The gridlock was so widespread and intense during the mid-November snowstorm, the person who coined the term “gridlock” devised a new name for it. Transportation consultant and former NYC transportation commissioner Sam Schwartz called it “cluster-lock.”
Schwartz says the real problems began when two dozen crashes happened on the upper level of the George Washington Bridge before 2:30 p.m. on a Thursday afternoon, shutting down the bridge and triggering a domino effect that then sent cars, buses and trucks onto city streets.
The NYPD’s top uniformed cop gave analysis the following day: “Once the people got into the side streets in Upper Manhattan [and] the Bronx, those streets became impassable – and 5,212 intersections became clogged,” Chief of Department Terence Monahan said. “As the day went on, it did get worse and worse throughout the night.”
For his part, Mayor Bill de Blasio admitted that it was well after sundown before he realized the magnitude of the problem. It was only when he had to leave the Upper East Side mayor’s residence that he realized that there was a real emergency, that the tragedy was already well underway. He said that in some ways, the traffic mess was beyond the city’s control, because the city couldn’t have foreseen how bad conditions would become.
Schwartz sees things a little differently than the Mayor. By not recognizing some key warning signs, Schwartz said, “Before you know it, you now made the Top 10 days of gridlock.” During the transportation debacle, there were factors beyond city government’s control, such as the snowstorm hitting when some drivers were starting to leave the city early, to begin Thanksgiving week, as well as the intensity of the storm being greater than some meteorologists had forecast.
“At that point, the Office of Emergency Management and all the agencies together,” including the Port Authority, the MTA, law enforcement, fire, EMS, utilities and other agencies, should be in the same room and “activated,” Schwartz said.
Schwartz, who invented the term “gridlock” while serving as transportation commissioner in the Ed Koch Administration, said the worst New York City gridlock he knows of took place in 1971, when a municipal workers’ strike prompted the operators of 28 of the city’s 29 drawbridges and swing bridges to leave them open, and walk away. The situation was so dire that federal troops had to be called in to help restore order, and to get a modicum of city services back in operation.
Still, Schwartz said, this most recent gridlock event ranked almost as high as that city shutdown. It was severe enough for the city council’s transportation committee chair, Ydanis Rodriguez, to criticize the mayor, who is often seen as a city government ally. Rodriguez said city council will look into what went wrong. City comptroller, Scott Stringer, also said that he’s conducting an investigation into what caused the transportation failure.