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Sidewalk shoveling Hall of Shame: Snochi edition

After two storms in one day, the DC area is finally beginning to dig out. But some are clearing their sidewalks faster than others and, in some cases, making the sidewalks harder to use.

Photo by Leslie McGorman.

In Mount Pleasant, reader Leslie McGorman writes in about a church under renovation whose sidewalks are completely covered in snow and ice. "Despite the fact that there is construction/renovation occurring, people still use this building," she notes. "As such, they should get their asses outside with a shovel."

Photo by Leslie McGorman.

While taking his daughter for a walk today, David Alpert found the uncleared sidewalks near his house especially difficult to manage with a stroller:

The sidewalk in front of a condo under renovation near Dupont Circle. Photo by David Alpert.
Most houses on my block had shoveled, with just a couple of exceptions. Some of the large apartment/condo buildings at the corners had a layer of ice and some didn't; I think though that the ones facing south seemed more clear, probably because the sun has warmed it enough to easily get the ice up.

A slushy corner. Photo by David Alpert.
The worst part was at the corners, where they were all thick slush. Plows had evidently cleared the roads but left a large area, like 5 feet, for pedestrians to cross. A few businesses seem to have cleared their corners, but not most.

The sidewalk in front of Stead Park was a sheet of ice. It looks like it had been shoveled after the first big snow but then not after the 2nd, and then people walking on P Street flattened it into ice. It's too bad that one of the worst spots to walk with a child was past the park!

And in Silver Spring, Kathy Jentz took a video of a mini-digger outside her home on Fenton Street near Montgomery College piling snow on the sidewalk:
Bobcat earth movers are piling huge mounds of snow onto my sidewalk and my immediate neighbors. Who is going to clear this for the thousands if commuters and college students who use that public sidewalk daily? I am so angry!!!!!

Luckily, today's warm temperatures mean that much of the snow will melt, though we may get even more late tonight. Many parts of our region received over a foot of snow this week, but that's no excuse not to clear your sidewalks. It's required by law within eight hours of a storm in the District. Alexandria, Arlington, and Montgomery County will give you 24 hours, while Prince George's County requires it within 48 hours.

How are the sidewalks where you are?

Dan Reed is an urban planner at Nelson\Nygaard. He writes his own blog, Just Up the Pike, and serves as the Land Use Chair for the Action Committee for Transit. He lives in downtown Silver Spring. All opinions are his own. 


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The kiosk plaza in front of the BB&T in Adams Morgan is HORRIBLE. Will try to get a photo. No one wants to claim responsibility for it. Yet another example of D.C. failures. Let's come up with an idea, but no maintenance plan for it. Sheesh.

by Ward One Resident on Feb 14, 2014 2:50 pm • linkreport

DC should employ people to shovel the corners of intersections. The focus is only on the sidewalks.

by Gerald F on Feb 14, 2014 2:57 pm • linkreport

In "hall of praise" news, I was impressed with how the sidewalks looked last night in Navy Yard for the most part. A few offenders (notably only one of the three Canal Park blocks were shoveled out), but by and large, most property owners, even several empty lot owners, did a decent job.

by JES on Feb 14, 2014 3:37 pm • linkreport

@gerald f
dc used hire shovelers back in the day ...

by Jeffb on Feb 14, 2014 3:48 pm • linkreport

Marginally off topic, but I think the plow guys did a pretty good job on the PA Ave cycle track. There were a few spots missed, but overall, we asked them to leave the pylons in for our protection, knowing full well that would make plowing more difficult. Kudos to the plow dudes, and when snow season is over, let's replace the pylons that were hit this winter.

PS, nice high-vis plyons all the way down preferable to zebras in my opinion...

by Greenbelt on Feb 14, 2014 4:06 pm • linkreport

Would be cool if MNCPP would get one of those bobcats to plow the NE Branch trail!

by Greenbelt on Feb 14, 2014 4:08 pm • linkreport

I 100% agree with the praise for the Navy Yard neighborhood. Last night I was able to walk through the area and there was at least one sidewalk clear on every block by 4pm. This morning on my way into the office I saw literally 6 people in Capitol Riverfront outfits working on the leftover areas, and by noon everything was completely cleared. The sidewalks are in better shape than the roads! Kudos all around.

Incidentally, while biking down 4th St SE around 10am, I pretty much just took the general travel lane because only about 3 inches of the bike lane were available. Heaven forbid the plow drives two feet further to the right to clear some space. And then I came upon a guy who was digging out his car by throwing (prolific amounts of) snow into the middle of the otherwise-clear street and sliver of bike lane. I thanked him for his consideration. At least it won't affect car traffic much, I suppose? I did manage to dodge the 8-inch ice chunks, and the sunshine should help it melt. It was still irksome.

by Ampersand on Feb 14, 2014 4:24 pm • linkreport

Here are some ideas to encourage sidewalk snow removal:

by Beth on Feb 14, 2014 4:25 pm • linkreport

In the 10 years I have lived there, the City of Alexandria has *NEVER* enforced their snow clearing ordinance. I used to dutifully call them 24 hours after the snow had stopped to report several repeat-offender properties. To make a bad pun, I was always given a snow job.

It is very frustrating where a city that loves to crow about how pedestrian/bike friendly they are doesn't seem to care/understand that it is things like this - enforcing a simple ordinance - that make a huge difference for people's quality of life.

by Alex on Feb 14, 2014 4:56 pm • linkreport


Unless Alexandria didn't get any second round of snow, it hasn't been 24 hours yet.

A big problem was plowing that happened in the middle of the night, spreading slush that froze onto sidewalks. For example, a sidewalk cleared to concrete yesterday morning became a nightmare of bumpy ice (frozen, not slush) this morning. And, I'm speaking about the sidewalk in front of my house in Takoma Park this morning. Couldn't do anything with it until this afternoon after the sun could work on it. And, some parts that were in shade for a long time were still pretty frozen. Fortunately I was able to work from home today.

So, I think everyone, especially drivers who may encounter pedestrians on the side of the street, need to be understanding. This was a really bad storm for keeping sidewalks clear, given that a bunch of street plowing happened during freezing temperatures in the middle of the night.

by EMD on Feb 14, 2014 5:14 pm • linkreport

The city and county should raise the fines for failure to clear the sidewalks. Its simple, its revenue positive, and it works.

by SJE on Feb 14, 2014 5:51 pm • linkreport

did anyone ask the Bobcat driver why he was piling snow on the sidewalk, and ask him to put it somewhere else?

by SJE on Feb 14, 2014 5:55 pm • linkreport

It actually looks like the sidewalk was cleared in some of these pictures, but it wasn't cleared after the snow and freeze last night.

by selxic on Feb 14, 2014 5:59 pm • linkreport

@ Alex
Not to disagree with Alexandria owners not clearing walks, but depending on the level of storm, owners have up to 72 hours to get them clear. Of course they don't tell you what storm level we are experiencing anywhere.

by ChrisB on Feb 14, 2014 6:03 pm • linkreport

sorry, forgot the link

by ChrisB on Feb 14, 2014 6:10 pm • linkreport

I read about an invention that helps with walking through slush--it's called a boot.

by Charlie on Feb 15, 2014 8:11 am • linkreport

In response to SJE's comment about raising fines, the city and counties should also designate which sidewalks that people who DON'T have sidewalks in front of their homes or businesses are responsible for shoveling. These people can then also be fined when they don't do their part.

by Charlie on Feb 15, 2014 8:19 am • linkreport

In big snows -- over a foot -- jurisdictions should plan to come back on the 2nd day and use loaders and dump trucks to haul away the snow from the corners of these intersections so that pedestrians can walk again. At bus stops too. I saw a woman carefully walking against traffic in the curb lane of Georgia Avenue yesterday because the crossings were blocked with snow piles.
I live on a corner and have this problem every time it snows big time. So I cut a path through my yard to the driveway and instruct people via our neighborhood listserve to cut through the yard.
In this storm the second-day mix of sleet and snow really did create problems clearing the sidewalks, especially because the stores are all out of ice melt.

by woody brosnan on Feb 15, 2014 8:31 am • linkreport

The sidewalks on parts of Leesburg Pike between WFC metro and Whole Foods are insane. Snow plows have piled snow from the road onto the sidewalks creating giant mounds 10+ feet high of snow on the sidewalk. People are walking in the street. Will take a long time to melt.

by Falls Church on Feb 15, 2014 11:11 am • linkreport

It wasn't two storms in one day -- it was one giant storm. We just sat in the "dry slot", between bands of snow, for a while.

by Weather Nerd on Feb 15, 2014 12:05 pm • linkreport

So does the clock on clearing sidewalks start at the end of the first snowfall and then start again at the end of the second? Or is it 24 hours on the first and 24 hours on the second?

by woody brosnan on Feb 15, 2014 12:53 pm • linkreport

When does the clock start? The question is academic if they don't enforce it at all.

by SJE on Feb 15, 2014 3:20 pm • linkreport

Sidewalk in front of Councilmember Jack Evans' house not shoveled. It's Saturday.

by LouDC on Feb 15, 2014 3:54 pm • linkreport

Anyone who complains about unshoveled sidewalks without first offering to help is kind of a jerk, More so, if they don't have the burden of shoveling any sidewalk of "their own." It's even more absurd when municipalities/localities claim a portion of otherwise private property to install a public utility in the form of a pedestrian path -- and then make it illegal for the property owner not to clear the path within x number of hours regardless of how physically taxing that might be -- or monetarily taxing for those who cannot shovel themselves and are forced to hire workers to clear paths for those who are actually able-bodied enough to do some shoveling themselves.

I struggled mightily to clear a long suburban sidewalk that I rarely use. I'm as apt to be clearing brush or snow and ice as to walk the length of it -- but it's my legal obligation to clear this for the public use. Then, I have to take hot baths and apply hot packs to my back, neck and shoulders and pop some Flexeril so that I can get through the next couple of days.

You're welcome.

by Fischy (Ed F.) on Feb 16, 2014 1:09 am • linkreport

By way of example, the girlfriend owns the corner house on circle/cul-de-sac. There's a multiple mailbox thing installed on what otherwise be her unencumbered property, as well as a fire hydrant. There is also a sidewalk path that runs the entire length of the property -- used mostly by those walking from other houses to get their mail, or for the occasional dog-walker or jogger.

So, whose obligation is it to clear out the mailbox, the hydrant, and the path to the mailbox and up the street to the adjoining property line (whether or not the neighbor clears the section that passes along their property)? The person who is burdened by having the path on their property is also penalized for not promptly clearing the path that really serves others. Is there some dispensation -- some compensation for not being able to fully use their property? NO. Is their some compensatoin for having to ensure hte path is cleared promptly? Again, no.

Are there jerks who think they're entitled to the use of these paths under all circumstances and at all times and ready to point some accusatory finger of blame at the property "owners" (I use the term loosely because it is not a form of ownership I recognize if you cannot make your own use of it)? You betcha. Heck -- maybe the property owner is away on vacation -- holiday weekend and all -- or maybe in the hospital. Ot, in the case of a commercial property, maybe the usual employees who would do that work were unable to do so for perfectly understandable reasons.

Let me add that this was some seriously heavy snow where the snow turned over to rain during the day Thursday, with additional melting that left 8-10 inches of heavy, icy slush to try and lift. I got the path clear --actually had to do it again the next day -- along with clearing our own walks, driveway, and pitching in to clear the circle/street that is never cleared by the county. But I wouldn't judge those who didn't. Walk a mile in someone else's shoes before you think you have the right to judge them,

by Fischy (Ed F.) on Feb 16, 2014 1:32 am • linkreport

So my question is, were these sidewalks there when you and your girlfriend bought these properties? Public right-of-ways are clearly shown on property lines. So you had clear notice of your obligations. You have other legal obligations as a property owner as well, for instance to keep your lawn trimmed. If you don't like fulfilling those obligations I suggest relocating to a condo, where you will be charged a maintenace fee, again probably for amenities you may or may not use.

There are lots of public facilities I do not use. But I recognize that other citizens do use them. For instance, I do not ride a bicycle, but I do not mind paying for bike trails.

by woody brosnan on Feb 16, 2014 10:12 am • linkreport

@Woody, the snow removal law has only been around for 13 years so plenty of us bought our houses before this law went into effect. Also, many of us believe that most people will do the right thing (clear our sidewalks in a reasonable amount of time, help our neighbors, etc.) without being required to do so by our government under threat of fines.

by Charlie on Feb 16, 2014 11:12 am • linkreport

Even in a feudal society it was recognized that the lord and the vassal had mutual obligations. Now it seems we have folks who seem to think that owning their "castle" means they have no obligation to the greater community. The snow removal law may have just been passed 13 years ago but the owner bought the property knowing that a democratically-elected government could change the law regarding common property -- the public right of way.

Similarly we have zoning laws that restrict and protect property rights. For instance, when I added onto my house my addition could not come closer than five feet to my neighbor's property line.

All of Maryland was once the property of a King. D. C. was once the property of Virginia and Maryland. Private property rights were conveyed by some form of government and in return for that right the property owner has obligations to the community.

by woody brosnan on Feb 16, 2014 11:51 am • linkreport

And the American Revolution wrested individual property rights from the clutches of the King of England.

You also missed my point that most people understand their obligations intuitively and don't need the boot of the government to make them do the right thing, even though those boots would come in handy in the slush.

by Charlie on Feb 16, 2014 12:01 pm • linkreport

@Charlie -

"...many of us believe that most people will do the right thing (clear our sidewalks in a reasonable amount of time, help our neighbors, etc.) without being required to do so by our government under threat of fines."

Define "a reasonable amount of time." And what happens if someone decides, "Meh, I don't feel like clearing the sidewalk?"

by DaveG on Feb 17, 2014 4:42 am • linkreport

@DaveG, I think that a few days is a reasonable amount of time. And when someone decides that they don't want to clear the sidewalk that happens to be in front of their house, then people who are concerned about it can band together, grab a couple of shovels and clear it themselves.

by Charlie on Feb 17, 2014 7:17 am • linkreport

Wow Charlie, you don't think much of common needs, do you?

by DaveG on Feb 17, 2014 7:32 am • linkreport

Actually, I do, DaveG; I'd be one of the people pitching in to shovel the sidewalk while people like you sit around and complain.

by Charlie on Feb 17, 2014 7:57 am • linkreport

It will be weeks before the snow mounds pushed up by the plows in fairfax melt from the sidewalks. Hey, there's 8 lanes for traffic, that snow has to go somewhere, amiright?

by Mike on Feb 17, 2014 7:57 am • linkreport

To Charlie,

About believing that "people will do the right thing." Does that mean we can do away with traffic laws because people will do the right thing? Or zoning laws? Do you believe we can do away with food stamps and welfare because people will do the right thing and help their neighbors?

I think it's safer to "do the right thing" through the collective will of the Democratic process. People who object to the long arm of government are in effect objecting to majority rule.

by woody brosnan on Feb 17, 2014 8:22 am • linkreport

Charlie, no offense, but you sound like a Libertarian. As Woody is saying, that philosophy reaches it's political limits very quickly (except for the personal freedom parts which I agree with such as limits on govt. spying).

So how many people will you help shovel their snow...everyone?

by DaveG on Feb 17, 2014 9:19 am • linkreport

Oh, and Charlie, I gladly clear my own snow as the law...err...the collective community requires, less grudgingly so than some on this board ;-)

by DaveG on Feb 17, 2014 9:22 am • linkreport

Woody, at what point does it end? I prefer a government with the arms of a T Rex. And DaveG, I prefer political limits to no limits. I also won't have to shovel everyone out because most people, as I said, will already have done so.

by Charliie on Feb 17, 2014 10:02 am • linkreport

This wasn't a normal event. In one of my neighborhoods snow removal from sidewalks and streets is contracted out as part of the Homeowners Association. All of the streets and sidewalks were passable on Thursday afternoon. I still went outside to better clear driveways for a few neighbors and a path to mailboxes so things would be easier when the later snow came. I also went out at 11 at night to remove snow again to prevent some of the problems that much of the region had with thawing and freezing of additional snow that night creating a lot of wet snow and ice. I was under no obligation to do any of that.

by selxic on Feb 17, 2014 10:32 am • linkreport

Charlie, what if no one else wants to shovel your walk? Then where are we all at, especially if no one wants to shovel their own walk, let alone anyone else's?

by DaveG on Feb 17, 2014 11:15 am • linkreport

My neighbor-across-the-street and I each have a curbside mailbox, but both are atop a single post on my side of the street (all the mailboxes on my street are on my side). Therefore, I must clear the curb enough for the mail truck to drive up to it, or I risk non-delivery of the mail for my neighbor and myself.

Gee, why should I contribute to the common welfare and good...

by DaveG on Feb 17, 2014 11:22 am • linkreport

Why solve real problems when we can argue theory?

by selxic on Feb 17, 2014 11:24 am • linkreport

Which is why I'm glad everyone, especially people like Charlie, must clear their own walks or suffer the consequences :-)

by DaveG on Feb 17, 2014 11:27 am • linkreport

Its Monday, and none of the paths in RCP have been shoveled. Many have an extra covering from the ploughs clearing the road. All the car parks, including in areas that are closed this weekend, were shoveled last week. Perhaps NPS should be the National PARKING Service.

by SJE on Feb 17, 2014 12:05 pm • linkreport

DaveG, if I was your neighbor I'd clear a space for the mailman myself. And again you missed my point--you don't have to worry about the walk in front of my house because I will take care of it. "Especially Charlie?" You need to read my posts again.

by Charlie on Feb 17, 2014 12:15 pm • linkreport

Charlie, what if everyone around you decided not to clear their snow, knowing that you'd do it? How long until you say, "no more?" Do you have a life of your own?

by DaveG on Feb 17, 2014 12:18 pm • linkreport

Woody, at what point does it end?

Yes, one day the jackbooted government thugs make us shovel our sidewalks, and the next they're rounding us up and shipping us off to the gulag! Where will this forced labor end?!

I think it's fairly obvious from walking around this city that in fact many people will NOT shovel their sidewalks for the common good. A neighbor and I shoveled our whole block because none of the other people around us have managed to shovel their walks in the past.

by MLD on Feb 17, 2014 12:38 pm • linkreport

Well, DaveG, if that happened I guess I'd just wait for the sun to melt it all and organize a block party because apparently everybody in my neighborhood would be hopelessly stuck at home. Or I'd get MLD and his neighbor to help me out.

And MLD, I suggest that you move to a neighborhood where people still believe in personal responsibility. Actually believe in it, and don't need to be forced into it (which from your account doesn't seem to be working).

by Charlie on Feb 17, 2014 1:20 pm • linkreport

I nominate the Holladay Corporation. They purchased the Mr. Wash Car Wash on 13th St and Jerry's restaurant. They made no move at all to plow the snow or scrape up the ice. I wonder if this is they way they will act when they actually start building their new project?

by Snow Princess on Feb 17, 2014 3:01 pm • linkreport

"Personal responsiblity" - a term frequently thrown around by Libertarians and conservatives which means, in translation, "You're on your own...don't expect any help from me or anyone else...not if I can help it. Gotta protect my own, you see...including my miniscule tax rate"

"Personal responsibility" works until someone refuses to take responsibliity for their own sidewalk, e.g. Then the government...err...the will of the people/community is fully justified in stepping in :-)

by DaveG on Feb 18, 2014 8:35 am • linkreport

Feb 14 Kennedy Rec Center:

The govt should set the example for residents, churches and everyone else for keeping walks cleared around its facilities -- at the very least, so it's staff can safely get to work.

via @ShawingtonTimes Feb 14
Sidewalks around #KennefyRecCtr 6th&PStNW still a hazard 4 pedestrians. #ShawDC @ANC6E @nigroanc6e

by @ShawingtonTimes on Feb 18, 2014 4:32 pm • linkreport

"Personal responsibility" - a term frequently thrown around by Libertarians and conservatives which means, in translation, "You're on your own...don't expect any help from me or anyone else...not if I can help it. Gotta protect my own, you see...including my miniscule tax rate"

DaveG, have you read my posts? Didn't I talk about helping out others? YOUR view is the one that espouses doing your share and nothing else. You seem to believe that one should shovel their walk, go inside and then call the government to tattle on all the people who haven't shoveled yet so that they can be fined.

Libertarians and conservatives believe that personal responsibility, or "taking care of my own" is the bare minimum, the starting point of how one should behave in a civilized society.

And let's not get off topic and start talking about taxes; we don't have time for that.

by Charlie on Feb 19, 2014 8:32 am • linkreport

This morning, six days after the snow fell, the sidewalk in front of Fairfax Hospital on Gallows Road is still covered in many places with snow and ice. Either you walk on the ice or you walk on Gallows Road with its heavy traffic. On the bright side, should you slip and break a hip or get hit by a car, help is not far away.

by Michael M on Feb 20, 2014 8:33 am • linkreport

Just make sure to be safe out there. Walking or doing just about anything when snow and ice is involved can be very dangerous and you should try to take extra precaution to protect you and your loved ones. Avoid the ice if you can, if not, be very careful. Take care!

by Stan E. Orville on Feb 20, 2014 1:50 pm • linkreport

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