NYC’s Slush Filled Crosswalks: A disturbing case study.

Published on: March 16th, 2017 Written by:

On the afternoon of March 15th 2017, nearly 24 hours after a major snow storm dumped a few inches of snow in much of NYC, I took a walk from Court Square to 50th avenue along Jackson avenue in LIC. The purpose of this trip was to document the various snow shoveling efforts of property owners along the route in relation to creating passable sidewalks and crosswalks, as well as cleared bus stops and fire hydrants (which under NYC law must be shoveled clear by property owners). I specifically picked a major thoroughfare within an NYC ‘outer boro’ as these streets are often very neglected after snow storms. This field study entailed walking the route round trip, down one side of the street and then crossing to the opposite side for a return trip. To document it, I took roughly 150 photos on a DSLR camera with a 10-20mm wide angle lens. I also created a very idealistic rating system that considers the extent of shoveling that took place. This scale is as follows:

0 stars: no shoveling at all took place.
1 star: sidewalk shoveling, but no crosswalks/hydrants/bus stops were cleared.
2 stars: sidewalk, hydrants, bus stop, or at least one crosswalk were cleared.
3 stars: all crosswalks and sidewalk properly shoveled, including hydrants and bus stops
4 stars: sidewalks, crosswalks, hydrants and bus stops cleared, with additional clearing of sewer catch-basins to prevent slush lagoons from forming.

Locations rated with zero and one star are in violation of the law. Two star locations should be in violation of the law as all crosswalks should be cleared, though there is no legal requirement at the moment for anyone at all to clear crosswalks.

Shall we begin?


We start out at Court Square and Jackson Avenue, outside the Mr. Wonton Chinese restaurant on the northeast corner of the intersection. As you can see, both crosswalks facing south and west are completely blocked by snow. 1 star.


Across the street, outside Burger Garage, someone has cleared the sidewalk facing North, but not west. 2 stars.


The Subway sandwich shop next door clearly doesn’t value their customers business or safety, as they refused to shovel their sidewalk. 0 stars.


The abandoned storefronts further south on the same street also earn 0 stars. The hydrant here was not buried, but not cleared either.


“JACKSON 2524 LLC” owns this property. When a property’s ownership is hidden behind an LLC, chances are it is owned by a shady real estate ‘developer’ who is planning to replace it with a multi-million dollar residential tower. Despite their deep pockets, they don’t care enough about the community or the law to shovel at all. Fuck these people. Zero stars. Zero. Just like their morals.


The LIC Court House earns zero stars. The sidewalk on the south side of the property and the steps in front of the courthouse were cleared of snow – but not the Jackson avenue sidewalk. Someone shoveled out the Bus stop, but they left no path from the bus stop to the actual curb. Shoddy work, no stars for you.


Brooks restaurant also did not shovel their crosswalks. They did do their sidewalk, which gets them exactly one star.


Court Square Dentistry didn’t shovel their sidewalk. Zero stars. If you don’t care about the safety of your sidewalk you probably don’t care about my dental care either. Sorry, not sorry. My dentist in Brooklyn shovels.


This building on the corner of Pearson – I want to give them one star for doing their sidewalk but the hydrant is pretty well covered in snow, should they lose points for that? I think so. Zero stars. Do it right. This is not negotiable.


The bodega and dunkin donuts under the 7 on Jackson win 2 stars here with two clear crosswalks and a clear sidewalk. They might have gotten 3 stars but there’s no hydrant of bus stop to consider. Good job.


Surprisingly, the 5 ptz development site gets two stars. Crosswalks were cleared in all directions. Here we are facing across Jackson…


The ugly building at Davis court gets 1 star for clearing the sidewalk and no crosswalks. They did clear a subway emergency exit hatch, but that was probably by accident.


The MTA gets zero points for failing completely to clear this sidewalk on their Arch street yard property. This property is a former rail freight terminal that was leased to the New York and Atlantic Railroad – but they vacated 2 years ago – thus the sidewalk is 100% the MTA’s responsibility. There is also a bus stop here that was 100% not cleared.


They also failed to clear this crosswalk and hydrant at 21st street.


Admittedly the MTA’s maintenance people are surely stretched thin with cleaning subway stations, stairs and presumably bus stops. But why was the south side of the property on 21st street cleaned, and not the Jackson Avenue side? This makes no sense and points towards some very lazy cleaning staff at the LIRR arch street maintenance facility.


The T&A taxi garage on the south east corner of 21st appears to have cleaned their crosswalk only to have it snowed back in by DSNY snowplows. I’m conflicted here… I’ll give 2 stars.


The owners of the apartment building on the southeast corner of Jackson and 47th road barely shoveled their sidewalk and did not do anything for the crosswalks. 1 star.


Longtime LIC company Paxall gets one star for clearing their sidewalk, but failing at the crosswalks and failing really hard at clearing their hydrants. Inexcusable. This fire hydrant is so deeply buried that the guy double parked in his pick up didn’t even realize it was there.


The corner of Jackson and the Pulaski bridge is particularly bad. The apartment building on the southeast corner cleared their sidewalk and one crosswalk, but did not do the crosswalk facing north.


This whole intersection is just plain dangerous as the median has not been cleared at all. On the south side of the intersection, a small ‘greenstreets’ park also has not been cleared. This is an already dangerous intersection with traffic flowing from numerous directions and lanes – the snow makes it significantly worse. The DOT & Parks Department are truly failing here, and will probably point fingers at each other while us civilians are forced to walk out in traffic and pray motorists don’t drive too crazy. Good luck with that (and as a weekend driver I get to say that).


Manettas – good food, good shoveling. 2 stars – probably would have been 3 if there were a bus stop & hydrant.


“QUEENS PROGRESS ASSOC” owns this property, where no shoveling was done. Zero stars.

The intersection just south of here features an NYC Parks department Green Streets triangle. A small slice of sidewalk is shoveled, which is completely pointless given the crosswalk mess.


Return Trip


Turning to go back northeast, we cross over to find that chase bank has not cleared crosswalks. 1 star.


At the next corner north, outside Green Spin Laundry, you’ll be spinning your wheels getting over this icy crosswalk. 1 star.


The kids haircut place on the opposite side had a clear crosswalk & sidewalk. 2 stars. Good job. If I had a kid, I’d trust you with their hair.


Next, Sweatleaf gets 2 stars for clearing both crosswalks.


The bus stop next door, however, is on a DOT overpass above LIRR property. The bus stop here is not shoveled. One star. (The guy seen shoveling is from Sweatleaf’s building, clearing a crosswalk).


This triangle just opposite the Pulaski Bridge on 11th and Jackson is a complete mess. It is likely the responsibility of the DOT, though the LIRR has a track under this intersection, and the subway system has a utility hatch here for the G train which also passes below. Zero stars for all of them.


The food market here also fails at crosswalk shoveling 101. One star.


Bierocracy: Good food, but zero stars as no shoveling took place. To be fair they have not opened yet and it looks like the snow gods will be costing them money for their negligence in the form of a damaged awning from the weight of the snow and ice. Maybe if they had someone clean it sooner they wouldn’t have to pay that repair bill.


The north corner of Bierocracy is such a mess that a car lost a bumper here. This is weak snowplowing.


Amazingly, this intersection at the building development site on 21st street and Jackson is completely clear. 2 stars. I considered 3 stars here considering the G train entrance was also clear – but it’s under a scaffold so no one had to shovel it. Wouldn’t it be nice if all subway entrances were covered? What a concept eh?


The BP station gets one point for cleared sidewalk, none for crosswalks – due to their inattention to the crossings at 21st street. The northeast crossings were cleared though, and to be fair they do have the entire block to themselves.


Across the street, this small apartment building looks like they thought about clearing to the crosswalk then decided ‘who cares’? 1 star.


Further up, MOMA’s PS1 gets 2 points because they had a crew clearing crosswalks – a little late but better than never. They also have an MTA subway emergency exit on along their wall that was cleared. I didn’t see any hydrants or bus stop so they might have scored more.


Another ‘green streets’ triangle, another mess. Zero points NYC Parks Department. Zero Zero Zero. Parks is definitely the biggest loser of the day, which is of no surprise since the NYC City Government chronically under-funds routine maintenance in NYC parks. We had to embarrass them a few years back into fixing up and reopening the Willow Lake trail.


The Court Square Dinner sadly loses points for their inability to clear the 23rd street and Jackson crosswalks properly, or the bus stop next to the dinner. C’mon guys. Good food, bad shoveling. Bad shoveling makes me reconsider going back here anytime soon. If you don’t care about cleaning the crosswalks, do you care about food safety? Sorry, not sorry.


Across 23rd street, someone did some amazing work clearing this crosswalk, as well as the entrance up to the 7 train 45th road station. 2 stars.


In fact, the sidewalk on the whole sidewalk of this block is expertly cleared, though the non-clearing of these FDNY standpipes for the subway station below calls into question why these are not covered by any laws that I know of. Regardless, you can see tire tracks in the remaining snow, showing that someone drove a pick up truck with a long plow around this sidewalk, making quick work of it.


Comically though, whoever drove the snow plow pick up around this block stopped right here at the NYC parks dept. greenstreets space. Looks like their plow wouldn’t fit and they didn’t have a snowblower or care enough to clear the rest of the sidewalk.


Citibank gets just one star, because most of their crosswalks were a mess. Clean sidewalks mean nothing if we can’t get to them. Do better.


Rockrose of course only gets one star for clean sidewalks but nothing done for the crosswalks, and this bus stop is absolutely ridiculous. C’mon.

Results
So let’s look at the numbers: Of roughly 70 possible crosswalks, 50 were not shoveled. Several sidewalks were not shoveled. All crosswalks along the median of Jackson avenue between 23rd street and 43rd avenues were not shoveled. Zero fire hydrants along the full 1.25 mile length of this walk were properly shoved (a little over half mile in one direction).

Of roughly 70 possible crosswalks, 50 were not shoveled.

The NYC Dept of Sanitation and NYC Department of Transportation state citizens should call 311 to report un-shoveled sidewalks. If one were to spend say, five minutes on a 311 call to complain about all fifty slush and ice filled crosswalks, it would take over 4 hours on the phone to cover them all.

No average civilian has four hours to spend on the phone with a 311 operating running down a list of dirty crosswalks. When you hear the mayor or any elected official say ‘just call 311’, you should question their sanity. It would be like telling a deckhand on the Titanic that there is a water leak. On days like today, NYC is sinking under a tide of slush for which no one is legally bound to clean.

Not only would calling 311 be an undo burden on your average civilian, filing such complains almost never yields a result. Numerous people, myself included, report that after filing a 311 complaint, enforcement agents simply never arrive. Days or weeks later the 311 reference number will note that an inspection finally took place and no snow or ice was found – because within those days and weeks, the snow and ice either melted away (because it’s now Spring) or was eventually trampled away slowly by pedestrian traffic.


As Ben Kabak of Second Avenue Sagas points out – this is also a huge public safety issue. Pedestrians stumbling around ice slush lagoon filled crosswalks creates a huge hazard and potential for being hit by a car.

Not fixing NYC’s broken snow shoveling laws runs against the Vision Zero street safety initiatives, but Mayor DeBlasio doesn’t seem to care. He has an NYPD SUV to guzzle some fuel and take him from Gracie Mansion to his Park Slope gym and then work at City Hall. He probably wouldn’t recognize a Slush Lagoon if he stepped in one these days.

Conclusion

As all New Yorkers already know, this is a huge problem. And this case study looks at just mile of one street in one borough. Multiple this by the approximately 8000 miles of streets in NYC, and the take away is clear: NYC’s snow removal laws are deeply flawed, and enforcement is basically non-existent.

Not a single business or residential property between Court Square and 50th avenue earned my top 4 star rating. Some were clearly better than others at tending to crosswalks, though none took all of the steps necessary to ensure proper slush drainage by clearing nearby sewer catch-basins. Clearly they do not realize this is a problem, or believe it is their responsibility.

Of the businesses that are clearly in violation of the law, none will likely face any fines whatsoever. Even if these bad neighbor property owners were to be fined, a $100 fine for a first time offense is completely toothless. The majority of these properties on this route are valued well into the tens of millions of dollars. A $100 fine is absolutely nothing to these deep pocketed developers.

This case study documents what we all already know: NYC’s snow shoveling law is completely out of date and does not cover crosswalks. Enforcement of that law, along with the specific law on clearing snow from fire hydrants, is non-existent.

As I’ve mentioned before, snow removal is a seasonal issue, that often only becomes relevant once or twice a year. Within a week or two, everyone will forget all about this issue and move on – ensuring that we will face the same exact problem when it snows next year.

That’s fine. If the powers that be don’t want to address this issue this week, we’ll just keep reporting on it every year it snows. I’ll happily publicly shame my elected officials (I’m looking at you, Jimmy Van Bramer) who have ignored emails on this issue. Everyone should complain about this issue, loudly and often, directly to your city council member and the mayors office. Nothing ever gets fixed unless people like you and me complain about it – and complain as loudly as we can.

If any of the businesses I’ve called out in this article are embarrassed by it, they should be. You don’t get to ignore a public safety issue and get away with it. Not anymore. This is 2017, and we the people are pissed off. It is long overdue that we fix the broken politics of this country, and that we start locally, literally cleaning up the mess right here.

-J.A.
March 2017

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    Joseph Anastasio

    Design & History nerd, open space & infrastructure advocate. 
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