2005-01-20 / Top Stories

When It Comes To Winter, New Yorkers Should Be Prepared

Guest Column John J. Doherty, Sanitation Commissioner

Guest ColumnJohn J. Doherty,Sanitation Commissioner

We all know that New York winters can be as difficult to predict as a winning lotto number: It’s great when you get it right, but the odds are against you. Whatever our expectations or predictions, year after year, Mother Nature seems to take pleasure in proving us wrong. When we expect a mild winter, we get hit by snowstorm after snowstorm. And the year we buy a new snow blower and a pair of sturdy waterproof boots…we hardly see any flakes! The fact is that when it comes to winter, New Yorkers must live by the old scouting motto: “Be prepared!”

So, whether this proves to be a relatively snow-free season or a very snowy winter, we must all be prepared. The Department of Sanitation certainly is. In fact, we start planning and preparing for snow in the middle of the summer, when most people are spending time at the beach!

Being prepared for winter also means we must all remember our responsibility to keep our sidewalks free of snow and ice.

Here are answers to a few frequently asked questions about Sanitation snow rules and regulations.

If you are the owner, tenant, occupant or the person in charge of any lot or building, you must clear the snow and/or ice from your sidewalk within four hours after the snow has stopped falling or by 11 a.m. if the snow stopped falling after 9 p.m. the night before.

If the snow or ice become frozen and are too hard to remove, you should spread sand, sawdust or another similarly suitable deicer material within the same time limits.

As you clear your sidewalk, keep in mind NOT to throw snow into the street. You should never shovel the snow from your sidewalk or around your car back into the street. We’ll only have to plow it again. And remember not to cover fire hydrants with snow – this could interfere with firefighting efforts.

To put it simply: Your goal should be to remove snow and ice from your sidewalks as soon as the weather permits.

If you are unable to remove ice and snow from your sidewalk yourself, you should make arrangements to have someone else do it for you.

Failure to comply with the law may result in fines ranging from $100 to $350.

Every time New York City gets a significant snowfall, we hear complaints from people who live on the right side of the street, questioning why we plow to the right. So, let me go over the reasons.

I think everybody understands that on two-lane streets we must plow to the right to avoid blocking the oncoming left lane with snow. On one-way streets, we must also plow to the right because accumulated snow on the left side would make left turns impossible. It all revolves around the fact that in our country we drive on the right side of the road. So, unless driving rules change, I’m afraid that – with very rare exceptions — plowing to the right is here to stay. So please be patient with our snowplow operators. They work very hard.

A final word for those living on the right side of the street: try to wait until the plows have done their job before fully clearing cars and driveways. If you do have to clear your car or driveway, remember to pile the snow by the curb or on your lawn, in such a way that if your street is plowed for a second time…your neat pile of snow will not end up blocking shoveled driveways!

Remember, you should never throw snow back into the street. It is against the law. Besides, if you do, our plows will have to come back to re-plow, which, of course, starts the whole cycle again!

So even if this turns out to be an unusually mild winter and your new snow blower ends up hibernating in your garage, while your brand new sturdy snow boots hardly see any action, don’t worry. There’s always next winter.

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