Snow and Politics Create a Wintry Mix in Bridgeport, New Haven

Still digging out

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Parking in the snow
Chris Betances, a senior at Southern Connecticut State University, parallel parks between two mounds of snow in the Beaver Hills neighborhood of New Haven. Residents there are incensed that snow removal by the city has finished. Photo:Dru Nadler
An attempt to reserve a dug-out parking space in Bridgeport.
Dru Nadler
A huge mound of snow blocks an intersection in Bridgeport.
Dru Nadler
An island of snow in the middle of this Bridgeport street creates a bit of a problem for passing cars.
Dru Nadler
Will the snow ever leave?
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Will the snow ever leave?

When the city threatened to tow all the cars on my street after the blizzard, I went into full-on panic mode. I paid a guy with a snow plow thirty bucks to dig out my car. And there was such a huge mound of snow between my roommate’s car and the road, that we actually drove it onto the sidewalk to get it off the street. And then the city never delivered. We live in the East Rock neighborhood of New Haven. We’re not alone.

“We all felt there was like this huge bed of silence, you know, like after the storm," says Ronni Rabin, who lives in the Beaver Hills neighborhood on the other side of town. "We were all like, ‘where is everybody?’ You know, you usually hear the plows coming through.”

Across the city, tiny two-lane side streets have been reduced to one lane by mounds of snow. It’s a constant cat-and-mouse game to drive down these roads and avoid cars coming in the other direction.

The mayor of New Haven, John DeStefano, understands our frustration. But here's his response.

“You know what? At some point, we do stop plowing, and we do stop removing snow.”

DeStefano says the storm has already cost the city more than $2 million. Contracting out for dozens of payloaders and dump trucks was incredibly expensive. Schools are back open, he said, and so the city decided: enough is enough.

“We’ve been essentially done except for emergency and safety issues for two days now.”

In other words, many people will be out of luck finding a legal parking space on their street until it gets really warm again. Southern Connecticut State University senior Chris Betances was parallel parking between two mounds of snow. He was lucky to find a space at all; recently, he nearly got towed.

“Good thing I was actually walking out to my car," he recalls. "And there was a tow truck literally right next to my car.”

"I was like, there’s no way you’re towing my car right now. Where else am I going to park, you know?”

Bridgeport – also known for its streets that are too narrow for giant snowplows and payloaders – is in a similar jam. In many areas, plows have pushed all the snow into these 20-foot high mounds that are blocking driver’s visions at intersections. So now those will have to be removed. Some residents are so frustrated they’re calling for Mayor Bill Finch to resign. A Facebook page created this week has more than 120 "likes."

Emergency director Scott Appleby says the city was prepared for what was originally forecasted. Meaning, about 18 inches.

“Anywhere from 2 inches to 20 inches of snow, the city’s plans were workable," he says.

Bridgeport actually got between 31 and 38 inches. Appleby says the city learned a lot of lessons from this storm: Communicate better, with residents and weather forecasters. Maybe institute a parking ban as far as a day in advance. Try and cut down on contracting – by far the biggest expense.

“Our new strategy may be to look at volunteers, to look at other types of agencies," Appleby says.

But DeStefano’s not sure how New Haven could have been more prepared for something like this. The city could try to lock in contractors in advance at a fixed price to save money – but that usually requires paying something upfront before a storm is even forecasted. Bringing in more equipment means hiring more supervisors – which the city can’t afford. More outside contractors or National Guard members only go so far when they’re not familiar with New Haven’s streets in an emergency.

Bottom line: Total preparedness is impossible. “I think there are things you can learn, but the things you learn may have nothing to do with the storm you next experience.”

DeStefano said people really need to temper their expectations.

OK, fine. I don’t expect to find a legal parking spot anytime soon. So I’m parking in the “no standing anytime” zone. And if I get a ticket, someone’s going to pay.

Read more in the Connecticut Mirror's commuter blog, Rant and Rail.