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SOCKED BUT PLOWING ON <br> AFTER 82.3 INCHES OF SNOW, WHAT COULD BUFFALO HAVE DONE BETTER? PERHAPS AN EARLIER DRIVING BAN

With every major snowstorm comes the inevitable Monday morning quarterbacks and the ultimate question:

What could Buffalo have done better?

After 82.3 inches of snow in five days, it's hard to find vocal critics, but at least one question has emerged: Why did the city wait until 4 a.m. Friday to declare a state of emergency and driving ban?

City lawmakers are quick to praise the city's overall snow-fighting efforts but wonder why the Masiello administration waited until early Friday morning to ban cars and trucks from city streets.

"I think they're doing the best job they can, but I also think a driving ban should have been called sooner," said Lovejoy Council Member Richard Fontana. "If I was mayor, I would have called one at 3 p.m. Thursday."

Fontana isn't alone.

"Definitely," said South Council Member Mary Martino when asked if the ban should have been enacted earlier. "That would have helped immensely."

Martino and Fontana don't want to be perceived as ungrateful, in part because their neighborhoods were the hardest hit in the city. At last count, South Buffalo was home to more than 6 feet of snow.

"The city's efforts have been phenomenal," Martino said. "In all the years I've weathered storms, I've never seen this much snow. It's a monumental task to clear this much snow."

How much snow? Try a record-breaking monthly amount. And it all fell in just five days.

City officials said they considered a driving ban Thursday but, because of the holiday week and the light traffic on the roads, decided it was unnecessary.

"We know what a driving ban can and can't do," said Vincent J. LoVallo, Masiello's chief of staff. "Quite frankly, it would not have made a difference."

That changed early Friday morning when police in South Buffalo began reporting a serious problem with cars stuck in the snow. At that point, the city adopted the driving ban and snow emergency. Except for the driving ban, City Hall generally gets high marks.

From the time the first flake fell Christmas Eve, Buffalo's main and secondary roads remained open, no small accomplishment given the quantity of snow and the speed in which it fell -- sometimes 3 to 4 inches an hour.

"I'm very pleased," said Public Works Commissioner Joseph Giambra. "I think we've done an excellent job of keeping the main and secondary roads open. I don't think there was a time when any of them were closed."

Of course, the same can't be said of Buffalo's side streets, many of them still clogged with parked cars, a constant headache for snow-fighting crews.

"Many of them are plowed in, so getting them out is going to be a chore," said Leonard G. Sciolino, director of parking enforcement.

To help with the task, city officials hired about seven private contractors with tow trucks. They hit the streets Friday, concentrating their efforts in South Buffalo and Lovejoy.

One option the city chose not to pursue was its snow emergency parking plan, a relatively new strategy for on-street parking. The plan would have required residents to move their cars to one side of the street or the other, giving plows room to navigate down narrow city streets.

Again, the fact it was a holiday week, which meant school was out and traffic was light, led city officials to forgo the parking plan. They also didn't want people moving their cars in the middle of a storm.

"We didn't want to complicate things," Giambra said.

The city also brought in 16 private contractors to help with snow removal. They brought with them 70 high lifts, 220 dump trucks and six bulldozers.

On top of all that, several municipalities came to Buffalo's aid. Rochester sent 11 pieces of equipment. Niagara County added another 15 trucks. Toronto also sent equipment.

The city's final call for help was answered Friday morning when Gov. George E. Pataki ordered in the National Guard. Giambra said the Guardsmen are expected today, but the number of plows and trucks is unclear.

If removing the snow wasn't tough enough, the city also had to contend with where to put it.

Criticized last year for dumping snow at the Central Terminal and Front Park, the city opted this year for the old LTV steel site on South Park Avenue and several vacant parcels along Fuhrmann Boulevard.

Council members praised the city's overall efforts but said residents' attitudes could change if the snow stops and their streets are still clogged with snow and cars.

"I think people understand, and they're willing to give the city time to clear the streets," said University Council Member Betty Jean Grant. "I think the Streets Department is doing what it can do, given the amount of snow we've had."

Martino took it a step farther.

"This city pulls together at times like this. We've proven that time and time again," she said. "In fact, there's no other city out there that can do what we do."

e-mail: pfairbanks@buffnews.com

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