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One resident really knows how to clear the sidewalk

Uncleared sidewalks are a serious problem in urban areas, but snow makes suburban areas even more impassable on foot. Unless you happen to live near Richard Hoye, who has an actual motorized vehicle to plow sidewalks himself where nobody else will do it.

Photos by Richard Hoye.

Suburban arterial streets can be dangerous to walk on even on clear, dry days, but there's really no consensus about how to clear them for pedestrians after a storm.

Fairfax County closed schools for 3 days partly because students who walk to school couldn't do so safely.

Evan Montgomery-Recht, who lives in Montgomery County, wrote in to the county to ask,

Who is responsible for snow removal on sidewalks along public land or where there is not a clear homeowner or HOA responsible ... I'm specifically referring to Tuckerman Lane, Old Georgetown (including over the 270 spur) and Rockville Pike where there are sidewalks that are actively utilized even in cold weather. Including those who walk to the Grosvenor Metro Station.

I ask as both last year and this year there has been no clearing of the sidewalks. ... Part of the reason I ask because when I lived in MA the towns and counties were responsible for clearing when there was not a clear owner (and yes they would clear them, actually pretty impressive when you realized that all the sidewalks were walkable within 24 hours even when there were many inches of snow.)

Timothy Serrano of the Montgomery DOT's Division of Highway Services replied:
Regrettably, The Department of Transportation is not able to clear sidewalks. We have neither the equipment nor the workforce resources that effort would require. We do rely on residents to be good neighbors and to follow the requirements of the County Code that requires residents and commercial entities to clear the public sidewalks adjacent to their properties.
Hoye, who also knew the county wouldn't do it, decided to take a part of the matter into his own hands, and bought this vehicle, known as "mini-skid steer," to clear part of Old Georgetown Road, where he lives:

Hoye writes,

I bought this slightly used mini-skid steer about a year ago to accomplish a range of tasks. A primary goal was to be able to clear snow from the public sidewalk along Old Georgetown Road from downtown Bethesda to the NIH/Suburban Hospital campuses. I live along that section. My side of 5 Lane Old Georgetown Road has the sidewalk next to the curb.

My mini-skid steer equipped with plow or hydraulic rotary broom is perfect for sidewalks. I'm able to keep up with the snow plows that push the snow back up on a just cleared sidewalk and ram the snow into piles blocking the ADA ramps at street corners.

The machine and accessories has set me back well over $25,000. Hard to justify until you see people walking in the dark, icy street on this major pedestrian route. I got more encouragement a few years ago from our Director of Transportation, who said to one of the County Executive's appointees to to the Pedestrian and Traffic Safety Committee, "I don't do sidewalks."

The DOT should do sidewalks. Since it doesn't, it's good for people who walk on Old Georgetown that Hoye does do them.
David Alpert is the founder of Greater Greater Washington and its board president. 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 two children in Dupont Circle. 


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Also on the brief list of "Motorized Vehicles I Like" is this lil' plow, used to clear bike lanes in Copenhagen:

Mini snowplow

by Payton Chung on Jan 24, 2014 1:04 pm • linkreport

Bless this guy - I'll go out and get my elderly neighbors on fixed incomes to pony up $25K so we can get one to do our streets as well.

OK, sarcasm aside, this is a great example of where I'd love it if we actually lived in the socialist utopia that some on the political right fear we've slipped into. I realize that MoCo doesn't experience the amount of snow that Massachusetts does, and I realize it would be expensive for them to have the gear to clear all these sidewalks, but there's no reason they can't budget for hiring private groups to handle this work (on the government dime).

by Geoffrey Hatchard on Jan 24, 2014 1:40 pm • linkreport

With the recent snow, I have actually been looking at options for something similar to use around our neighborhood. Even today, a large portion of the sidewalks around my neighborhood, especially in the town home community next to us, are unshoveled. Mainly for this reason, I have been giving my wife a ride to the Metro every morning this week.

by Thad on Jan 24, 2014 1:52 pm • linkreport

Residents on my DC block collectively purchased a snowblower after the 2010 storms. When we moved in this fall, we were told the previous owners had paid an initial $75 buy in, so we only had to pay an optional $25 upkeep fee. One neighbor is the treasurer and another keeps it in his garage. By the time I left the house on Wednesday morning, all the sidewalks had been cleared.

by DC_Lady on Jan 24, 2014 2:06 pm • linkreport

Union Station has one of these, too; they were using it to clear the sidewalks yesterday morning.

by Tom Veil on Jan 24, 2014 2:15 pm • linkreport

...and in 6 months we'll be complaining about all the torn up and crumbling sidewalks, which of course are a hazard to pedestrians. How did the city let it get this bad ?!?!?!

by Eric on Jan 24, 2014 2:20 pm • linkreport

There is a bunch of ice on my block and I don't see it melting any time soon, but I am not going to buy a $25,000 machine nor spend the time to chisel away at it by hand.

However, I am thinking of throwing some gravel/sand on it. It seems to be the preferred alternative to shoveling in central Europe.

What are people's thoughts on that as a compromise between doing nothing and clearing the ice all the way?

by xmal on Jan 24, 2014 2:23 pm • linkreport

I guess my feeling is that one should shovel any loose stuff (if you got to it quickly enough, virtually all of it would have been loose). And then sand/gravel for any patches of ice that remain.

When the temperature gets cold, salt loses its effectiveness. Even at 20 degrees you lose a lot, but when the temperature gets into single digits, it is effectively useless.

by Eric on Jan 24, 2014 3:04 pm • linkreport

He may use machinery to clear sidewalks, but Richard Hoye brings his firewood home by bike .

See also the video

by JimT on Jan 24, 2014 3:39 pm • linkreport

For the larger suburban jurisdictions, why not have low-risk inmates from the county jail or people ordered by a judge to do community service step up with the snow clearing effort? I'm talking sidewalks/paths within the public right-of-way, especially those leading to bus hubs, Metro stations, community centers, schools, libraries, major shopping plazas, hospitals, etc...

by Transport. on Jan 24, 2014 11:15 pm • linkreport

Following up on Transport's thought: Failing to stop and give right of way to a pedestrian actually is a crime in DC, punishable by community service (among other options). It's usually treated as a civil violation, but maybe we should take a harsher stance and start sentencing these drivers to shoveling snow as their community service.

by Eileen on Jan 25, 2014 12:26 am • linkreport

Hopefully this isn't just a game of him pushing it into the curb and DOT coming along and pushing it back.

Salt is very effective at clearing ice if the temp is much above zero or the sun is out. However, it does tear up concrete. The white-bagged 50lb. stuff at Home Depot is the worst culprit and is only a couple dollars cheaper per bag than the less destructive stuff. I always get much more than I need and when it becomes apparent the current snow is finished I salt the (numerous) portions of sidewalk in my block that haven't been cleared yet. Iced sidewalks in DC are a big nuisance.

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

Among all the things you identify as "serious" problems this hardly ranks. unshoveled walks are a nuisance, but not a general "problem" much less a serious one. Everything that gets described as a serious problem brings calls for more written regulation and then enforcement by police who really need to be stopping crime. But then, not clearing your walk would be a crime, right?

by polo on Jan 25, 2014 10:38 am • linkreport

What an awesome story! I hope he eventually gets reimbursed by the County.

by Tina on Jan 25, 2014 12:03 pm • linkreport

@polo - Among all the things you identify as "serious" problems this hardly ranks. unshoveled walks are a nuisance, but not a general "problem" much less a serious one.

Its not serious except for the times its a direct contributor to someone's injury or death.

by Tina on Jan 25, 2014 12:13 pm • linkreport

@DC_Lady, What's going on over there? Some sort of community organizing? Hippies.

by Tina on Jan 25, 2014 12:33 pm • linkreport

I hope he doesn't hit a bicyclist or a pedestrian. Too much cognitive dissonance would ensue.

by Fischy (Ed F.) on Jan 25, 2014 1:06 pm • linkreport

@Fischy -for sure

by Tina on Jan 25, 2014 3:20 pm • linkreport

Ha. MDOT has billions for superhighways to nobody cares, but can't afford an itty bitty sidewalk plow.

by Jeff Lemieux on Jan 26, 2014 9:38 am • linkreport

I got out and cleared by walk first thing the morning after the snow. My walkway and stairs were easy enough and you could almost do it with a broom, the snow was so light and fluffy. Once down on the public sidewalk I realized I really should have taken care of it late the night before when the snow stopped. Where folks had walked the snow compacted and there was a hard ice under the snow. So a 15 minute light chore became more like an hour long ordeal. Fortunately 90% of it gave way to repeated banging by the edge of the plastic snow shovel and what remained succumbed later in the day to a little ice melt I applied directly. Some neighbors have not cleared and the ice situation is getting perilous along their walks. It pisses me off somewhat as I have injured myself taking a header on icy sidewalks. I think I have a bag of sand buried in the garage somewhere.

by Jim Whitelaw on Jan 27, 2014 6:13 am • linkreport

This dude is a hero. Standing ovation! -danny

by Daniel Howard on Jan 29, 2014 5:42 pm • linkreport

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