Many are frustrated by pace of plowing

Baltimore residents and those who travel into the city have been fuming about snowed-in side streets and ice-filled main routes. But city officials warned that conditions could get worse before they get better.

City road crews were pulling out of neighborhoods Tuesday night to replow primary roads clogged by the second major winter storm in a week. Many key corridors were in rough shape, narrowed by plowed snow and covered with rutted, icy layers.

Mayor Stephanie C. Rawlings-Blake, who was getting a baptism by snow in her first week in office, said she understands the frustration.

"The city's not clear until your street is clear. I got that," the mayor said during a Tuesday afternoon news briefing at the city's East Baltimore snow truck maintenance facility.

But the mayor defended the city's efforts to clear the streets in the wake of what she accurately called "the biggest two-day blizzard since 1922." And she paid tribute to the efforts of city workers and contractors who have worked long hours since the weekend snowstorm dumped 24 to 30 inches on Baltimore.

"Some people who work right here in this building haven't been home in days," Rawlings-Blake said. "They really have gone above and beyond."

Many residents and commuters gave less charitable reviews to the city's efforts. The impending new snowfall did nothing to ease their frustrations.

Kerry Craven, 45, experienced heavy snow in 1996 and 2003 while living at Roland Avenue and 35th Street in Hampden. City officials always focused on primary roads first, she said, but she would always see a plow on 35th Street within 24 hours of announcements that plowing of secondary roads had begun.

This time, though, "the city response has been, as far as I'm concerned, abysmal in comparison," she said.

In many neighborhoods — and along main thoroughfares - vehicles struggled to navigate streets with a thick layer of compacted snow and ice.

The city's transportation director, Alfred H. Foxx Jr., warned that it could be some time before many residents see bare pavement on their streets.

"We've got too much snow up there to get down to pavement," he said. "You will not see blacktop."

In many cases, that layer cannot be scraped away by a typical snowplow but will require special equipment - or the patience to wait for the snow and ice to melt.

"This is not a shoveling event," Rawlings-Blake said. "This is a hauling event."

The mayor issued a call for contractors who have snow-removal equipment to call a city hot line at 410-396-5752.

"We need all hands on deck," she said.

Meanwhile, commuters into Baltimore encountered slow going as principal roads - among them Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, East Monument Street and Harford Road - in many cases operated with fewer lanes than usual. For some motorists, the Tuesday evening commute through downtown as flakes began to fall would take an hour and a half.

Even with no snow falling, Tuesday's morning commute - the first in four days for many downtown workers - was difficult.

Mary Gipe, who works for a financial firm, left her home in Sykesville about 7:45 a.m. for what is usually a 60- to 70-minute commute. Things were moving nicely until she approached the exit to Interstate 395, where "traffic was like a dead stop. ... The streets downtown were just horrible."

Heading east, she found Aliceanna and Boston streets "not really cleaned at all." The trip took about an hour and 45 minutes.

Asked whether she plans to make the trip again today, she said, "Not if we're getting 10 inches tonight and 10 inches tomorrow."

In many cases, parked cars had not been removed from snow emergency routes despite a police vow to tow aggressively. In some cases, there was nowhere to push the snow except into the curb lanes.

Several residents said they were confused by the city's requirement that cars be removed from snow emergency routes during Phase II of the snow emergency plan.

Graham Petto, 26, and his roommates planned to dig their cars out of their parking spaces on Washington Boulevard in Pigtown on Monday morning to drive them to an M&T Bank Stadium lot, as directed on a city Web site. But the lot was still completely covered with snow at 10:30 a.m., and the side streets leading to it were treacherous, Petto said.

"It was full of snow, with some tire tracks, but certainly not clear enough for our two-wheel-drive compact cars to enter," he said. "We were really confused as to what we were supposed to do."

They ended up leaving the cars on Washington Boulevard, where some vehicles have been towed, Petto said.

"I would gladly move my car to help ease snow removal on my street, if only there was a suitable solution," he said.

Some residents complained that the city's performance fell short of that in surrounding counties.

But suburbanites whose streets have yet to see a plow begged to differ.

Ronald Pruim of Gambrills said none of his neighbors has been able to drive. Pruim said his wife has missed work the past two days and that he has not seen any work crews plowing his street.

"The snow is up to my waist," he said.

But the city was struggling to reach many neighborhoods where narrow streets, steep terrain and abandoned cars have complicated snow removal.

Ryan O'Doherty, the mayor's spokesman, said the city sent inspectors out overnight Monday and Tuesday and identified 17 "attack zones" that had yet to be plowed. He said the city hoped to get equipment into those neighborhoods Tuesday before the new snowfall redirected attention to primary and arterial routes.

A resident of one of those areas, Beth Casey of Lauraville, said the narrow streets of her neighborhood still had not seen a plow by early afternoon.

"I'm not angry because I understand ... that this is a once-in-a-lifetime storm," she said. "It wouldn't be fair to be angry, but frustrated is a good word."

However, Casey said a plow had reached her home in the 2700 block of Southern Ave. as of 7:56 p.m.

O'Doherty said several factors complicate the clearing of city streets.

For one thing, Baltimore — unlike the counties — is responsible for clearing nearly all of the 4,300 lane-miles within its borders. Where counties can rely on state crews to clear numbered routes such as U.S. 40 and U.S. 1, they are the city's responsibility in Baltimore. O'Doherty also noted that the city is more densely populated and has many narrow streets.

In Baltimore County, "people have driveways," he said. "In the county, you can run a plow down the street, and people can park on their driveways."

In fact, Baltimore County urges residents to move their cars off the street. In much of the city, there is no place else to park.

Rawlings-Blake urged residents who are parked on city streets to be careful where they put snow they remove from their cars. She said that when it is thrown into the street, cars run over it and compact it into a traffic hazard.

Some residents said they appreciate the city's efforts and were indignant at others' complaints.

"I think it's insane that people think you snap your fingers and a million snowplows appear," said syndicated radio host Lisa Simeone.

The Charles Village resident, who noted that her street had been thoroughly salted and plowed, said city workers deserve appreciation for their efforts.

"These people are breaking their butts," she said.

Baltimore Sun reporters Brent Jones and Arthur Hirsch contributed to this article.

Recommended on Baltimore Sun