Snowstorm’s gridlock was so bad, the inventor of the term gave it a new name — ‘cluster-lock’

NEW YORK — It was gridlock so widespread and intense, that the person who coined the term "gridlock" called Thursday night's extreme, region-wide traffic jam one of the worst he's ever seen.

In fact, transportation consultant and former NYC transportation commissioner Sam Schwartz invented a new term for what he'd observed during Thursday's commute.

"I call it cluster-lock," said Schwartz, in an interview with PIX 11 News. He also said that the De Blasio Administration may have missed some key warning signs -- which it had generated itself -- that the storm had the potential to cause the kind of commuting nightmare that it did.

Schwartz pointed out that two dozen crashes happened on the upper level of the George Washington Bridge before 2:30 p.m. Thursday afternoon. It shut down the bridge, triggering a domino effect that then sent cars, buses and trucks onto the city's avenues and streets.

The NYPD's top uniformed cop gave analysis on Friday.

"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 at a Friday morning news conference. "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.

At his own news conference on Friday afternoon, the mayor said that he'd spent Thursday afternoon at Gracie Mansion, still thinking that the snowfall he was seeing was a relatively small storm, the effects of which the city had under control.

It was only when he had to leave the Upper East Side mayor's residence that De Blasio realized that there was a real emergency.

"At 6:30, there was suddenly all this traffic on the FDR [Drive]," said de Blasio who was being driven to an event.

Only then, more than four hours after the GWB shut down, setting a tragedy in motion, did the mayor understand 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.

"With the right messaging, early, we may have been able to get more people off the road easily," but, the mayor said, that messaging wasn't there.

In Schwartz's opinion, however, the situation was different than Mayor de Blasio described. By not recognizing some key warning signs, Schwartz said, "Before you know it, you now made the Top 10 days of gridlock."

As the inventor of the term "gridlock," which he coined while serving as transportation commissioner in the Ed Koch Administration, Schwartz keeps an historical record of the city's worst gridlock events.

He said that in Thursday's transportation debacle, there were factors beyond the 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.

However, Schwartz told PIX11 News, the city did not take full action on some of its own, best forecasting.

"The Department of Sanitation, on Wednesday, suspended alternate side street parking" for Thursday, Schwartz said. He said that the Sanitation Department has weather forecasters who provide a worst case scenario, which had prompted the SDNY's alt side declaration.

"When they suspend alternate side parking, start thinking."

"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.

In this case, Schwarz told PIX11 News, "I think we were caught somewhat unawares."

He said that 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, Thursday's 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.

"I believe the mayor, as the leader of the city, you know always admits his mistakes, [but] he could have done better," Rodriguez said.

Rodriguez said that he is scheduling city council hearings into what went wrong. The city comptroller, Scott Stringer, also said that he's conducting an investigation into what caused the transportation failure.

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