City officials face snowy streets

As wind whipped across New Haven and retailers reported a run on winter hats Friday morning, city officials made preparations of their own for the weekend’s blizzard, the first significant snowstorm of the season and Connecticut’s worst in years. On Sunday, city officials seemed pleased with how those plans had worked.

Though officials did not have enough time to assess how well they had done their job, Richard Miller, New Haven’s director of public works and engineering, said he was encouraged by the hard work of city workers who fought fatigue to continue clearing the roads throughout the weekend.

“When you have a common issue, there’s camaraderie and cooperation focused on the problem,” Miller said. “Everyone sees what has to be done.”

Convening in the Department of Public Works’ underground conference room, officials agreed to impose a parking ban throughout New Haven effective from 6 p.m. Saturday to 6 a.m. Monday. Officials hoped the ban, which prohibited parking on both sides of downtown streets and emergency snow routes and on the odd sides of all other streets, would help keep arterial roads open for emergency vehicles and give a fleet of city snowplows the chance to effectively salt, sand and clear the streets by Monday morning. Violators would be towed at their own expense, Public Works Chief Fiscal Officer Pierre Barbour said Friday. Officials planned to inform the public of the ban through frequent media announcements.

Derek Slap, the director of public information for New Haven, said on Sunday that the city’s attempt to spread word of the ban had worked well overall.

“We got the parking ban out very early — it was sent out Friday by lunchtime,” Slap said. “All the stations did a really good job — It seems like it worked, and there were very few people on the road.”

Friday’s meeting was crucial to coordinating the activities of various municipal departments, officials said, even though everyone involved already knew the drill.

“I was absolutely satisfied with the response last year,” Slap said, “but we still need to coordinate with traffic and public works, determine when the parking ban will go into effect and make sure that the equipment is ready.”

Miller said his department and others had their hands full last year with a barrage of successive storms, a winter assault the city successfully combated by relying on experienced employees and civic cooperation. On Sunday Miller said New Haven citizens were generally helpful over the weekend but at times less than fully cooperative.

“I think we did a pretty good job last year,” Miller said. “The city doesn’t have the space to push snow off to the side of the road and let it melt. We need an awful lot of cooperation from citizens to do our work effectively.”

While planning for the weekend storm, city officials recalled not only last year’s snow but also the blizzard of 1978, which paralyzed New Haven largely because officials were caught off guard.

Barbour said he had no fears that New Haven would repeat the mistake.

“These are people who’ve been doing this for a long time,” he said. “This is just another storm.”

But, as Deputy Director of Operations Jeff Pescosolido admitted, even professionals get tired.

“For the first few storms of the year, everyone’s excited, but you do get tired especially if there are two or three in a week,” Pescosolido said. “Still, our staff is trained and professional. We know we have a job to do, and we’re going to do it.”

Hindsight confirmed Pescosolido’s prediction of an exhausting but energetic response to the storm, Miller said Sunday. Still, he added, the city’s activities, however grueling, will have to continue for as long as the storm lasts.

“It gets a little overwhelming now,” Miller said. “The parking ban’s still in effect until Monday, and our focus is still on the storm. None of us have gotten a lot of sleep this weekend.”

A snowplow clears city streets, making way for straggling cars. Officials imposed a parking ban Saturday night to ensure a clear path for the plows on Sunday morning. The ban was one way the city prepared for the weekend blizzard, the first major storm of the season.
Kari Rittenbach
A snowplow clears city streets, making way for straggling cars. Officials imposed a parking ban Saturday night to ensure a clear path for the plows on Sunday morning. The ban was one way the city prepared for the weekend blizzard, the first major storm of the season.

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