Well before the blizzard of 2016 descended on New York, city officials had prepared a new blueprint to tackle the accumulating snow, creating new plow routes and a different hierarchy of roadways.
The plan was called sectoring, an approach that would replace the city’s pecking order of primary, secondary and tertiary roads — a ranking that came into focus after a blizzard paralyzed parts of the city in December 2010 — with a two-tier system.
The Sanitation Department’s new plowing hierarchy began as a pilot program that was expanded across all of Manhattan, Queens and Staten Island, according to the city’s published snow plan. (The new approach was also used in two small sections of the Bronx and Brooklyn.)
Under the new approach, which had been tested in areas of the Bronx and Staten Island in the last two years, the department replaced the old three-tier system with two levels: critical and sector. The critical streets correspond roughly to primary streets in the old classification, still used on the city’s PlowNYC map; the sector streets include both secondary and tertiary roadways.
The new system was an outgrowth of the problems faced by the city in 2010, when many Brooklyn streets became buried in snow and took days to clear. The idea, sanitation officials said, was to devise routes that would keep drivers, as much as possible, on roadways that they are assigned to plow. Many of the old routes forced drivers to spend part of their time along streets they were not assigned to plow so they could reach their appointed streets.
The union representing sanitation workers said that while sectoring appeared to work in most areas of the city, the new routes might have been too long in Queens.
In previous years, the city used a contractor, CSB Contractors, to plow minor side streets in those areas. This year, the Sanitation Department assumed responsibility for all streets in those neighborhoods, as well as about 50 miles of tertiary roadways in Brooklyn formerly handled by the company.
The city kept a different contactor, Natural Landscapes, for areas in southern and eastern Queens, including Flushing and Jamaica. Those areas generated fewer complaints, according to the borough president’s office, which heard from many irate Queens residents.