Greater Greater Washington

Neighbors unite to tackle slippery sidewalks

Fed up with the slippery, dangerous sidewalks in their neighborhood, Glover Park residents took matters into their own hands and came together to de-ice Calvert Street.


Before (left) and after (right) neighbors on Calvert Street cleared the ice from the sidewalks on Calvert Street. Photos by Rebecca Johnson.

After last week's snowfall, we highlighted a "Hall of Shame" of residents, businesses, public agencies, and even embassies who neglected to clear their sidewalks. As the snow melted and refroze, the unkempt walks became a nasty, slippery sheet of ice.

In Glover Park, no one knew whom to call and report the slippery sidewalks. So one enterprising resident issued a call to arms to her neighbors to clear them.

Rebecca Johnson went on the neighborhood's listserv and asked volunteers to meet her Saturday morning to clear Calvert Street from 39th Street to Wisconsin Avenue. A group of seven volunteers showed up, and along the way, some college students came out and joined them.

It would be nice if homeowners and landlords took responsibility for the sidewalks in front of their properties. But it was nice to see the community come together and make their streets safer.

Abigail Zenner is an Associate in Government Affairs at the American Planning Association. She is a member of the Ward 3 Vision Steering Committee and often described as a professional parking nerd. When she's not nerding out about smart growth, you may find her teaching a fitness class. Her blog posts represent her personal views only. 

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"It would be nice if homeowners and landlords took responsibility for the sidewalks in front of their properties. "

It's the District's job to hold these people accountable. While it is great the community came together to solve a problem, these POS landlords and homeowners need to be hit where it hurts.

by 20011 on Jan 28, 2014 10:17 am • linkreport

"No one knew whom to call?" Man, if only we had some sort of call center for the government -- a short, memorable number that anyone could call to get in touch with any city service. It could be based on 911, but just have a different first digit.

by Wrack on Jan 28, 2014 10:20 am • linkreport

Hah well considering DC barely maintains any of its on sidewalks I am not so confident they will be responding in a timely manner. Seriously how is it that there isnt even anyone to throw down some salt around city facilities?

by BTA on Jan 28, 2014 10:26 am • linkreport

It is indeed the District's job to enforce this rule and they should enforce it. Unfortunately, the District itself is one of the worst offenders.

Anecdotal examples: the two blocks of 19th Street SE adjacent to DC Jail and DC General Hospital (aka the pedestrian approach to Stadium-Armory Metro for the neighborhood) were never cleared and were a treacherous, icy mess by the end of the week; the heavily walked sidewalks 1400 blocks of Potomac Avenue SE and G Street SE, next to the triangle park were a similar disaster a mere half block from the Potomac Avenue Metro station.

The National Park Service is even worse: they might do a good job next along the Mall and next to the Smithsonian museums, but they are completely negligent at all of their other properties around town, many of which have heavily traveled sidewalks.

What makes DC's indifference to pedestrian even more infuriating is the platinum level of service they provide motorists. (Speaking of which, what is with the overuse of salt?!? DC DPW's salt-to-snow ratio this last storm was ridiculous.) Note to DC DPW: most of the drivers are non-taxpaying suburbanites while most of the pedestrians are DC residents whose taxes pay your salaries. Throw us a bone and clear the sidewalks that are the District's responsibility.

On a positive note: Metro does a great job of clearing the sidewalks around subway stations, at least the ones I use regularly.

by rg on Jan 28, 2014 10:33 am • linkreport

I'm surprised the residents of Glover Park didn't petition the city to make the slippery sidewalks a traffic lane to "increase pedestrian safety" and relieve congestion.

by AAA on Jan 28, 2014 10:33 am • linkreport

Yeah, the District should be enforcing its policy, but I haven't bothered to call because I really doubt it would. Particularly given that it doesn't bother with its own properties.

I guess maybe we should start there -- call 311 for every District property that's still not properly cleared...

by Gavin on Jan 28, 2014 10:40 am • linkreport

DC explicitly says they won't clear sidewalks, and they won't issue tickets for people that don't do so.

"DPW solid waste enforcement personnel drive plows during snow storms, so they are not available to enforce sidewalk clearing violations. Please take care of your sidewalk and help your neighbors with theirs."

http://snow.dc.gov/page/neighborhood-shoveling-teams

by ERD on Jan 28, 2014 10:42 am • linkreport

AAA: That would have been Jack Evans.

by David Alpert on Jan 28, 2014 10:43 am • linkreport

The National Park Service couldn't seem to shovel the sidewalks along 7th Street on the Mall after it snowed twice this year. I walked down 7th Street last week and it was like a Sochi ice rink.

by 202_cyclist on Jan 28, 2014 10:53 am • linkreport

I walked down 7th Street last week and it was like a Sochi ice rink.

You mean no gays in sight? ;-)

by Jasper on Jan 28, 2014 11:22 am • linkreport

I am surprised how few people actually do the side-walk in front of their house, let alone on the side of their house. It seems to me to be in your own best interest not to fall on your face as you come home and leave your house.

I am also surprised that parents do nothing to clear school bus stops. Seriously, take a shovel and let your kid shovel while it waits for the bus. If every kid shovels a couple of feet, you can clear the entire side-walk.

In a surprising move, the Marriott Key Bridge was removing some of the ice of their side-walk yesterday. Well done, Marriott! You were only a week too late. Remember that next time when you bitch at me for checking out five minutes too late.

by Jasper on Jan 28, 2014 11:26 am • linkreport

i wanted to bring out an all-volunteer crew to re-ice the sidewalk Saturday night, to infuriate do-gooder Rebecca Johnson, but then i got too lazy

by Brent on Jan 28, 2014 11:51 am • linkreport

It's really difficult to remove ice with a shovel. Thats why its important to remove the snow asap, even while its still falling in some cases. Maybe this is an experience that people need to have for themselves before the importance is imprinted.

In any case its great the neighbors got together to take care of the walks. I'm just saying their physical effort would have been halved at least had they acted the day it snowed.

by Tina on Jan 28, 2014 11:55 am • linkreport

@Jasper: I am also surprised that parents do nothing to clear school bus stops.
This probably doesn't happen in DC becuase DC school buses are only for special ed kids, and each bus has an aide who walks the kid from their door to the bus.

by ZetteZelle on Jan 28, 2014 12:35 pm • linkreport

@Tina I was the event/gathering organizer and think it's important to note that the people who showed up to clear the sidewalks WERE NOT the owners/renters of the adjacent properties.

I think most of us assumed that our neighbors would take care of their sidewalks at least before the law mandated 24 hours.

Clearly after 48 hours that wasn't the case, so we had to do something about it later then what would have been optimal. Moving forward I'll be sure to organize earlier, especially now that we know who the offenders are.

by Rebecca on Jan 28, 2014 2:08 pm • linkreport

@Rebecca -I completely support you and the example you set. I did not intend to be critical of you or the groups effort. Please forgive my poorly worded comment that was intended to refer to the practical techniques of snow shoveling methodology, a subject I enjoy.

Its really a shame we have so many people in our communities who are such lazy slackers. But its really great there are so many people who are willing to take up the slack of their bad neighbors, like you and your GlovPk neighbors.

by Tina on Jan 28, 2014 3:40 pm • linkreport

It's really difficult to remove ice with a shovel. Thats why its important to remove the snow asap, even while its still falling in some cases. Maybe this is an experience that people need to have for themselves before the importance is imprinted.

That didn't work so well in this storm either. The temperatures were plummeting and the initial snow fall was wet and partially melted. As soon as it was removed, the remaining liquid got more snow on it, creating a thicker sheet of ice. If you waited until it stopped, then you could get almost all of it up.

You know what the real problem is? People walking on the sidewalks before it stops snowing. They pack down the snow so much it's impossible to remove. Same, btw, for drivers on snowy roads.

by ah on Jan 28, 2014 4:22 pm • linkreport

@ ZetteZelle:This probably doesn't happen in DC

This website is called Greater GreaterWashington and does not only focus on what happens within the borders of the District of Columbia. It covers all of the Greater Washington area. There is a world outside of DC. Explore it.

by Jasper on Jan 28, 2014 4:22 pm • linkreport

You know what the real problem is? People walking on the sidewalks before it stops snowing. They pack down the snow so much it's impossible to remove. Same, btw, for drivers on snowy roads.

Nothing to be done about that, people are going to go places during the storm. You have to get rid of the snow while the snow is falling so that people can't pack it down.

The little bit of ice that formed initially when the wet snow fell went away after I cleared snow a 2nd time during the snowfall. It was quite cold and dry so some of the ice sublimated away if it was a thin layer.

by MLD on Jan 28, 2014 4:30 pm • linkreport

The other problem specifically last week was that the bulk of the snow fell at between 9pm and early morning meaning unless you were prone to get up 15 minutes early and shovel it didnt get done until nearly 24 hours later. I shoveled/salted ~ 8pm the night before and still had to put in a good 10 minutes on Wednesday afternoon scraping up compacted ice.

by BTA on Jan 28, 2014 4:31 pm • linkreport

@Rebecca, Tina, ah, MLD, BTA

Snow shoveling tip #32 from a former Midwesterner:

"When ice presents itself use a device called a Ice Chopper."

Heavy Duty Sidewalk and Ice Chopper

-You only need to buy one, and it will last your lifetime.
-Use a sharpening stone after every use to maintain a sharp edge.
-Two ways to use this tool,#1, using a vertical up down motion slam the tool into the ice breaking it up, finish the cleanup with your regular shovel.
-#2 place the metal edge in a fireplace to warm the metal for a few minutes, slide edge underneath the ice like you were giving the sidewalk a close shave. If the tool has the proper sharpness this should be like pushing a warm knife through butter.
-I don't ever recall using SALT/ICE MELT growing up as this was sufficient to maintain a clean sidewalk.

Using these techniques and this tool should add no more than 25% time on your regular snow shoveling chores. That is all.

by Bill the Wanderer on Jan 28, 2014 5:27 pm • linkreport

@BtW :-)

by Tina on Jan 28, 2014 6:36 pm • linkreport

The District can always install "snow cameras" to ticket and make money off of people who don't shovel the snow from their sidewalks (Oops! I forgot. Cameras are for "safety").

DC has got cameras to nail drivers in every way possible - ways no one ever dreamed of a year ago. Certainly the city can be resourceful enough to catch snow scofflaws. After all,cameras are for "safety".

by ceefer66 on Jan 29, 2014 8:43 am • linkreport

I wonder if "driving everywhere", as compared to "walking/biking/transit-ing everywhere" is a predictor for "doesn't shovel their walk".

by Tina on Jan 29, 2014 8:57 am • linkreport

DC has got cameras to nail drivers in every way possible - ways no one ever dreamed of a year ago. Certainly the city can be resourceful enough to catch snow scofflaws.

They could, if the council hadn't refused to change the law about clearing your sidewalk a few years ago.

The way it works now, DC has to send people out to clear your sidewalk, and then the city has to sue the homeowner to recoup the costs. It's completely impractical. In other cities the police can just write you a ticket and stick it on your door.

Just so you know, people WERE "dreaming" of these cameras more than a year ago... http://www.washingtonpost.com/local/new-dc-traffic-cameras-to-monitor-stop-signs-pedestrian-crosswalks/2012/08/29/9e9d21de-f1ee-11e1-a612-3cfc842a6d89_story.html

by MLD on Jan 29, 2014 9:00 am • linkreport

I've used an ice chipper actually. In fact I broke my apartment building's ice chipper trying to clean up post Snowpacalypse heh. I would probably invest in one but I'm lazy and I doubt Target carries them.

by BTA on Jan 29, 2014 9:01 am • linkreport

@Tina "I wonder if "driving everywhere", as compared to "walking/biking/transit-ing everywhere" is a predictor for "doesn't shovel their walk"."

Nope. We each drive everywhere and are super particular about clearing our sidewalk. Even did a few neighbors' who otherwise wouldn't do it.

by LT on Jan 29, 2014 9:59 am • linkreport

Funny how a little sarcasm gets some people all riled up.

by ceefer66 on Jan 29, 2014 10:08 am • linkreport

@LT - your data set of 1 isn't enough to prove/fail-to-prove the hypothesis

by Tina on Jan 29, 2014 10:28 am • linkreport

What is the point in creating a false "us" vs "them," Tina?

by selxic on Jan 29, 2014 2:21 pm • linkreport

@selxic-tongue in cheek response to a another tongue in cheek comment....

by Tina on Jan 29, 2014 7:37 pm • linkreport

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