Snow now? Tow. Plow

City tries new ways to respond to record-setting blizzard

Hoboken moved quickly last week to clear snow from the main streets after a blizzard raged throughout the day Saturday, dumping a surprising 26 inches of snow. Plows pushed the white stuff onto the corners, clearing Washington Street for emergency vehicles, but it was still hard to navigate the sidewalks on Monday and Tuesday. Hoboken schools were closed for those two days, a move that the superintendent was forced to defend last week.
“Some have called, left messages, sent e-mails, or have taken to social media to express dissatisfaction because we are a ‘walking district’ and should not have to close,” Superintendent Christine Johnson wrote in a letter to parents/guardians on Wednesday, Jan. 27. “Many [children] walk without adult supervision or with a sibling who may not be much older. I was not willing to risk having our students, many of whom are not as tall as the snow banks, step out into the street at a crosswalk or take to walking in the street to avoid snow-covered sidewalks.”
Johnson went on to name a number of reasons for her decision to close two days, including the closures of nearby school districts in Hudson County where some of the staff’s children live, and the difficulty for the district’s close to 400 staff members commuting to work.
At the end of the letter, Johnson said that on Feb. 3 – initially slated as a day off for students for teacher conferences – students will now have class.

The politics of snow removal

Politicians are often judged on how they respond to disasters and weather emergencies. In 2014, the administration of Mayor Dawn Zimmer was criticized after snowstorms left giant dirty piles of ice in parking spaces around town for weeks.
This year, the city took a different route. The city began towing cars from emergency routes early on Saturday and plowed Washington Street, block by block, through Tuesday so that cars could return to parking spots those days.

“I was not willing to risk having our students, many of whom are not as tall as the snow banks, step out into the street…” – Christine Johnson
“Brine [a salt solution that can be used to de-ice roads] really worked well,” said City Spokesman Juan Melli last week. “We don’t always use it if we know it’ll rain, but this time we had it on roads by Thursday and by Friday morning the streets were ready.”
Even more, the city proactively began to urge residents to move their vehicles from snow routes by Friday – incentivized further with discounted parking rates at municipal garages.
Before any snow hit the ground, officials from Hoboken had a plan in place with help from the police and fire departments, C.E.R.T (Community Emergency Response Team), O.E.M (Office of Emergency Management) and a number of volunteers.
A travel ban was issued Friday, allowing the city’s fleet to immediately get to work on Saturday once the blanket of snow came down. The city has a fleet of trucks, spreaders, and Bobcats.
Zimmer said the response was greatly improved this year.
“I think a large part of that was the excellent teamwork from the team working around the clock,” Zimmer said.
When asked what the administration learned from the previous backlash, Zimmer said, “We’re focused on snow emergency routes. It’s about keeping the city safe as we get those done, and most of Washington Street was done rather quickly.”

Hard for bus riders, wheelchair users

While the streets were cleared expediently, bus stops and corners were still stuck in the snow on Tuesday, before the sun began to melt the snow Wednesday. So those using public transportation, and the disabled, still had difficulties.
Newly-elected 2nd Ward Councilwoman Tiffanie Fisher said that while she got an abundance of positive feedback on the city’s snow removal, she did hear that options for people in wheelchairs or with other disabilities were challenging.
“Basically, people let me know about some specific areas that were not plowed and created either safety or access issues – like the north end bus stops and the stretch of the sidewalk in front of the Monarch site just east of my building,” said Fisher, who lives in the Hudson Tea Building.
“In all cases I reached out to [Health and Human Services Director Leo] Pellegrini and he responded quickly,” Fisher added.
Zimmer said the city continues to do the best job it can with removing snow from transportation access areas, corners, and crosswalks.
Local businesses and residents also bear responsibility for removing some snow. By city law, owners and occupants of residences must remove snow and ice from the sidewalk fronting their house within six hours of snowfall, including wheelchair ramps and curb cuts. City ordinance mandates that snow cannot be pushed into the street, with violations carrying a minimum of a $100 fine.
Hoboken had arguably the most persistent website updates in Hudson County.
“I think it’s really important to keep people aware of what’s happening. I really thank the people of Hoboken for following our requests and travel ban so we can get fire trucks through and allows us to clean the streets,” said Zimmer.
As far as the next snow storm, Zimmer said she is considering obtaining a “snow melter” as a way to avoid hauling tons of snow from the north part of town to a designated area at Vezzetti Way south of Observer Highway.
Updates and photos were published throughout the storm on and via the newspaper chain’s Twitter account, @hudson_reporter.

Steven Rodas can be reached at

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