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Accuracy of City's Snow Plow Tracking System Under Fire From Queens Pols

By Jeff Mays | January 25, 2016 10:20pm
 The Department of Sanitation is bringing in 170 additional front end loaders and will haul snow away to help clear streets in Queens that were not satisfactorily plowed during the second largest snow storm in city history, officials said Monday.
The Department of Sanitation is bringing in 170 additional front end loaders and will haul snow away to help clear streets in Queens that were not satisfactorily plowed during the second largest snow storm in city history, officials said Monday.
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DNAinfo/Jeff Mays

LOWER EAST SIDE — PlowNYC, the city website that touts itself as a real-time portal for the public to track the real-time progress of snow removal equipment across the boroughs came under fire Monday from Queens politicians who said it was displaying patently false information.

Queens Councilman Rory Lancman and State Sen. Jose Peralta called out Mayor Bill de Blasio over what they called questionable accuracy of the city's online snow-removal tracker, saying it was more wishful thinking than reality.

"The snow plow street tracker showed streets plowed recently that hadn't been plowed at all," Lancman said.

Peralta said the mayor should investigate the accuracy of PlowNYC and recalibrate planning for their next Queens snow operation.

"We definitely need to learn from this experience and come up with a better plan because it's not if another big storm, it's when," Peralta said. 

Department of Sanitation spokesman Vito Turso said it is possible for there to be discrepancies on the PlowNYC site because of the process of transmitting GPS data and then converting that information into map form.

"The system is not foolproof, as the disclaimer indicates," Turso said, citing a note on the website that warns that "weather conditions, construction projects, closures, or other events may cause actual conditions to differ from the Data."

During this weekend's storm, DSNY officials believe a plow traveling on 60th Lane, a tertiary street in Ridgewood, transmitted that it was traveling on 70th Avenue, an intersecting tertiary street. Officials believe the GPS error occurred because the streets are so close together. A disclaimer exists on the site.

The PlowNYC data is "for the public's convenience to track activity in their neighborhood" and is not used by the sanitation department to make plowing decisions, Turso added.

"We plow the streets," Turso said. "The PlowNYC system reports what we've done."

De Blasio continued to apologize Monday for what he has called sub-par handling of Queens snow removal, adding that the Department of Sanitation would bring in 170 additional front-end loaders to haul snow away in the borough after complaints that they weren't satisfactorily plowed during the second largest snow storm in recorded city history.

The extra effort comes after Queens residents and de Blasio said they were dissatisfied with the condition of the streets.

"I didn't see the kind of results I wanted in Sunnyside, Woodside, Elmhurst, Corona. We're going back today," de Blasio said at a press conference Monday.

The mayor's comments came after Queens residents took to social media to show their unplowed streets long after the storm had passed.

Sanitation dedicated 920 pieces of equipment — almost half its fleet — to Queens Monday, and Commissioner Kathryn Garcia announced plans to hire additional front loaders to move the snow.

"The snow is too deep and there's not enough room so we are literally going in and dragging it out," she said. "Queens is our first priority for today to make sure we get all of those small streets open."

De Blasio and Garcia said the fact that Queens is so large geographically and the borough received more snow than other parts of the city also made the job even more difficult.

The National Weather Service estimated that 30.5 inches of snow were recorded at JFK Airport and that Jackson Heights led the city with 34 inches of snow.

By contrast, Central Park had 26.8 inches of snow.

"Different parts of Queens had different realities," de Blasio said.

De Blasio called PlowNYC  "a very helpful tool" that is accurate but said the size of the storm made a difference.

"This is not your average storm," de Blasio said.

The mayor blamed people clearing off their cars and tossing the snow back into the street for "contributing...inadvertently" to Queens' ongoing problems.

"The front end loader goes through. It's clear. Come back an hour or two later and all the snow is back in the street that people took off their cars. You take 27 inches of snow off a bunch of cars you literally will block a street," said de Blasio.

Queens elected officials said the mayor shouldn't blame the residents for his own mess.

"Let's be real. Those streets were never plowed. There's a big difference between people cleaning cars and creating a snow pile and a street that's never been plowed," Peralta said. "Cars on many of those streets were still covered in snow."

Lancman said the city dropped the ball on serving Queens neighborhoods because it didn't use enough front-end loaders at the start of the storm to navigate the borough's many narrow streets.

"A lot of our streets need front-end loaders and I don't know why the city didn't have enough front-end loaders in place at the start of the storm," said Lancman.

De Blasio vowed that the city would take lessons from the storm.

"When this is all over we are going to look very carefully at what happened," said the mayor.