City’s PlowNYC app receives heavy criticism from Queens residents

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QUEENS, N.Y. — It's a city service designed to bring snow removal technology well into the 21st Century, but PlowNYC is helping to reinforce problems of a half-century ago, according to  a sizable number of residents and elected officials.

Neighbors in the same borough, Queens, in which Mayor John Lindsay almost lost reelection in 1969 because of his tepid response to their snow plowing needs, now say that they have proof that the city's app that claims it's plowed their streets is just plain wrong.

"The app said it was plowed," said a Kew Gardens Hills resident who gave only her first name, Sarah, regarding her street.  She said she'd logged on to PlowNYC on Sunday, "But I looked out my window and said to my husband, 'I don't know what the app said, but it's not plowed.'  It wasn't accurate," she told PIX11 News.

The PlowNYC app is a map of the five boroughs that allows a user to track the location of snow plows in close to real time.  On the map, a blue line on a street shows that a plow has been on that street within one to three hours of the user logging in.

On Sunday on the app, Sarah's street, 72nd Drive, had a blue line on it, indicating that a plow had recently been there.  But her city council member joined neighbors there and documented what they saw.

"I had the app in my hand," said Rory Lancman, a Democrat representing Central Queens.  It said it was clear there, he told PIX11 News, "but there hadn't been a plow at all, let alone in the last few hours."

Lancman, posted photos on social media of the unplowed 72nd Drive alongside its PlowNYC designation showing it had been recently plowed.  He also did the same for 75th Road in Kew Gardens Hills, which had also registered newly-plowed blue, but had knee deep snow all over it.

"I'm mostly concerned that that incorrect data is what has been driving the city in deciding where and where not to send plows," Council Member Lancman said.

PIX11 News asked sanitation commissioner Kathryn Garcia for her response.  "Are there [possibilities] that you could have an anomaly of a GPS signal? That happens," she said, when there is a "canyon effect," where the skyscrapers of the city can distort   the GPS signals that plows transmit that register on the map to show where the plows are.

That typically happens only in Manhattan, where the tallest buildings are.  There are virtually no skyscrapers in Queens that would create a canyon effect.

"We haven't seen broad problems," said Commissioner Garcia.  Still, something appears to have gone wrong, leaving Council Member Lancman and other elected officials in Queens, including council members Eric Ulrich and Jimmy Van Bramer, calling for answers.

"The city council will have a hearing into incorrect data informing plowing decisions," said Lancman.  He said that of particular focus at the hearings would be the snow plow tracker.