Greater Greater Washington

Are sidewalks and bike lanes getting cleared of snow?

4-8 inches of snow fell on the region yesterday, as you are surely aware. That means that all road users, drivers, pedestrians, and cyclists have to navigate snowy streets. Property owners sometimes are diligent about clearing their vehicular paths but not sidewalks. How about this time?


Photo by Katie Yaeger Rotramel on Flickr.

Some businesses and institutions won't have had a chance to clear snow by this morning (BID staff seem to be up and about clearing sidewalks right now in commercial areas, for instance), but let's keep an eye on how they do after they have a fair interval to clear snow today.

If you see a problem area this afternoon or tomorrow morning (or a well-cleared area next to a large institution, city property or federal park you want to single out for praise), take a picture and send it to info@ggwash.org. I'll do a roundup of praise and shame for shoveling.

The National Park Service, embassies, and surface parking lot operators have often left very large areas unshoveled. Sometimes bike lanes don't get plowed even when the adjacent streets do.

DC's snow-clearing agencies, DDOT and DPW, announced this year that unlike in the past, they are going to work to clear the pedestrian ways on facilities like bridges. Those have been a real problem in past snows, and not just the long bridges over rivers or Rock Creek; overpasses like Q Street and Connecticut Avenue, or Massachusetts Avenue or North Capitol Street and so on, are also the city's responsibility. After the much smaller snow earlier this month, indeed the city seems to have cleared those well, or at least for the ones I saw.

After the last snow, when I took our baby for a walk to the Shaw library 2 days later, almost every sidewalk was clear (including around the library), with the notable exception of the entire, long sidewalk around Garrison Elementary. DCPS was on winter break, but it would make sense for the city to coordinate snow removal around all its facilities, since parents and children (and people with disabilities and able-bodied adults) need to walk near schools when school is out just the same.


Another parent struggles to push a stroller on Vermont Avenue, NW on January 4. Photo by the author.

How's it looking out there now?

David Alpert is the founder and editor-in-chief of Greater Greater Washington. He worked as a Product Manager for Google for six years and has lived in the Boston, San Francisco, and New York metro areas in addition to Washington, DC. He now lives with his wife and daughter in Dupont Circle. 

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L Street Cycletrack was a snowy frozen tundra this AM while the adjacent travel lanes were clear.

by Craig on Jan 22, 2014 10:25 am • linkreport

Most of the sidewalks on the west side of 14th between Spring and Monroe were not shoveled as of 8:30 am. This is not a residential stretch, most of these are businesses. There is no excuse for these businesses to not either shovel themselves or pay someone else to do it.

by 20011 on Jan 22, 2014 10:27 am • linkreport

Sidewalks around the convention center are perfectly clear.
Sidewalks around the police station at 6th and New York Ave. NW are completely snow-covered.
This is how it typically goes.

by flipperman75 on Jan 22, 2014 10:32 am • linkreport

The schools are generally the worst. Garrison and the now defunct Garnet Patterson were still covered at 9 today. The plaza around the U Street Metro 10th Street was cleared, but nearly iced over, I don't think the granite sidewalk there helps.

by U Streeter on Jan 22, 2014 10:35 am • linkreport

You really have to love the indignation thrown about here when someone has the indignity of having had to walk through a snow covered sidewalk that "gasp" hadn't been cleared by 8:30AM.

People have 24 hours after the snow stopped to clear, which means District residents and businesses have until about 9:30PM tonight. That, factored with the fact that DC schools are closed, the District government and Federal government are operating on a 2 hour delay means you need to relax. When said business gets their own kids dealth with for the day, their own driveways and sidewalks shoveled, they will get to it.

And hired snow shovelers are a finite resource. There are thousands of commercial businesses in the District so perhaps expecting them all to have had hired help at said place of business by your required 8:30 am the morning after is a shade unrealistic.

by Sidewalk on Jan 22, 2014 10:37 am • linkreport

Probably should start with DC government. I remember during snowpocalypse they managed to plow my streets and piled it up on the sidewalk several feet deep in some places like intersections... I'm not confident they have gotten any better.

by BTA on Jan 22, 2014 10:43 am • linkreport

The little storm maybe worse than other due to the persistent cold that it following it. Which means it is too cold for your standard salting (Sodium Chloride) to work. Not too cold for Magnesium Chloride (MgCl2) which is your best option; or you could use Calcium Chloride (CaCl2) but iy is more toxic. Most environmentally friendly deicers will not work when the temp falls below 25F, so good luck.

by RJ on Jan 22, 2014 10:46 am • linkreport

Major props to the 1100 block of New Hampshire Ave NW. I ran here this morning at 6:15am, and it was as if it had never snowed.
Major un-props to the 1700 block of 14th St NW. It was an icy danger zone at 7:45am.

by JZ on Jan 22, 2014 10:46 am • linkreport

(cough, ah) When does anything get cleared of snow in DC?

by kob on Jan 22, 2014 10:50 am • linkreport

On the other hand, its probably not helpful to cover the sidewalk in front of a home or business with more salt than the a Margarita gets. Salt is corrosive.

Also the trucks driving around DC are pretty careless with their loads. As I drove around yesterday there were several piles of salt on the road 10 inches deep where trucks had apparently been idling. A big one at Friendship heights on Western Ave. It takes a long time for salt to wash off the streets and its terrible for cars and bikes, not to mention the watershed.

Salt is kinda like a pesticide and should be used appropriately, not just dumped.

by turtleshell on Jan 22, 2014 10:55 am • linkreport

I wouldn't try to bike today. People should wait until there is no ice and for a chance for rain to wash the salt off of the road (unless you have an inexpensive commuter bike) before biking.

by 202_cyclist on Jan 22, 2014 11:24 am • linkreport

@Sidewalk - People have 24 hours after the snow stopped to clear, which means District residents and businesses have until about 9:30PM tonight.

Actually, you have to clear the adjacent sidewalks within the first 8 daylight hours after snow stops falling. This applies to all property owners: residential, commercial, federal, and municipal.

by 7r3y3r on Jan 22, 2014 11:27 am • linkreport

except the major roads in college park, nothing is being cleared.

by Richard on Jan 22, 2014 11:32 am • linkreport

Btw, the law on clearing sidewalks is found in Chapter 6 of Title 9 of the D.C. Code (§ 9-601 to § 9-607), but here's a handy-dandy little flier from ddot: https://comp.ddot.dc.gov/Documents/Sidewalk%20Snow%20Clearing%20Responsibilities%20-%20Residents%20and%20Private%20Property%20Owners.pdf

I know this post focuses on commercial property owners, but in terms of residential owners', this snow clearing responsibility reminds me of the responsibility to water the trees in front of your house: it's widely ignored/unknown. I think DC government could do a better job of notifying residents of their responsibilities (leaves, snow, watering trees, etc) on a season basis with some sort of flier left on people's doorknob.

by 7r3y3r on Jan 22, 2014 11:37 am • linkreport

That doesn't matter, Richard. That's Maryland.

by selxic on Jan 22, 2014 11:57 am • linkreport

Or you could invest in a pair of waterproof boots for $80 and *gasp* take responsibility for your traveling, where is a good ambulance chaser when you need one?

Everything looked passable both bike lanes, sidewalks, streets, alleys, etc. on my long errand filled journey this morning.

by Bill the Wanderer on Jan 22, 2014 12:26 pm • linkreport

I'm with Sidewalk. It is customary when one lives in a city that gets snow (DC actually does! Every year!) to buy a pair of winter boots.

I try to shovel the sidewalk in front of my house, but it would NOT be okay if I start getting crap from neighbors if I have not shoveled by 8:30am. Walking in fresh snow is REALLY EASY in boots and not in any way dangerous. It gets dangerous after the snow starts to melt and then freezes again into ice. That's the point where I might get indignant about the lack of clearing.

In any case, in many cities, the cities actually clear sidewalks as well as streets (with little riding sidewalk plows).

by Boris on Jan 22, 2014 12:57 pm • linkreport

In any case, in many cities, the cities actually clear sidewalks as well as streets (with little riding sidewalk plows).

Disagree with this, at least for residential areas. In some CBDs they might use a sidewalk plow, but in most places with snow clearing the sidewalk in front of a house is the responsibility of the household.

by MLD on Jan 22, 2014 1:15 pm • linkreport

Rosslyn was a mess on Moore St. Weird for a bus stop.
Key Bridge was shoveled on the side. Kudos for whomever did that.
The Marriott at Key Bridge of course did not shovel its sidewalks.
Georgetown was a mess.
At Franconia-Spingfield, metro shoveled the side-walks, but also blocked the kiss-and-ride 'side-walk' with several hills of snow. Odd.

by Jasper on Jan 22, 2014 1:21 pm • linkreport

@ Sidewalk:You really have to love the indignation thrown about here when someone has the indignity of having had to walk through a snow covered sidewalk that "gasp" hadn't been cleared by 8:30AM.

Plenty of places that have perfectly groomed their parking lots and left the side-walks snow covered. That calls for plenty of indignation.

hired snow shovelers are a finite resource.

Quite frankly, that is not my problem.

@ Boris:In any case, in many cities, the cities actually clear sidewalks as well as streets

Are you willing to pay the tax bill for that?

by Jasper on Jan 22, 2014 1:24 pm • linkreport

@Jasper

That calls for plenty of indignation.
Quite frankly, that is not my problem.

Wowzers. Quite frankly your outlook on life could fill a thousand minds with indignation.

by Bill the Wanderer on Jan 22, 2014 1:33 pm • linkreport

Sidewalk and Boris:

"Just buy a pair of boots" is fine for able-bodied adults. But some people have mobility problems and walking on snow is not possible. For a number of years including during Snowpocalypse/mageddon my wife had an ankle injury that made it extremely dangerous to walk on uneven surfaces; you have to work a lot harder at balance and that can aggravate an injury.

And when there is a lot of plowing, the mounds can pile up at the street corners. Then it is impossible for people in wheelchairs to get around. Same for strollers. Should all babies have to stay inside when it snows?

by David Alpert on Jan 22, 2014 1:37 pm • linkreport

Red herring Mr. Alpert, mobility will always be a problem for physically handicapped people. I think 48 hours is a reasonable amount of time to clear the snow, although one does wonder why the "municipality" isn't required to shovel all public sidewalks, as it's "their" land.

by Bill the Wanderer on Jan 22, 2014 1:46 pm • linkreport

It's not normally advisable for the same trucks that cleared the parking lot to clear the sidewalks, Jasper.

by selxic on Jan 22, 2014 1:48 pm • linkreport

@ Bill:Wowzers. Quite frankly your outlook on life could fill a thousand minds with indignation.

Really? I should not be upset when people take care of their own interests, but ignore the law? Weird.

In fact, this whole shoveling your own side-walk business shows how the Republican worldview fails. 'If only people took care of their own stuff' fails miserably here.

I think 48 hours is a reasonable amount of time to clear the snow,

Others do not.

although one does wonder why the "municipality" isn't required to shovel all public sidewalks, as it's "their" land.

And through the democratic process, the municipality's residents have decided that rather than paying taxes for snow removal, they can do it themselves.

Sadly, due to a lack of enforcement, very few people follow the law. And worse, when people speak up about it, they get told they have an outlook on life (that) could fill a thousand minds with indignation. Very weird.

by Jasper on Jan 22, 2014 1:57 pm • linkreport

although one does wonder why the "municipality" isn't required to shovel all public sidewalks, as it's "their" land.
Meaning it could take a week or more because they simply don't have the workforce.

by Bob See on Jan 22, 2014 1:58 pm • linkreport

"Plenty of places that have perfectly groomed their parking lots and left the side-walks snow covered. That calls for plenty of indignation".

Really, pray tell where these places were at 8:30 am this morning?

"hired snow shovelers are a finite resource -Quite frankly, that is not my problem"

Well, according to DDOT, yes it is your problem. Those folks have until later this afternoon to address the issue.

And D. Alpert, there are plenty of people with mobility problems that require MetroAccess, shuttles, cars etc, who also had difficult time navigating slushy, slipper unplowed streets in the District.

All -

I think getting out the pitchforks an hour after the sun came up the morning after it stopped snowing and 7 hours before folks are even required to clear their sidewalks, when the city government itself is operating on a delayed schedule is pretty self obsessive and ridiculous.

by Sidewalk on Jan 22, 2014 1:59 pm • linkreport

@ selxic:It's not normally advisable for the same trucks that cleared the parking lot to clear the sidewalks

Not sure if your refering to the Marriott or Franconia-Springfield. In the latter case, the side-walks had been shoveled by some narrow device, but somehow left piles of snow in the middle of the side-walk.

In the case of the first, it is not my concern how others comply with local ordinances. If Marriott can clear their parking lot perfectly, they can do the side-walk too. I am not willing to be lenient on them. They charge their customers (I am one of them) plenty. I will leave some leniency to people who are not physically capable to shovel. In fact, I shovel the side-walk in front of my neighbors house, because the poor lady can barely walk.

by Jasper on Jan 22, 2014 2:02 pm • linkreport

@ Sidewalk:Really, pray tell where these places were at 8:30 am this morning?

Did you read the posts above? Marriott at Key Bridge, for example.

Well, according to DDOT, yes it is your problem. Those folks have until later this afternoon to address the issue.

Well, in the case of the Key Bridge Marriott, it's an Arlington County ordinance, not DDOT's business. Nevertheless, their parking lot is clean. They can clean the side-walk. If they don't, they're endangering their owns customers.

Finally, most of these ordinances are written in terms of an obligation to clean the side-walk as soon as is practically possible, but no later than. If you've done you're own internal place, you need to do the public area. Waiting longer is endangering people.

by Jasper on Jan 22, 2014 2:10 pm • linkreport

@Jasper
'If only people took care of their own stuff' fails miserably here.

Ironic, because that is exactly what is happening here. You have a bad ankle, than buy a cane or get a wheel chair, you can't walk on ice, than buy a pair of Columbia Sportwear boots with the latest sole gripping technology[or buy cleats]Stabilicers Lite Duty Serious Traction Cleat. $21.51,...man what a deal! Worst case scenario buy a aluminum shovel and shovel where ever you walk, I'm sure the land owner would appreciate it....Where's that "were all in this together" the Democrats usually spout?

by Bill the Wanderer on Jan 22, 2014 2:10 pm • linkreport

@Bill
although one does wonder why the "municipality" isn't required to shovel all public sidewalks, as it's "their" land.

We discussed this last time the issue came up. Municipalities don't do it because it would be extremely inefficient for them to do so. It is far more efficient to have someone in each house spend 15 minutes shoveling or arrange for someone else to do it for them. Having all that equipment around for how little it snows in DC would be stupid, not to mention, how would you muster enough labor to do it all?

Where's that "were all in this together" the Democrats usually spout?

Really? After you just complained that the Municipality should be doing it? OK.

by MLD on Jan 22, 2014 2:22 pm • linkreport

Ah, I see...so we go from talking about a couple places in NW DC all day, to Arlington. Well, in that case you have to wait longer as Arlington gives commerical and residential owners 24 full hours after the snow stops falling.

Considering I would wager that more of that hotels customers arrive/depart via shuttle or car, it isn't supriseing (considering the closed nature of the local schools and delayed opening of Government) that they would ensure that their customers are dealt with first.

by Sidewalk on Jan 22, 2014 2:23 pm • linkreport

@Sidewalk - ...DC schools are closed [today]...
No. DC schools are open today, Jan 22, and there was no delay in opening.

I grew up somewhere that has snow on the ground Nov-Mar w/ a bit of snowfall or more every week. People there cleared the walks. Businesses, residences and public buildings all had/have cleared walks. Its expected so it gets done. Low expectations don't help anyone. This lackadaisical attitude about shoveling snow seems really lazy to me as well as coddling pansy-asses who cry "ooh but it's cold!" 48 hours? Hell no! thats unacceptable! Cold??? Put on some more layers!! Geez. Its not like you'll be stranded in the wilderness w/ no shelter. If you get too cold go inside and warm up for crying out loud.

Yes, take responsibility for yourself - by making sure your walk is shoveled for your community, for the most vulnerable members of your community, and just to be a decent neighbor.

From a practical standpoint, its easier to shovel the snow the fresher it is. The longer you wait the harder it is to shovel it.

by Tina on Jan 22, 2014 2:25 pm • linkreport

@MLD my residential sidewalk in NJ was cleared by plow. Unsure who paid for it, but they did a good job. Was essentially one of those rideable lawnmowers with a plow up front, looks great. Sidewalk is standard 5 feet.

by JJJJ on Jan 22, 2014 2:25 pm • linkreport

@MLD

I'm sorry MLD, I've seen your screen name often, and I thought it was clear that "Bill the Wanderer"=GreaterGreaterWashington libertarian resident commentor. Although I do tend to play devils advocate occasionally. My philosophy in this case would be that if you are walking on the governments land, your beef is with them, and no one else. I hate to bring up the [I was raised in Minneapolis,Saint Paul thing] but this whole thread reeks of elitism and whinism. I brought up many technologically advanced products, boots, canes, wheelchairs with large all terrain wheels, even provided a link to one product, that is the answer. Folks complain about the environmental degradation caused by salting the roads, why not do nothing to the streets at all, chains for all vehicles.

by Bill the Wanderer on Jan 22, 2014 2:36 pm • linkreport

Chains destroy street surfaces and make the ride for cyclists uncomfortable/dangerous.

by selxic on Jan 22, 2014 2:38 pm • linkreport

The company that manages my building is very neglectful when it comes to clearing the sidewalk. I live in an apartment in a converted row house in Adams Morgan. I have complained to the management company before but the situation has not improved. What should I do?

by sk on Jan 22, 2014 2:42 pm • linkreport

You ought to move to Portland,Oregon Selxic, they rehash that "chain destroys streets" argument over and over again, they have consultants/technologies on both sides proving each other wrong, I'd say using non invasive chains occasionally could cause much less damage than you might believe. Think of all the transportation tax money saved without having to purchase salt, trucks, snowblowers, plows, personnel, etc.. Bicycle tires can have chains installed, plenty of bike [and motorcycle] commuters in Minneapolis and Saint Paul since the 90s at least have done this. And that's when the snow cover was a constant between November and March. Not this "a few days" fluff the mid Atlantic area gets.

by Bill the Wanderer on Jan 22, 2014 2:46 pm • linkreport

Rode CaBi from Braddock Rd. Metro to Union Street in Old Town this morning. It was a bit of an adventure on barely plowed streets, but the heavy, fat-tired CaBi bikes are quite stable in bad conditions. The short stretch of bike lanes on Union Street was not cleared, but then neither were most of the streets. Conditions are much better now but it looks like the City of Alexandria has, as usual, failed to clear sidewalks along its parks.

by jimble on Jan 22, 2014 2:47 pm • linkreport

Does anyone happen to have a recommendation for a reliable sidewalk-clearing service that operates downtown? What sort of fees would we be looking at?

by WestEgg on Jan 22, 2014 2:49 pm • linkreport

The company that manages my building is very neglectful when it comes to clearing the sidewalk. I live in an apartment in a converted row house in Adams Morgan. I have complained to the management company before but the situation has not improved. What should I do?

How many units are there and how much space needs to be shoveled? Do it yourself.

by MLD on Jan 22, 2014 2:54 pm • linkreport

I hate to bring up the [I was raised in Minneapolis,Saint Paul thing]

And I've lived in the Twin Cities, and people shovel their sidewalks generally, it's the law, and if you don't you can get a ticket!

by MLD on Jan 22, 2014 2:56 pm • linkreport

There are four units and the area that needs to be shoveled is actually quite small. I would have no problem buying a shovel and then doing the work myself, expect for the fact that I would then have to store a shovel in an already very crowded apartment.

by sk on Jan 22, 2014 2:57 pm • linkreport

I was mostly kidding and anticipating the next round of complaints, Bill the Wanderer.

by selxic on Jan 22, 2014 3:05 pm • linkreport

FWIW, DCist has a post up today about how DC needs volunteers to help shovel snow for the disabled and elderly:

Here are the details.

by Aimee Custis on Jan 22, 2014 3:21 pm • linkreport

@ Bill:Worst case scenario buy a aluminum shovel and shovel where ever you walk, I'm sure the land owner would appreciate it....Where's that "were all in this together" the Democrats usually spout?

How is there a 'we' if I do all the shoveling?

Considering I would wager that more of that hotels customers arrive/depart via shuttle or car, it isn't supriseing (considering the closed nature of the local schools and delayed opening of Government) that they would ensure that their customers are dealt with first.

I have no problem with the taking care of their own parking lot first. I have a problem with them not doing the parking lot at all.

Also, apparently, you have never seen the drove off Marriott conference people that walk through/over Gateway park to the metro.

Folks complain about the environmental degradation caused by salting the roads, why not do nothing to the streets at all, chains for all vehicles.

Because chains destroy tires and the roads. And nobody is talking about salting your side-walk clean. Shoveling is the name of the game. Involves no salt.

@MLD: it's the law, and if you don't you can get a ticket!

That's what's missing here. Tickets.

by Jasper on Jan 22, 2014 4:03 pm • linkreport

@Jasper, @MLD, I agree, first an expectation that your walk be shoveled, backed up by a law, followed by enforcement. Yes special accommodations need to be made for residents incapable of either doing the job themselves or hiring someone.

I was wrong. DCPS was closed today. All the more reason to expect walks to be shoveled, given all that surplus time and energy accumulated....

by Tina on Jan 22, 2014 4:24 pm • linkreport

Perhaps we could save a great deal of tax money and insist that if people want to drive after a snowstorm, they should purchase a plow and install it on their vehicles.

by alurin on Jan 22, 2014 6:20 pm • linkreport

Kudos to Hamilton House Apartments on New Hampshire Ave NW. The side walks this morning were as dry as a desert (the temperature, however....)

by will r on Jan 22, 2014 7:27 pm • linkreport

The walk in front of my house and my neighbors' was pretty much clear by yesterday evening. Why? Because I went out a few times during the storm and spent a few minutes clearing the snow before it got trampled into an icy mess.

Of course, one of my neighbors came out while I was shoveling and barely responded to my hello and didn't deign to thank me for shoveling her sidewalk - people are so weird.

by MLD on Jan 23, 2014 8:33 am • linkreport

I would imagine that anyone complaining about slow or inadequate sidewalk clearing does not have a sidewalk to clear themselves.

Also, anyone trying to ride a bike on even a "cleared" sidewalk in these conditions is taking their own health in their hands. Clearing snow ain't easy -- especially if someone has already walked through, perhaps walking a dog, or coming/leaving home during the storm. LIttle icy patches will be formed. Even objects as heavy as cars skid and lose control in these circumstances.

by Fischy (Ed F.) on Jan 23, 2014 10:27 am • linkreport

Sidewalks in Wheaton MD are in a sad state this morning. They are well shoveled around the Metro station and parking garage, but about half of the businesses and one huge apartment complex didn't shovel at all. I will email photos tonight, thanks for compiling.

by Avocado on Jan 23, 2014 10:42 am • linkreport

I don't think it is my responsibility to clear a sidewalk on government (DC) property. Luckily, this rule isn't even enforced anyway. I'll wait until it melts.

by ThisTown on Jan 23, 2014 10:52 am • linkreport

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