast improvement due to the salt dome which resulted in more salt available, dry/fluffy so spread better, no damage to spreaders due to frozen chunks of salt.

2. Primary and secondary roads were passable THROUGHOUT the entire storm.

3. 12 hours after the storm, primary and secondary roads were clear, in some cases curb to curb, down to the road surface.

4. Tertiary roads, especially those on streets with parking on both sides got a couple of passes by a snow plow on Saturday so that by Sunday they were still snow covered, with 4-6 inches of slushy snow. By Monday many of those streets had been plowed and were passable if not clear down to the road surface.

Some residents seem oblivious to City policy which states “Main and connector roads are plowed first with special attention to steep hills, difficult intersections, and school areas.” Those roads were plowed first and yet some residents seem surprised that their tertiary street was not a priority.

Here is the reality, if you live on a tertiary road (like me) then your street will get minimal attention during and in the 1-3 days after the storm given the limitations on equipment and manpower. The focus will always be on roads that allow emergency responders to move about the city and then work its way down from there.

A major source of complaints appears to be misplaced expectations. For reasons that baffle me, some residents expect that when nearly two feet of snow falls over a 24 hour period, the roads should be as clear as a summer day when they wake up the next morning. This is totally unrealistic and defies common sense.

Another major issue is residents themselves. 

Compounding the limited snow plowing on tertiary roads, I saw many many instances where residents were digging out cars parked on the street or shoveling walkways and driveways and pushing or blowing snow into the street. I would describe this as frequent.

Some residents have complained that the City should have declared a snow emergency and banned street parking on snow emergency streets. People who make this complaint typically have a driveway and/or garage. Many residents do not. If this policy was enforced there would be a series of cascading failures as available parking spaces in public lots would quickly fill up setting off a mad scramble or wholesale refusal to comply leaving the city to tow hundreds perhaps thousands of vehicles. The reaction from these vehicle owners would be swift and loud and enforcement, during the height of a snow emergency, difficult at best.

I believe that overall, the City of New Rochelle did an admirable job under unusual, difficult circumstances.

Talk of the Sound grades Snow Removal Operations at a B+, very good but leaving plenty of room for improvement.

Areas of improvement include:

1. More attention to the South End of New Rochelle, especially the roads in Residence Park, around The College of New Rochelle and around Jefferson School. There were the biggest source of complaints.

2. More training for equipment operators. New/inexperienced equipment operators slowed down operations and caused numerous collisions mostly with parked vehicles.

3. Initiate downtown cleanup quicker – still has not begun, should have begun Sunday night under private contract.

For those who recall the complaints of two and three years ago, the improved (not perfect!) snow removal operations are the result of several factors: (1) the salt dome has been a big help as keeping the salt out of the elements allows for more and better pre-treatment while reducing damage to equipment; (2) improved vehicle maintenance which gave the city 22 trucks ready for operation before the storm began; (3) end of loose leaf pickup so there were no leaf piles on any road surfaces in New Rochelle.

The next level of improvement in snow removal operations comes not from anything related to snow removal but an end to the policy of free 24/7 on-street parking throughout most of New Rochelle.

New Rochelle needs to count all vehicles parked on the streets of New Rochelle and then conduct surveys to determine who owns those vehicles and why they are parked on the street rather than a driveway or garage.

As a hypothesis, vehicles parked on the street will include residents who have a driveway or garage but prefer on-street parking for some or all vehicles in their household, residents who do not have a driveway or garage. Those vehicle owners will include homeowners, permanent residents, transients, visitors, people who work but do not reside in New Rochelle and more.

I would like to see the City explore banning all free 24/7 on-street parking then adopt elements of what other municipalities have found works well such as no parking on streets after 2 a.m.

Having banned on-street parking, the City could then sell permits of various durations ranging from short-term to annual. Rather than have window stickers, the City could work with LAZ Parking, the company that manages parking in municipal lots, to sell virtual permits using their machines or online including their smartphone apps. A resident who pays their money, your plate would be loaded into the LAZ System and as their license plate readers drove past they would flag only vehicles whose plates were not in the system.

Residents should be treated differently (better) than non-residents. Only residents should be allowed to purchase long-term (up to annual) permits and do so at a significant discount.

I believe the effect would be that some residents with driveways and/or garages would choose not to buy a permit but rather discontinue the practice of parking in the street. This alone would free up more spaces. The need for non-residents to pay for short-term parking permits would reduce the number of people parking their vehicles in the same spot for extended period of time, effectively using the street for long-term storage of a vehicle, especially during winter when alternate side of the street parking is suspended (this practice should also be discontinued so that alternate side of the street parking remains in effect year round).

Some areas are less dense and more houses have driveways and garages (i.e., the North End) and other area are more dense and have more residences without parking spaces or garages (i.e. the West End). Policies might have to be based on parking zones throughout the City.

My first-year Economics professor at the University of Chicago taught me that there is an unlimited demand for a “free good”. By not setting a price for parking, the only limit on parking is capacity. As a result, vehicle owners park wherever they can, driving around neighborhoods looking for a spot and often having to park far from their home, residents where they park often have to contend with people coming into their neighborhood to park, shifting capacity problems from one area to another. Other problems flow from this as well ranging from illegal occupancy issues and snow removal on narrow streets with vehicles parked on both sides.

There are many other elements to this idea and I would be happy to debate them here or in a public forum but if residents really better snow removal then vehicles need to be off the street when it snows and that means having a parking plan that pushes vehicle owners in the direction of having a home for their vehicle as much as possible so that the number of vehicles looking for a home prior to a blizzard will be reduced thus making enforcement of snow emergency policies easier.