I just read the front page round up. It includes a blurb from the NY Times about the political firestorm that is erupting here because the Bloomberg administration has failed to plow the outer borough streets.
The diarist's comment is that this seems to be par for the course for the outer boroughs, and may just be new, however, for the Bloomberg administration.
This is not the case. This is a catastrophe in progress, both political and in terms of "quality of life" that is hard for outsiders to comprehend and that was completely unnecessary. I also believe that this is the end of Mayor Mike Bloomberg's aspirations for higher political office. If you can't plow the streets of Queens, Mayor John V. Lindsay learned four decades ago, you don't get to be governor or run for president.
But this isn't about politics right now. I want to give you a sense of the complete and total collapse that has occurred so far. Most of the coverage I've come across has been about Brooklyn, but it's even worse in Queens.
So let me describe what my "quality of life" is like right now -- "QOL" being of course the thing that Bloomberg points to as his big achievement.
My house indoor temperature is about 45-55 degrees. That's because I ordered heating oil just before Christmas and because of heavy demand, my friendly and reliable oil company told me that they would have to deliver the day after Christmas. Then came the blizzard. Then came the city government's failure to plow. Every day the oil company calls to apologize that they simply can't deliver in Queens because the drivers get stuck. I'm hoarding my last few gallons of oil because I don't know whether I'm going to get plowed today or have to wait until the Spring thaw at this rate.
So many people are running out of heating oil that there is this bizarre phenomenon we're seeing: independent heating oil trucks are cruising up and down the boulevards like livery cabs looking to get hailed, offering to deliver oil -- if your street is plowed. Mine isn't so they won't come to my house.
The local supermarket has run out of meat and milk. This is because they can't get deliveries. In other words, we're running out of food out here. The trucks can't get through. I haven't seen a newspaper since Christmas day because the newspaper trucks can't delivery out here.
I don't know how this is being covered on TV because my cable went out, and no cable repair trucks can get into the side streets.
Now this may sound like typical New Yorker complaints against the weather -- blaming city hall for snow.
This is not the case.
This is not the worse storm I've experienced since living in this part of Queens the last 10 years or so. It's pretty typical to have a storm like this once a year or every other year. Maybe the accumulation was a bit higher than normal.
But what changed was the city government's response. It has been stupefyingly bad. It has been a complete collapse of city government in the outer borough of Queens.
Before explaining this massive failure I need to provide a bit of background. I've read that the city divides streets into 3 categories:
1. The big main thoroughfares, and streets with hospitals, police precincts and other essential buildings. Buses run along many of them. In my part of Queens, the four main such streets are Francis Lewis Blvd., Hollis Avenue, Hillside Avenue, and Jamaica Avenue. I'll call them boulevards.
2. The main streets that connect boulevards. These are residential streets, but they are connectors and are usually straight and somewhat wider than purely residential streets. I'll call them connectors. My street is one of several that connects the western end of Hollis Avenue and Francis Lewis Blvd.
3. Purely residential streets. They are often narrow, and don't have stores, services or connect anything.
The storm began Sunday night. Normally, the Sanitation Department would begin to plow the boulevards and connectors as the snow is coming down and accumulating. This is the point of "Snow Emergency" declarations. You have to get your car off the boulevards, but not the connectors or residential streets. My street is usually plowed as the snow is coming down or early the next day. Residential streets are usually plowed the day after the storm.
Here's what happened. The first plowing of boulevards out here didn't happen until Tuesday, yesterday. This is un-fu**ing-believable. Normally, the plowing of the boulevards would have begun Sunday night. My street, a connector, is still unplowed. Because people need to get between boulevards on my street, drivers foolishly used my street, and there were cars stuck all over the place, including in front of my house. Several neighbors and I spent all day yesterday shoveling out stalled, stuck cars on my street. I was helping these strangers in part because of the awful situation they were in but also in the self-interested, vain hope that my oil company would come, and wouldn't be deterred by the cars stuck right in front of my house.
Because cars have squashed down the snow, it's now like ice with a coating of slush and snow. It's now impassable, with deep ruts and holes.
Worse, I saw an ambulance with flashing lights try to turn from the newly plowed Francis Lewis onto my street, but was turned back.
Did someone have a heart attack? I have no idea. But at this point, on residential streets and connectors, there is no way for EMS to get through and if someone was seriously sick, there's no way to get that person medical attention.
Access A Ride provides a van like service for the elderly and disabled. I also tried to help an Access A Ride van dig out from near the corner of Francis Lewis and my street, but it was hopeless. The van was stuck for 8 hours, and I heard the poor driver's radio dispatcher instruct him that if he ever got out and was going to pick up anyone, they would have to walk to a boulevard.
Usually the police patrol after a snow storm, checking on snowed in cars for people who are cold and stuck, but I haven't seen a single police car since Christmas Eve.
Worse, there have been no buses for people to get to work since Sunday, when buses in Queens were stranded all over the unplowed main boulevards until yesterday, when I saw the first bus. But of the two main lines here, the Q77 and Q2, which usually run every 5 minutes or so, I've seen one Q77 in three days. People are trying to get to work by driving (impossible of course -- they're just getting stuck) or standing on the cleared boulevards hitchhiking or trying to get unlicensed livery cabs. Of course Bloomberg, not understanding that people have to work to get paid, is telling us in the outer boroughs to take the day off and enjoy it.
What's so shocking is that we are experiencing the complete collapse of city government. There is no Sanitation Department, which is usually fantastically reliable during snow storms. EMS is paralyzed in responding to most streets. There's no Access A Ride, and the police have disappeared. There is no mass transit out here in a city that depends on it more than any city in America.
This isn't a minor failure. The collapse of city infrastructure in my part of the outer boroughs -- and from what I've read on line in parts of Brooklyn -- is comparable to what happened in New Orleans during Katrina. I don't want at all to equate what's happening to the people here to what happened there -- but I do want to compare the bizarre collapse or withdrawal of services due to incompetence.
What's worse, is that none of this was necessary. All Bloomberg had to do was let the system run the way it always runs. Declare a snow emergency and let the Sanitation Department do its thing. For inexplicable reasons he's been trying to defend, he didn't declare a snow emergency. Apparently, rumor is that another aspect of Bloomberg's spectacular incompetence was that he redeployed plows that would usually be out here and in Brooklyn, into Manhattan so they could be plowed even more frequently than normal.
History buffs will remember another wealthy, pleasant, bi-partisan/non-partisan mayor of New York -- John V. Lindsay, and how his political career was destroyed by his failure to plow the streets of Queens, which turned against him in the 1969 election.
Ever since then, New York mayors, no matter how otherwise competent or incompetent, learned the lesson: you cannot succeed in New York politics if you don't plow the streets after a snow storm.
They system that resulted from that imperative wasn't perfect, but it worked pretty well. We laughed at cities like Washington shutting down because of 3 inches of snow, and were proud that 12 hours after any blizzard, New York was typically back in business.
It's 3 days and we are in a state of collapse out here. Bloomberg is now entering the record books as worse than Lindsay, because Lindsay took 3 days to plow the outer boroughs. I've talked to old timers out here who confirm they've never experienced anything like this since the Lindsay administration and the snow storm that killed that mayor's aspirations for higher political office. I've talked to some of the merchants on Hollis Avenue whose businesses are at a standstill and are wondering why the boulevards weren't plowed, and everyone is stupefied by the incompetence. The system worked so well in every storm in the past! WTF happened? WHERE ARE THE PLOWS? We barely know what's going on because there are no newspapers!
Even more infuriating, a few people coming back from work in Nassau County -- which is even more suburban than Queens and doesn't have New York's excellent Sanitation Department -- say all the main streets out there are plowed.
This is not just annoying. It's surreal. Only a series of conscious, but moronic and incompetent decisions could upset the ordinarily functioning system to deliver us into this level of misery.
Mayor Mike Bloomberg -- is now the new John Lindsay, the new Ray Nagin.
PS Sorry to write a hasty, disorganized diary, but I'm cold, and pissed off.
UPDATE: Wow, first time on the Rec list. Thanks!
UPDATE 2: THANK YOU OIL COMPANY!!! They braved my iced in street and somehow managed to delivered anyway! It's also warming up and the icy ruts are melting through to the asphalt -- so we're still not plowed, but mother nature has decided to give us a break with a semi warm day.
I may be away from this diary for a bit because I've cranked up the heat and I'm going to SIT ON A RADIATOR for a few hours.
UPDATE 3: The first plow just went through my street -- after the oil company truck struggled to get here and out. With the snow already compacted down to black ice, it didn't work as well as it would have had they used the normal schedule, so although passable, the street is still dangerous to drive on. It's like they just scraped the slush and snow off the black ice which remains.
Thank you everyone for your concern, as well as for your tips and recs!