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After the Mirage

eye on the news

After the Mirage

New Yorkers grumble and get back to life as usual. January 27, 2015

New York’s “storm of the century” turned out to be a bust. Rather than the predicted 30-inch “snowpocalypse,” only eight to 10 inches hit most of the city. That’s not to say that it had no effect. It happened to be the perfect amount of snow needed to turn Central Park gorgeous. By 10 o’clock, park streets and paths had already been plowed, and joggers, kids with sleds, and even skiers were out enjoying the winter wonderland. With the streets mostly empty, the morning was a welcome respite from traffic noise, bicycle rickshaws—and bikes, period, as cyclists appeared to be skipping the festivities. I missed the clop-clop of horse-drawn carriages, however—a sad preview of what awaits if Mayor de Blasio succeeds in his quest to ban carriage rides.

Not that the storm didn’t cause disruption. By shutting down the subway in anticipation of snow for the first time ever at 11 P.M. Monday, and not restarting it until Tuesday morning, Governor Cuomo effectively mandated that all Monday evening events and most Tuesday business be cancelled. Among the events scratched were all Broadway performances, the Met Opera’s premier of a new production of Iolanta and Bluebeard’s Castle, and a Louis CK show. Most flights had already been pre-emptively cancelled for Tuesday, which now looks unnecessary, and the Met Museum and others also closed. Cuomo’s move reportedly caught transit officials by surprise, and they ended up running empty “ghost trains” anyway.

The city rumbled back to life by mid-morning. Sidewalks were largely shoveled and salted down to clear, wet concrete. City crews put the finishing touches on tidying up the streets. On Columbus Ave, baristas arrived at Joe’s coffee shop at 10, promising to have the store open within half an hour. People were sipping lattes by 11 at Starbucks. By evening, everything should be business as usual, except for the kvetching about the closures.

In this regard, the city is a victim of its own success. New Yorkers may pay high rents and high taxes, but they enjoy some high-quality services in return. In the bad old days, inept blizzard responses badly damaged mayors like New York’s John Lindsay and Chicago’s Michael Bilandic. Their failures were symbolic of cities having lost their way. Today, snow clearance is a military-style operation. With every disaster that fails to materialize, and every snow event deftly handled, the public grows more complacent. The city’s slow response to a late 2010 snowstorm, which became a political fiasco, illustrated the new expectations. Though the city was hard-hit by a different kind of storm, Superstorm Sandy, in 2012, the public has come to expect that the city can handle even major blizzards.

The 2015 snowpocalypse that didn’t happen will only reinforce these views, and officials can only say “better safe than sorry” so many times. Then again, the winter is young.

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