NYC sanitation chief: Bike lane snow clearance won’t improve without more resources

Bike lanes can remain packed with snow for extended periods of time following storms.
Bike lanes can remain packed with snow for extended periods of time following storms. Photo Credit: Comedy Central

Chances are New York City bike lanes, notoriously unpassable for extended periods of time after snowstorms, won’t fare any better this winter.

Department of Sanitation Commissioner Kathryn Garcia said during a City Council hearing on Friday that the city’s job of clearing snow from bike lanes won’t improve without “significantly increased resources.”

Councilman Antonio Reynoso (D-Brooklyn) had asked Garcia if the department could do more to clear protected and unprotected bike lanes on city streets. After last year’s historic snowfall from winter storm Jonas, Reynoso said the city’s bike infrastructure was offline essentially until snow had melted.

“The fact is a lot of bike paths were not cleared last time at all,” said Reynoso, chairman of the Council’s Sanitation Committee.

Clearing paths for bicycling immediately after storms is particularly challenging for Sanitation, according to Garcia. She said that bike lanes require a much more thorough plow job than roads, used primarily by vehicles with at least four-wheel drive.

She explained that bike lanes, even after being plowed, might not by passable by bicycles.

“We don’t often [plow] to black top, and bicycles don’t do very well if it’s not at black top,” Garcia said.

Garcia elaborated that Sanitation must prioritize roads, since their clearance is necessary for emergency vehicle use. Once roads are cleared, the department moves on to bike infrastructure, pedestrian overpasses, bus stops and crosswalks. The agency deploys a fleet of 50 small construction vehicles known as skid-steer loaders to help clean these areas.

“I’m not sure without significantly expanding resources that I am actually achieving what we’re looking for,” Garcia said.

Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer (D-Queens) sponsored legislation discussed at the meeting that would in part require the city to develop a plan and outline resources for the removal of snow and ice from bike infrastructure.

Van Bramer told amNewYork that the city must be more accountable for the state of bike lanes after snowstorms.

“We’re not asking to clear bike lanes before the roads in front of the hospital, right? We’re just saying, ‘Make a plan for getting the snow out of the bike lanes’,” said Van Bramer, arguing that as the city diligently builds out its bike network, a more robust snow plan is needed.

“The bike lanes have created a really important transportation network and when we have snowstorms, particularly big ones, we’ve noticed that bike lanes don’t get plowed for quite some time, if at all,” Van Bramer added. “And that’s a problem.”