New Yorkers, Stop Complaining About the Snow


snow16By Lucius J. Riccio

On Sunday, New York City experienced one of the biggest snowstorms in its history, but almost as soon New Yorkers took stock of their winter wonderland, they started doing what they do best: complaining.

Just take a look at some of the comments on a New York Times blog about the supposedly slow pace of snow removal. “City has never been this disorganized!” went one complaint. “Mr. Mayor, do the residents of our neighborhood not contribute enough to the city’s productivity?” asked a furious Brooklyn resident.

A livery driver told the Associated Press, “Mayor Bloomberg, he’s a rich man, so he doesn’t care about the little people. . . . They always abandon Queens.”

But while the snow is frustrating, that frustration is being misdirected at City Hall. Having worked as an assistant sanitation commissioner and, later, the transportation commissioner, I know that the city is doing the best it can – in some of the toughest natural circumstances imaginable.

This was a particularly difficult storm to fight. Snow fell at a rate of 2 to 3 inches an hour, while winds gusted to as high as 80 mph. A Weather Channel announcer said that the barometric pressure measured in the eye of this storm was equivalent to a Category 2 hurricane.

Most streets would have to have been plowed more than once every hour just to maintain a minimum amount of clearance. With nearly 20,000 lane miles of streets and several hundred lane miles of highway, the city would need about 5,000 garbage trucks equipped with plows to clean each street every hour. But the city has fewer than 2,000 garbage trucks, so an average street would not be plowed for several hours after snow stopped falling.

Someone might wonder why the city doesn’t just purchase 3,000 more trucks. But to do that in anticipation of a snow emergency is not practical, since 2,000 is all the city needs to pick up the garbage.

Two factors further complicate the situation. One, not all streets are created equal. Roads to hospitals, firehouses and police stations take priority; main arteries like Queens Blvd.; the Grand Concourse in the Bronx, and Ocean Parkway in Brooklyn need more attention. That means less plowing on residential streets. The other is that the longer the time between plowings, the less effective each pass is. As snow piles up, the difficulty of moving it increases exponentially. Snow gets packed into ice as each vehicle passes, and wind replaces already plowed snow.

The public has been spoiled over the past 30 years: Starting with Mayor Ed Koch and Sanitation Commissioner Norman Steisel, we’ve had progressively better responses to big storms. In fact, we got too good at it. Mayor Rudy Giuliani was so proud of the city’s response that he publicly embarrassed the Port Authority for not doing as good of a job with the runways at local airports.

Steisel’s rule was that it would take a day of work to remove every 4 inches of snow. In 1983, the city was hit with a similar storm – about a 20-incher. Even though a healthier budget meant better-staffed city agencies, blacktop was still not seen in parts of the city for a full week.

The press and the public understood the dimensions of the storm and recognized those efforts. Today, we take to the blogs and the airwaves to complain.

Given the circumstances, we simply expected too much in the wake of Sunday’s snowfall. Storms of this size are hard to fight. Give the city at least until Thursday before you start complaining.

Riccio is a lecturer on management at the School of International and Public Affairs at Columbia University.

{NY Daily News/}


  1. “Snow gets packed into ice as each vehicle passes”. Absolutely true. In addition many vehicles became stuck in middle of streets and intersections, making it impossible for snowplows to clean these roads. So can someone please answer the following: WHY did Mayor Bloomberg NOT declare a snow emergency as soon as the magnitude of the storm became apparent? The storm was accurately predicted in advance by meteorologists. It did not take anyone by surprise. This simple action would have kept drivers off the streets, would have enabled sanitation and emergency vehicles to access roads, and would have SAVED LIVES!

  2. just for your information, this “lecturer” was once commissioner of transportation for new york city, as well as working for the ny department of transportation and holding down mostly government jobs through his career.

    what this unbiased “lecturer on management” is basically saying is: what right do you, as citizens, have to criticize your beneficent, altruistic city government?

    strange that he hides his government background behind “lecturer on management.”

  3. When this Columbia diletante walks a day in our shoes, let him open his mouth then. Like all professors, he teaches because he is not a doer, but a consumer, a wart on the collective tuchus of society.

  4. Well, It is Thursday, and my street did not get plowed until 4:00PM today, in spite of Mayor bloomberg’s lies about every street having been plowed at least once by 7:00AM this morning, barring streets obstructed by stuck vehicles. Well my street had no obstructions; cars were getting through, albeit slowly. And the Mayor lied! The same thing happened on my daughter’s block. Several plow trucks came down her street with the shovels raised, on their way to other streets, and I don’t know if her street was plowed even once yet.

  5. Im not a kvetch, however, the facts are: where I live in Flatbush, there are still main Avenues (like Ave K, L, M) that ARE STILL NOT driveable! We are talking 5 days after the storm hit! I absolutely beleive that there is something internal going on (I dont know if we will ever find out). But Citybuses are getting stuck for HOURS and blocking the single lane that exsisted. People are backing out of streets and ignoring traffic signs (ie. stop signs, red lights). The food stores cannot keep up with the deliveries, and the whole atmosphere is (understandably) Anger and chaos! So NO, dont throw it that NYers complain. This time, we have a VALID reason to!!! Street corners arent shoveled, where should people stand and cross over? I’m only in my mid-30s, but never have I ever seen such dis-organization and confusion!

  6. O.K. well written, however, our streets
    used to be cleaned much sooner, and cars
    did not have to get stuck. My son, spent
    many hours shoveling and helping different
    yiden whom he did not know to be able to move
    their cars. By 8th ave. it is still not cleaned.
    No, we are not spoiled. We are simply used to
    having proper service from the city.

  7. Sorry but it does not add up. My street in BP was plowed for the first time since the snow started going down this morning at 3.55AM!!!
    We saw plows sitting and doing zilch!

  8. What a lacky! These bums are being paid big money from us the taxpayer! They have to do their job well or be fired, just like the rest of us. They have lost the public trust & that goes for Lord Bike Gloomberg as well! See how fast they clean up after the New Year’s party in Times Square! What double talking phonies!

  9. The complaints are perfectly legitimate.
    Main Streets weren’t cleared till days later.
    49th & 50th streets, which are main bus lanes, and a route to a hospital were not cleared until days later.
    Also, on Monday, I saw a few plow trucks driving down 13th Ave with their shovels up! They were obviously, deliberately not plowing.

  10. I enjoyed the peace and quiet, without all the cars and trucks running for a few days. It was like a shtickel yomtov in the middle of the week.

    Yasher koach!

  11. beautiful article but all these people writing such articles have no clue as to what is going on.

    Does anyone realize of the cases of frum and non frum, and goyim that had babies int he car because they could not make it to the hospital and then the babies died in the car.

    How about levayas that could not take place because of the teharah. the mes could not be brought to shomrei adas because the roads were not driveable.

    And a lady that slipped and was outside for 13 hours with a broekn leg and was not able to be brought into the house to wait for the ambulance which came 13 hours later.

    all the ambulances that got stuck and the busses that got stuck because people refused to do their jobs.

    People died as a direct cause of sanitation purposely not plwoing the streets. there are hundreds of videos and photographs throughout the media world in which some are public and many not. This is serious stuff and criminal and even the new York governor said today when the facts come out there will be people going to jail with charges of murder.

    Whoever wrote the article should be ashamed of themselves.

    You go tell a 32 year old mother who just lost a baby on the way to maimonides hospital to get over it and stop complaining.

    How dare anyone make fun of New Yorkers and call them spoiled.

    Do you know what it means to lose a weeks pay because you have absolutely no alternative. many streets and sidewalks were not even walkable for the first three out of five days.

    The list goes on and on.

    Just wait until January 10th for the hearings at City Hall and you will be shocked. You have seen nothing yet as to what really went on.

    When all the facts come out Matzav will not have articles calling New Yorkers “spoiled”.

    Never tell someone who just lost a baby to stop being spoiled or the other dumb statement that it’s from hashem and get over it.
    Everything is from hashem but this is not the time to go tell people who lost work and children who should be in yeshiva learning torah to get over it and stop being spoiled.

    The damage to vehicles over the last few days are in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. This is all due to streets not being plowed and having six inches of thick ice.

    This is criminal and it’s FridaY AND NOT MUCH CHANGED. There are still many streets still not plowed.

  12. Had the public schools been open this week the clean up would have been better…”spoiled”?!
    why cause all we want is to be able to go to work, & send our children back to yeshivas; not “spoiled” because we need to get to Times Square to see the ball drop; & I agree with #9, watch how fast Times Square will be cleaned up after the confetti…….Bloomberg hit a raw nerve boasting after day 1 that the theaters & restaurants in the city are all open…
    in short this was the worst & longest cleanup of any snow storm; esp. since the weather was sunny & no other storms all week…no excuses!
    good shabbos everyone^-^.

  13. This is unbelievable! East 9th between N & O has NOT been plowed yet! We called 311, David Greenfield, Dov Hikind & gornish! Everyone come take a look! We are all locked in! This is like a prison! Someone come help us!

  14. I live in BP where I watched trucks drive around with raised plows. Not a salt truck for 4 days. This piece is such a bunch of baloney it doesn’t deserve to be posted on as prestigious a site as this.