While city struggles, it's all clear on LI

While most residents had cleared yards and sidewalks, While most residents had cleared yards and sidewalks, streets are still unplowed in the Sunset Park section of Brooklyn, Tuesday. (Dec. 28, 2010) Photo Credit: AP

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Hundreds of plow drivers working through the blizzard's howling winds did more than clear Long Island's roads for commutes and commerce: They bested the efforts of New York City's fabled snow-fighting armada and vanquished a long-held reputation for sluggish response to winter-weather emergencies.

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Glen Head resident Todd Kraska was among the commuters stunned to find that his car started skidding when he crossed the city line.

"With other storms, it's always seemed like right away the snow was just gone in the city," said Kraska, 35, who drove to work in midtown Manhattan on Monday morning. "This time it was the opposite. The city was an absolute mess."

As Nassau and Suffolk County officials Tuesday boasted one of their best responses ever to a big winter storm, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg pleaded for residents' patience through another day of unplowed streets, crippled mass transit and a sometimes-overwhelmed emergency call system.

"It is a bad situation and we're working together to correct it," Bloomberg said at a news conference at the city's emergency center in Brooklyn. "Nobody suggests that this is easy. Nobody suggests that this is pleasurable. But I can tell you this, we are doing everything that we can think of, working as hard as we can."

No such plea was needed from Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano or Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy, who said nearly all major roadways in their jurisdictions were passable by midday Monday and there were no major glitches in storm cleanup. Even residential streets maintained by villages and townships appeared to have done better than those in The City That Never Sleeps, with five major towns reporting that all their roads were clear by noon Tuesday.

"It was a very treacherous storm, but we were able to manage through it and do a good job," Mangano said.

Rachel Brinn, 28, who lives in Manhattan but works as a legislative aide in Mineola, said the city usually is the easy part of her commute after a snowstorm. This time, she found herself waiting for an Upper East Side bus that never came and trudging through snow to get to Penn Station. By contrast, driving last night after work to her parents' Great Neck home, the roads were a breeze.

"This is the worst I've ever seen the city after a storm. Even today, there was still snow on the roads," she said. "But here there wasn't."

The only blemish on Long Island's snow-day report card was cancellations and widespread delays on the Long Island Rail Road - which by its own description was in a "triage situation" through much of Tuesday, with limited service on only four of its 11 branches.

After crews spent two days clearing snow-clogged third rails and unfreezing frozen switches, LIRR president Helena Williams said the railroad expects to have "near normal" service for this morning's commute.

LIRR riders were not pleased. Port Washington commuter Alan Tenenbaum said he went to the station Tuesday expecting a holiday schedule but instead "wasted" two hours waiting for a train.

"Service delays are justifiable after a massive snowstorm. Deception is not justifiable, especially in a quasi-governmental agency," Tenenbaum said in an e-mail to Newsday. "Why misinform the public and have people waiting for hours at the station?"

The city's subways, usually a reliable carrier untroubled by surface weather troubles, still were reporting delays last night, with service completely halted on some lines, especially those that travel above-ground in Brooklyn.

Pressed about the city's trouble in clearing streets, Bloomberg placed some of the blame right back on the public.

"People didn't listen and leave their cars at home," the mayor said. "This storm showed when you go out in this kind of weather, chances are you are going to get stuck on a side street."

Despite their relative success, Long Island officials had the same complaint.

Eileen Peters, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Transportation's Long Island region, said stranded drivers created a "snowball effect," if you will, preventing plows from passing, which in turn prevented tow trucks from rescuing the stranded vehicles. Payloaders finally had to be brought in to clear many of those messes, she said.

John Doherty, the city's sanitation commissioner, buttressed the mayor and said a domino effect took place when stalled cars prevented plows and tow trucks from getting through. Bloomberg said more than 1,000 stalled cars were removed from the Van Wyck, Gowanus and Cross Bronx expressways.

But Public Advocate Bill DiBlasio, saying the city seemed unprepared for the storm, said he was seeking information from City Hall about staffing levels in the Department of Sanitation and the handling of the 311 and 911 call system queues. The volume of stalled cars also was unprecedented, he said.

"It is clear people were not asked to stay off the streets [with cars]" said DiBlasio. "Somehow the initiative was lost."

In Queens, numerous side streets in Douglaston, Lindenwood, Ozone Park and Howard Beach were untouched by plows as of mid-afternoon Tuesday. Bus riders queued in the streets because the sidewalks had not been shoveled.

"I don't think they were prepared for this one," said Ken Lynch, 48, of Ozone Park, as he gassed up his four-wheel drive vehicle at a Hess station on Cross Bay Boulevard.

With Patrick Whittle

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