Weather Updates

Daley defends city snow response

Lake Shore Drive opened agaafter Blizzard 2011.   | Al Podgorski~Chicago Sun-Times

Lake Shore Drive opened again after the Blizzard of 2011. | Al Podgorski~Chicago Sun-Times

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Updated: March 7, 2011 5:17PM

Mayor Daley on Thursday defended his lame-duck administration’s performance during the Lake Shore Drive fiasco, saying city crews did the best they could during the worst weather “crisis” he has ever seen.

“The Fire, the Police, Streets and Sanitation all did a tremendous job. ... These people worked hard out there. Accidents took place on Lake Shore Drive, backed up traffic. Immediately, they closed the Drive, ” Daley said.

With Lake Shore Drive now open and main streets plowed, the city has turned its attention to the vexing problem of reopening side streets knee-deep in snow with cars buried on either side.

And already aldermen are complaining that the side-street clean-up is not happening fast enough: “I don’t think snow command is focused on neighborhoods,” one complained.

Asked to assess the city’s overall storm performance, Daley said, “Overall, done well. That [Lake Shore Drive] area did not do well.”

Calling the Drive a “huge conduit” to the North Side and north suburbs, the mayor said, “What happened between Oak Street and Diversey was high winds from the northwest and, unfortunately, heavy snow coming in off of that and water. The actions took place, unfortunately, and they responded immediately. ... It was a crisis. ... The safety of people came first, and they responded very well.” As many as 900 vehicles, including CTA buses, were stuck on Lake Shore Drive for hours after three accidents in 28 minutes, followed by ramp closures caused by high winds, drifting snow and white-out conditions.

On Thursday morning, more than 500 abandoned vehicles were still sitting unclaimed in city lots. They were towed there by a cavalcade of trucks that worked through the night to get the Drive open after 34 hours that included some prodding from Daley.

“I was talking to people. I let my position known on a lot of issues. ... They know what it was and that’s why they did a better, better job,” the mayor said.

Top mayoral aides insisted that Daley was not consulted — either about the decision to keep the Drive open during the blizzard that included high-wind warnings, or before the lakefront roadway was shut down after a rapid-fire succession of accidents when blizzard conditions worsened.

But, the mayor second-guessed neither decision.

Instead, he talked about the need for “barriers out in the lake to prevent northwest winds from coming in from Diversey all the way to Oak Street.”

“We need more protection. That area is closest to the lake of all areas in the city of Chicago. ... We lose a lot of sand. We lose everything from there. We don’t have any barriers from northwest winds ... to protect the Near North Side,” he said.

Mayoral candidates Gery Chico and Miguel del Valle have questioned why it took as long as 14 hours to rescue motorists stranded in their cars without food and water and why the city lacked a contingency towing plan in the event that traffic conditions on the Drive went south in a hurry.

Daley replied, “They had ‘em. Ask him,” pointing to Streets and Sanitation Commissioner Tom Byrne.

Byrne then stepped to the podium and said, “The snow plan in effect was that we could get in contact with our provider — as many as 200 tow trucks. We brought in 84 tow trucks the night of the incident on the Drive. And those tow trucks worked constantly [all day Wednesday and into early morning Thursday] so we could get the Drive open.”

Why did it take so long if tow trucks were standing by? Byrne said, “Every one of the cars was buried” in snow. Daley added, “It was huge drifts there. All of the sudden, it accumulated very quickly.”

As for the side streets, Byrne said he has 474 pieces of equipment devoted to that job, including more than 200 high lifts and backhoes. But, he refused to say when it would be done, when alleys would be reopened and when garbage collection would resume.

It can’t come fast enough for aldermen whose phones are ringing off the hook.

“They didn’t release the trucks to do the side-streets until 10 p.m. [Wednesday], then they didn’t work all night long. We had snow plans put into effect years ago and, it seems like they all went out the window,” said South Side Ald. Freddrenna Lyle (6th)

“We don’t have the equipment we need to open up the streets so our citizens can get back to work. I’m getting killed out here. I understand the entire city was hit with 20 some inches of snow. But, I don’t think snow command is focused on neighborhoods. They’re focused on keeping the Central Business District open. But, people have to get to the Central Business District.”

Even Ald. Pat O’Connor (40th), the mayor’s City Council floor leader, needs more help.

“We had a high-lift yesterday. They just pulled it back to do stuff downtown. They said we’d get it back as soon as possible. That’s our main weapon for opening [residential] streets,” he said.

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