As is often the case, Western New York's recent snowstorm, as enormous as it was, saved most of its fury for the Southtowns, leaving Buffalo with about half the amount of accumulation that occurred in Hamburg, Orchard Park and other frequent lake-effect targets.
Nonetheless, the City of Buffalo did receive as much between 2 and 3 feet in many areas, and maybe a bit more than that in or near South Buffalo.
The storm also left behind the tragic death of Michael L. Muscarella, 67, a city employee who was struck by a high lift near McKinley Parkway and Columbus Avenue, while he was conducting snow removal operations. High lifts and dump trucks were required to attack the heavy wet snow covering city streets.
Nearly two weeks since the storm ended, assessments of the city's performance vary, but clearly more work and better preparation are needed as future storms loom. Climate change has brought with it greater frequency of extreme weather events. We know that arctic air and the unfrozen waters of Lake Erie will be trysting again this winter, probably more than once. Strong winter storms unrelated to lake-effect can also be expected.
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Did the city do all it could to make its roadways safe for travel in a timely manner? At a recent news conference, Mayor Byron Brown's answer didn't go further than " … in comparison to prior states of emergency, we performed better."
If you ask residents like Thais Warren of Harmonia Street, who had to walk to see her father at Buffalo General Medical Center because her street was still impassable – two days after the storm had ended – the response would be unequivocal. "It's ridiculous," was Warren's conclusion.
There are always such exceptions and they are regrettable. But most Buffalo streets were cleared in a reasonably timely manner, though the attack on side streets was still sluggish. In addition, residents could not take advantage of a much-vaunted GPS system that would have allowed them to map and track the snow clearance, street by street, because of a variety of glitches. Those need to be fixed. And it looks like they will be.
But even if the street clearance and monitoring continue to improve, this only helps those who drive. Those who need to wait for buses or walk – unless they bring shovels with them on their journeys – can count on climbing over mountains of snow or having to take their chances walking in the streets.
Buffalo may have a plan for clearing roadways; it doesn't for clearing sidewalks, including, crucially, bus stops. There are no city-operated sidewalk snowplows such as those used in Rochester and Syracuse. Closer to home, Amherst implemented sidewalk snow removal districts more than a decade ago.
This is not the first time we've noted such a crucial lack of attention to pedestrian safety. City officials need to take this seriously and come up with a plan; uncleared sidewalks can lead to serious injuries, even fatalities.
We did better. But we're not there yet.