Saturday, January 25, 2014

What Mayor de Blasio Could Do About Snowstorms

First, shovel a path from your door.
January 25, 2014—Mayor Bill de Blasio and John Doherty, who is in charge of the snow plows, have been unfairly castigated for their handling of the snowstorm.

I don’t claim inside information about what happened on the Upper East Side of NY, but consider this:
• When the temperature remains well below freezing, plain salt doesn’t work. New York has suffered an unusually long spell of sub-freezing weather, with temperatures commonly below the level where salt on the street would melt the ice.
• When traffic is at a standstill, snow plows can’t get through.
The good news is that it is still nearly four years until the next mayoral election. The bad news is that Superbowl week is upon us.

Implement a Snowstorm Traffic Flow Plan. The Mayor needs a plan from the NYPD, as well as the Department of Sanitation, for keeping traffic moving so that snow plows can do their work at all times. If it is freezing weather, traffic police are more, not less, necessary. Gridlock is disaster in a snowstorm, because it prevents remedies.

Involve the Public. If NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton doesn’t want to tie up his force on traffic control, one idea is to reach out to the public and ask them to avoid certain parts of New York City - and announce plans to back up this request. Boston, which is no stranger to snow, has a map of all the fire hydrants and catch basins and urges the public to “adopt” them on a neighborhood basis and keep them clear in a storm.

Implement a New York City Storm Severity Index. The City has had an emergency rating that ranges from Phase 1 to Phase 3. The rarely used Phase 3 was invoked for the Blizzard of January 7-8, 1996. This blizzard, and the one that occurred in March 1993, are also rated by the National Weather Service as the only two storms that reached the top category 5 on the NESIS scale, which was developed in 2004 – and also on the more recent RSI scale. But the scales are not useful as guides for action in a storm – the NESIS and RSI scales only consider snowfall and population affected. In 1996, the NYC Comptroller’s Office recommended that the City develop its own Storm Severity Index. Here’s an example of how such an Index would work:
NYC Storm Severity Index = (S - 2)n*d
where S = expected number of inches of snow or water-equivalent ice in the first 24 hours
n = expected number of days of continuously freezing (below 32 F) weather
d = expected average number of degrees below freezing over the n days
If projected snowfall is eight inches, and five days of continuously freezing weather are expected, and temperatures are expected to average 17 degrees, the Index becomes 6*5*15=450. Now the Mayor has an idea of how badly the storm will slam the City.

From a Jobs POV, Keep Manhattan Open.  Brooklyn has been insulted often since it was consolidated with New York City in 1897-98. It doesn't have a baseball team any more, but it has a million more residents than Manhattan. It would rank fourth after NYC (4 boros), LA and Chicago, if it were still independent. But Manhattan accounts for at least 70 percent of the New York City economy, and commuters from the other boroughs need those jobs.

Close the Schools on the Severest Storm Days. School buses clog traffic and stop snow plows going through. It’s a problem for parents who work, but if school buses are blocking traffic, the parents won’t get to work anyway. Only half of teachers showed up at the schools on the first full day of the storm. Offices are more likely to close when schools are closed.

Consider Alternatives to Plain Salt, Which Doesn’t Work Well Below 15 F. U.S. airports watch snowstorms like hawks. They use de-icers and anti-icers that work down to -20 F. Glycol and urea are bad for the environment but the EPA has approved potassium acetate based (KAC) liquid E36. It takes just 10 minutes to go to work. There is also an additive to salt that lowers the temperature at which salt water melts.