Blizzards: New York City Does It Better

Winter storm Jonas plowed into the East Coast on Friday, January 22nd, dropping nearly 27 inches of snow on New York City through the following night. Cities throughout the mid-Atlantic coast were affected; both Washington, DC and Philadelphia received approximately 22 inches. (1) Maintaining public transportation service during a large storm is no small task, nor is resuming service once the snow has stopped and roads and above-ground rails remain buried. But, being able to dig out – and doing it quickly – is an important part of keeping a city moving during the snowiest months.

Of the three major cities most affected by Jonas, which transit system best handled the storm? For a quick discussion of the effects of the storm on commute and travel in these cities, we compared three major modes–subway, bus, and car–and included, for New York City, salient points from Placemeter’s pedestrian activity analysis. (3)
Subway:

  • Washington, DC- Metro closed on Friday at 8:00 p.m., and remained closed through Sunday. On Monday, limited underground service reopened on three of Metro’s six subway lines. Storm-related delays continued to slow down regular service on Tuesday – more than 48 hours after snowfall stopped. (2)
  • New York City- Above-ground subway operations were suspended after 4:00 p.m. on Saturday, while underground subway operations never ceased. By Monday, aboveground service had resumed.
  • Philadelphia- SEPTA suspended all weekend service beginning at 4:00 a.m. on Saturday, but was back up and running by Monday morning. In total, this constituted an approximately 48 hour outage.

Bus:

  • Washington, DC- WMATA suspended bus service on all but lifeline routes on Friday at 5:00 p.m. with service completely suspended by 11:00 p.m. (2) On Wednesday, WMATA resumed metrobus service on a modified schedule, but did not become fully operational until Friday. This constituted a 4-day, more than 96 hour bus outage.
  • New York City- The MTA was forced to stop bus service after 12:00 p.m. on Saturday as city roads piled up with snow, but by Sunday at 7 a.m. buses were back in operation on a modified schedule. Altogether, MTA bus service was down for a mere 19 hours.
  • Philadelphia- SEPTA suspended all weekend service beginning at 4:00 a.m. on Saturday. By Monday morning, 35 percent of SEPTA’S normal bus operations were back in service. In total, bus service was down in Philadelphia for just over 48 hours.

Car:

  • Washington, DC- Mayor Muriel Bowser issued a warning to drivers and pedestrians urging them to keep off the roads through the duration of the storm. No official travel ban was put in place. (8)
  • New York City- A driving ban was put into effect beginning Saturday at 2:30 p.m. and continuing through Sunday morning at 7:00 a.m. (5) Alternate Side Parking rules were suspended through Monday, 2/1, while parking meters remained in effect. It is not clear, however, whether or how many parking violations were given in the days after the storm. (6)
  • Philadelphia- A Snow Emergency was issued, forcing vehicle owners to move parked vehicles from emergency routes. Parking regulations were loosened to accommodate residents difficulties with parking; the PPA did not enforce meter and kiosk parking violations until the Tuesday following the storm. (11)


Pedestrian Activity (NYC):

The Thursday after the storm, Placemeter released a comprehensive analysis of pedestrian activity in several NYC neighborhoods. The company found decreases in foot traffic during the worst of the weather on Saturday, which included the heaviest snowfall and worst travel conditions (including the driving ban). However, Placemeter identified increased foot traffic to neighborhood parks. (3) While pedestrian traffic dropped in places like Times Square and Penn Station during the poor weather, most areas were back to typical traffic levels by Monday morning. (3)
Despite the disruptions, the transit systems in Washington, New York, and Philadelphia admirably mitigated the effects of winter storm Jonas. New York City stands out in its response, having continued underground subway service throughout the duration of the storm.

New York City’s storm management was successful mainly due to clear communication and preparation. Days before the storm hit, Mayor de Blasio launched a winter weather public service announcement to help New Yorkers prepare for the snow and cold. (7) The City agencies collaborated to mitigate the storm’s effects on residents:

  • NYC Department of Sanitation deployed 579 salt spreaders on Friday evening, well before the inclement weather. As soon as two inches of snow had accumulated, 1,650 plows were prepared and readied for dispatch. In addition, DOS planned 12-hour shifts for workers starting Friday at 7:00 a.m., with 2,400 workers/shift.
  • Well before the storm, Department of Transportation had plans in-place for the de-icing of bridges and pre-treatment of pedestrian overpasses.
  • The Office of Emergency Management issued advance warning messages to non-profits and local organizations working with people with disabilities and access and functional needs, in addition to providing storm updates to local officials. (9)
  • MTA significantly prepared its own infrastructure, including implementing snow throwers, de-icer cars and tire chains for buses. (10)

Sources:
1. NOAA. “STORM SUMMARY NUMBER 13 FOR HISTORIC EASTERN U.S. MAJOR WINTER STORM.” January 24, 2016. Accessed February 04, 2016. http://www.wpc.ncep.noaa.gov/discussions/nfdscc2.html.
2. “Metro, Metrobus and MetroAccess Will Shut down for the Weekend.” Washington Post. January 21, 2016. Accessed February 04, 2016. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/dr-gridlock/wp/2016/01/21/metro-will-close-all-weekend/.
3. “How Did Winter Storm Jonas Affect Pedestrian Activity in New York City?” How Did Winter Storm Jonas Affect Pedestrian Activity in New York City? January 28, 2016. Accessed February 04, 2016. http://blog.placemeter.com/blizzard-2016?utm_campaign=LG-GE-BP-1601-Blizzard2016.
4. “Weekend Storm Economic Hit Not as Bad as Feared.” The New York Times. January 24, 2016. Accessed February 04, 2016. http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/2016/01/24/business/ap-us-big-snowstorm-economic-impact.html?_r=0.
5. “Travel Ban Lifted after Storm Dumps 26 Inches of Snow on NYC.” NY Daily News. January 24, 2016. Accessed February 04, 2016. http://www.nydailynews.com/news/national/gov-cuomo-declare-state-emergency-blizzard-article-1.2506950.
6. “City Hall Press Release.” NYC Office of Emergency Management. January 24, 2016. Accessed February 04, 2016. http://www1.nyc.gov/site/em/about/press-releases/20160124_pr_cityhall_mayor-deblasio-issues-storm-response-update.page.
7. “Mayor De Blasio Launches Winter Weather PSA to Help New Yorkers Prepare for Winter Weather.” The Official Website of the City of New York. January 20, 2016. Accessed February 04, 2016. http://www1.nyc.gov/office-of-the-mayor/news/072-16/mayor-de-blasio-launches-winter-weather-psa-help-new-yorkers-prepare-winter-weather.
8. “Why There’s No Travel Ban in D.C.” Washington Post. January 23, 2016. Accessed February 04, 2016. https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/trafficandcommuting/why-theres-no-travel-ban-in-dc/2016/01/23/95237a22-c238-11e5-83d4-42e3bceea902_story.html.
9. “Mayor De Blasio Issues Hazardous Travel Advisory.” The Official Website of the City of New York. January 21, 2016. Accessed February 04, 2016. http://www1.nyc.gov/office-of-the-mayor/news/074-16/mayor-de-blasio-issues-hazardous-travel-advisory#/0.
10. “Photos: MTA Itching To Deploy Some Serious “Snow-Fighting” Hardware.” Gothamist. January 21, 2016. Accessed February 04, 2016. http://gothamist.com/2016/01/21/mta_hardware_snow_war.php#photo-6.
11. “Phila.gov.” City Ends Snow Emergency. January 25, 2016. Accessed February 04, 2016. https://alpha.phila.gov/news/mayor/city-ends-snow-emergency/.

What We’re Reading This Week

This week on the Rudin Center’s to-read list:

Video of the week:
Take a peek at the video progeny of a partnership between the Van Alen Institute and CityLab with the first of Van Alen Sessions.

What We’re Reading this Week

It’s been a trying week for transportation services in the New York City region and east coast cities in general as we dig out from the remnants of historic blizzard Jonas. While slogging through the slush puddles, we’ve been rounding-up this week’s transportation news. Here’s what we’ve been reading this week; stay tuned for a re-cap of transit shutdowns along the east coast to be posted next week!

Video of the week: Casey Neistat snowboards with the NYPD

Header photo by editrixie on Flickr.

What We’re Reading This Week

Video of the week: NYC Subway Train Operator’s Point of View – The Queens-bound 7 Line

Exploring challenges in transportation and infrastructure