An army of garbage trucks returned to the streets Monday, faced with the daunting task of clearing the massive heaps of garbage -- 6 foot-high piles in some places -- amassed on sidewalks since the blizzard that dumped 20 inches of snow on the city forced a weeklong suspension in service.
Sanitation Commissioner John Doherty said that workers would begin collecting trash along the usual Monday route, but, realistically, he believed they would not be able to reach all stops today.
Much to the relief of weary New Yorkers, Doherty said he expects every pick-up location will be hit at least once by the end of the week.
"We're trying to get as much service in to everybody this week and we expect by the end of the week we should be pretty well normal on refuse collection," Doherty said.
Doherty said that the going will be slow for sanitation workers, particularly in the outer boroughs where the surfaces may be slippery and crews may have to walk farther to get to garbage bags.
He also said the department didn't have enough people to get the job done faster, but quickly clarified when asked about whether layoffs recently imposed on the department impacted their ability to do their job.
"One has to make a determination based on what your normal needs are," Doherty said. "Do you build a workforce for something that happens every 15 years? That can be pretty expensive. The city has to balance the budget and the service they want to provide to the public. And sometimes that's difficult, and sometimes it doesn't work out to people's expectations."
As for whether residents and business owners could expect the usual second pick-up in a week, Doherty said, "We'll see how it goes. We want to get to everybody at least once."
No date has been set for the return of recycling collection. Doherty said he expects service won't be restored until this weekend or next week at the earliest. The commissioner also said no decision had yet been made on when alternate-side parking rules would resume.
"We have two priorities right now. One is to make sure we're doing our work that's needed on snow, but that's starting to drift back now," Doherty said. "All the streets are open. People are getting around the city."
While some metered areas and sidewalks still need to be cleared, Doherty said that waste collection is atop his department's agenda.
Doherty said a week after the Blizzard of 1996 was the longest the city had gone to date without collecting garbage, and it took about a week for sanitation trucks to clean up the accummulated trash. He also noted that 14 years ago, there was no recycling collection to manage.
Despite the mounds of garbage bags consuming city streets, the longtime sanitation chief says he believes his trucks will ultimately pick up less trash by the end of the week than the just under 50,000 tons they do in a normal seven-day period.
"History has showed us that in a storm like this or a period where you don't pick up garbage because of some problem, the tonnage seems to drop," said Doherty. "I think that people who were not going out as much may not have generated as much garbage."
Most New Yorkers were frustrated by the seemingly swelling heaps, but piled up garbage outside a Manhattan building actually helped save the life of a troubled man who authorities say jumped from his ninth floor apartment.
The 26-year-old was taken to Bellevue Hospital shortly after noon on Sunday, fire officials say. He was listed in critical but stable condition.