Greater Greater Washington

Joseph Brown died trying to avoid a snow-covered path, and DC blamed him for it

Early Friday morning, 61-year old Joseph Brown was walking to Metro. The sidewalk he wanted to use on the Sousa Bridge was full of snow plowed off the street, and he chose to walk in the roadway instead. When a driver killed him, DC police gave him a posthumous citation.


Photo by Marc Tomik on Flickr.

We've talked a lot in recent weeks about the failure of property owners to clear their sidewalks. Unfortunately, snowy sidewalks are often more than an inconvenience. And this weekend the abysmal condition of one DC sidewalk turned deadly for Brown. To add insult to injury, according to NBC4, the Metropolitan Police issued him a citation for walking in the roadway. As if he had a choice.

We could look to the adjacent property owners, I suppose. After all, under DC law, they're required to clear the sidewalks in the public right-of-way adjacent to their property. But we won't get far. This incident happened on the Sousa Bridge, where Pennsylvania Avenue crosses the Anacostia Potomac River.

In this case, the responsibility for clearing this sidewalk rests with the District government, and the Department of Public Works does actually work to clear bridges. But at the time of Mr. Brown's death, less than 24 hours after the snow ended, they hadn't yet cleared the Sousa Bridge sidewalks.

Does the system work?

Sidewalks are a vital and integral part of the District's transportation infrastructure. They're not just some accessory put there to make the street look nicer. People rely on sidewalks to get around the city. Additionally, sidewalks are fundamental to transit access. If the sidewalks are impassible, people can't walk to the bus stop or Metro station.

If not all, most of the jurisdictions in the region rely on property owners to clear sidewalks. That's the law on the books, though it doesn't appear any of the jurisdictions enforce it. Whether or not that policy makes any sense (after all, we don't rely on property owners to clear the street in front of their homes and businesses), it wouldn't have made any difference to Joseph Brown.

Some people do shovel the walkways in front of their properties. Sometimes they even do it for their neigbors. But other property owners don't, leaving a patchwork of sidewalks that are inaccessible and often dangerous.

There are penalties for not clearing the sidewalk in front of your property, but that law is rarely enforced. And without enforcement or a government effort to clear the walk, the snow remains for days. In places where plows have piled it on sidewalks, it can last for even longer.

What that says is that many local jurisdictions think it's okay to close down one fundamental part of the network. Hundreds of workers are dispatched to sand and salt roads and plow snow across the region. But when it comes to sidewalks, the District and the other jurisdictions prefer the Atlanta approach: wait until it melts.

And if we just had a few inches of snow, that might not be so bad. But across the region the sidewalk is simply the place plows deposit the snow. Those massive deposits take forever to melt, and with no crews (or neighbors) to help clear them, they can make sidewalks impassible for weeks.

After two inches of snow crippled the Atlanta region for days and stranded commuters in their cars on freeways for more than 24 hours, Mayor Kasim Reed and Governor Nathan Deal took tremendous heat for not doing enough.

In Metropolitan Washington, we generally don't let our roadways turn into ice rinks. We're prepared. But when it comes to sidewalks, none of the officials in the region do anything. And they rarely seem to get heat for it either.

When tragedy strikes, it's far easier to simply blame the victim. After all, he's the one who walked in the roadway. Never mind that the sidewalk was essentially closed for the winter, like many sidewalks in the region are, even today.

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Matt Johnson has lived in the Washington area since 2007. He has a Master's in Planning from the University of Maryland and a BS in Public Policy from Georgia Tech. He lives in Greenbelt. Hes a member of the American Institute of Certified Planners. He is a contract employee of the Montgomery County Planning Department. His views are his own and do not represent the opinion of his employer. 

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If anything, there is too much salt on the roadways.

by Richard on Feb 20, 2014 10:08 am • linkreport

Just further disrespect by society against those who don't drive. The entire Georgia Ave to 1400 block of Aspen NW, on the south side of street, is untouched from all the snow last week. Because all the homeowners feel because their homes don't face the sidewalk, feel it's not their responsibility. BS.

by 20011 on Feb 20, 2014 10:10 am • linkreport

This infuriates me. I've lived through several snow storms where the plows have piled up a foot or much more of snow directly onto sidewalks and crosswalks. This is unacceptable! Is there a DC Pedestrian coalition because the thought of people dying so we can make sure that people have easy parking and easy car travel on all lanes needs to change now.

by BTA on Feb 20, 2014 10:14 am • linkreport

Just awful. And of course the city isn't going to enforce sidewalk cleaning responsibility with owners when they don't even do it. I do have to say though that I'm shocked how seemingly after 2/14 people just stopped even trying to clean the sidewalks. As of this morning there was still a stretch of Calvert Street NW (the south or eastbound side, just east of the intersection with Tunlaw Road) where two side-by-side property owners left a sheet of ice for almost a full week, with no consequences. Today was the fist time I could walk over that stretch of sidewalk without almost falling.

by Daniel on Feb 20, 2014 10:18 am • linkreport

What happened to Mr. Brown is terrible - and unfortunately - was avoidable. The citation from the MPD was truly despicable. Was the driver not cited for failure to exercise due care while driving in dangerous conditions? What if the driver hit a broken down car that was in front of him in the lane? I'm pretty sure the driver would've received the citation for that.

by KG on Feb 20, 2014 10:22 am • linkreport

Another reason that they need to diversify the MPD and hire officers who actually walk and bike, instead of just drive. I'm convinced the department is filled with a lot of officers who really don't care about pedestrians and bikers and feel that whatever happens to them is their fault. What I personally see is an officer sitting in an oversized SUV talking on their cell phones. They seem to be a part of the problem, not the solution.

by dc denizen on Feb 20, 2014 10:24 am • linkreport

@KG
That's so true. There is such a double standard.

by dc denizen on Feb 20, 2014 10:25 am • linkreport

I saw a guy with a walker having to trudge along in the road because the sidewalks were impassable (it was somewhere in Columbia Heights). Really shameful.

I really don't get the lack of political will by the city council to 1) force its own city agencies to do their job, 2) enforce the law that requires businesses and homeowners to clear their sidewalks, and 3) shame the federal agencies into clearing their sidewalks too since they are some of the worst culprits.

I live near the Washington Hospital Center and frequently walk my dog around there. The Medstar Hospital/Children's hospital side of the complex does a great job with their sidewalks (a little aggressive with the salt but they're clear!). The eastern half of the complex--where the VA hospital sits--was a disaster and you pretty much had to walk on the freeway-like Irving st in order to pass (granted, DDOT doesn't seem to think there are any pedestrians in the area, but that's another story). The Corps of Engineers did some clean-up of sidewalks around the McMillan reservoir this time but oddly enough left the 5th street side untouched and covered with large chunks of ice and snow that the plows pushed up onto the sidewalk (the Howard side of 5th St was cleared, though, so kudos to them).

by drk on Feb 20, 2014 10:28 am • linkreport

1. This was the District's responsibility to clear the sidewalk. There are a lot of bad commerical landlords (and individuals) but in general the DC and other goverment is the worst in terms of sidewalk clearing.

2. Don't walk in the street.

3. While some people were amusing themselves wiht hashtags and "sneckdowns" the rest of us were walking and dealing with this mess. This isn't about some culture war with car owners. It is about getting the goverment to do what it is supposed to do.

I almost fell and broke my arm on U st in front of the 3d station, while the cops were amsuing themselves by telling us to take care of the homeless etc. I noticed the fire department next door had managed to clear the sidewalk.

by charlie on Feb 20, 2014 10:30 am • linkreport

So…in summary.

Biggest snow storm of the year, its less than 24 hours after it snowed and many of DC streets, let along sidewalks are still unplowed. My street didn’t see a plow until Saturday morning. Man decides to walk in the street, where he shouldn’t ever be, under any scenario, and gets hit by a car.

How is this any different from when DC water digs up the sidewalk 3 houses down to repair a water line and closes the sidewalk for the day to do so? There are options. Take the risky options and walk in the street around the closure, or find another way around.

It may seem “despicable” to issue him a citation, but it has to be done so that there is a clear record of fault, mostly for the insurance company’s involved. Otherwise (and his family will still probably try anyway), the family would have a legal avenue to attempt to sue the pants off the City and the driver.

by Arkie on Feb 20, 2014 10:33 am • linkreport

@Arkie:

This was on the Pennsylvania Avenue crossing in SE - the alternative ways across seem like more than a mile out of the way. What other route would you have suggested he take?

by engrish_major on Feb 20, 2014 10:35 am • linkreport

Mayoral primaries are coming up, right? I would like to hear the candidates offer their opinions on this situation. The story here isn't just about maintaining usable sidewalks.

by Atlas on Feb 20, 2014 10:37 am • linkreport

@ charlie:This was the District's responsibility to clear the sidewalk.

Yes it was. Do you think the family can sue for death through negligence or something? If not, DC has no incentive to change its behavior.

Don't walk in the street.

Easy statement. But how should the guy have crossed the bridge? Flying?

This isn't about some culture war with car owners.

It is not about a war. It is about culture. Current culture says roads must be cleared at all cost. Bikers and pedestrians be damned. That needs to change.

BTW: kudos to the Key Bridge Marriott. Somehow they've started clearing their side-walk.

by Jasper on Feb 20, 2014 10:37 am • linkreport

@Arkie
They plowed the snow into the sidewalk. They took the snow in the street and put it on the sidewalk. That's not right. Did he have an option? Yeah, stay home. Maybe he didn't have a car, didn't have money for a cab. Why should pedestrians be second class citizens in this city.

by dc denizen on Feb 20, 2014 10:38 am • linkreport

I've also seen in Woodbridge, VA, where I live, then when the plow drivers plow the main roads they throw the snow until the sidewalks. As a result, there is no place for pedestrians to walk.

by Davin Peterson on Feb 20, 2014 10:38 am • linkreport

"Don't walk in the street."

"Man decides to walk in the street, where he shouldn’t ever be,"

So how the F--- is he supposed to get where he's going if walking on the sidewalk is impossible? What if it's the difference between keeping his job and not keeping his job?

Easy to say "don't ever do this" when you don't have a situation that requires you to do so.

by MLD on Feb 20, 2014 10:40 am • linkreport

Isn't there an unemployment problem in the city? You would think there is a way we could have some kind of contract with a staffing agency to hire people after it snows and pay them 20/hr or whatever to clear key sidewalks. Not exactly lucrative but I'm sure an extra $200-$500 a winter would help people.

by BTA on Feb 20, 2014 10:41 am • linkreport

It may seem “despicable” to issue him a citation, but it has to be done so that there is a clear record of fault, mostly for the insurance company’s involved. Otherwise (and his family will still probably try anyway), the family would have a legal avenue to attempt to sue the pants off the City and the driver.

The way that we assign fault is messed up though. If you're driving a vehicle that could cause a bunch of damage just by slipping on ice and having momentum carry you down a hill then just after a snow storm then you should expect to see all sorts of things in the roadway including people. Drive accordingly and know that you should do everything possible to avoid hitting things since you're the one operating the machine.

by drumz on Feb 20, 2014 10:43 am • linkreport

@Arkie
"Man decides to walk in the street, where he shouldn’t ever be, under any scenario"

Summary: Pedestrians, stay home until the snow melts. Or buy a car, you losers.

If the sidewalks have not been cleared, but you still have to go places, what else are you going to do but walk in the streets? Yes, it's dangerous, but most people cannot afford to simply wait indoors until the snow melts (or until property owners and the city live up to their responsibilities).

The problem here is that only one part of the transportation network, that dedicated to automobiles, is prioritized, as if walking were optional but driving was mandatory.

by alurin on Feb 20, 2014 10:43 am • linkreport

Wow what a disgusting comment. God forbid someone you love should get hit crossing a street or riding a bike "where they don't belong".

by BTA on Feb 20, 2014 10:45 am • linkreport

Why is it "don't walk" instead of "don't drive" anyway?

I know people like to moan about how we close schools and offices for the tiniest flurries but it's better when we all stay home as much as practicable during these things. AND if we can't stay home then we should definitely be ensuring that the first preference should be to walk to where you need to be instead and prioritize thusly.

by drumz on Feb 20, 2014 10:48 am • linkreport

Arkie: Otherwise (and his family will still probably try anyway), the family would have a legal avenue to attempt to sue the pants off the City and the driver.

I'm not seeing the problem here.

by iaom on Feb 20, 2014 10:48 am • linkreport

I think that Rock Creek Park illustrates this absurd situation perfectly. Soon after the storm they had cleared the roadway and the parking lots. The pedestrian and bike paths remain covered, a week later. Now, how many people are going to use a parking lot if the rest of the park is covered in ice? Most parking lots I drive past are empty.

by SJE on Feb 20, 2014 10:49 am • linkreport

I'm not familiar with DC law in this area, but if there are streets without passable sidewalks, it should be legal to walk in the street. For example, many suburban streets in MD and VA don't have sidewalks and pedestrians walk in the street in those situations - everything else is private property.

by Jameel on Feb 20, 2014 10:51 am • linkreport

@SJE

Didn't you know the sole purpose of Rock Creek Park is to provide nice scenery for the auto commuters?

by Crickey7 on Feb 20, 2014 10:53 am • linkreport

@jasper; in terms of civil liability:

1. Walking in the street means he assumed the risk, and I doubt his estate has a suit against either DC or the driver.

2. If he had walked on the (unplowed) sidewalk he might have wet feet. Or a broken arm from slipping. In those cases he could have sued DC and might have won.

Remember, civil liability is utimatley a tort -- I've been hurt and I need to get paid. Not designed for policy questions, althought the massive use of it in NYC keeps Manhattan working in the snow.

This is what I don't get. DC snow removal is clearly about "emergency" road use -- they want some major arteries open and just let the rest melt. I have no problems putting bikes lanes last in terms of removal. Pedestrian use isn't prioritized.

by charlie on Feb 20, 2014 10:56 am • linkreport

As to Arkie's comment: even if you want to give cars priority, how are people supposed to get around after they have driven and parked? This is not a strip mall.

by SJE on Feb 20, 2014 11:00 am • linkreport

@charlie.

Walking on the sidewalk is, in many instances, not even an option. The banks of snow piled up are the height of a person, slick and steep. Even a fit person could not climb them, and they are, or were, everywhere.

by Crickey7 on Feb 20, 2014 11:03 am • linkreport

I don't see that the citation is legal at all. Wouldn't be the first time a cop screwed up when issuing a knee-jerk ticket in favor of a motorist.

by Mike on Feb 20, 2014 11:04 am • linkreport

The driver is culpable, not just the gov for not clearing the sidewalk.
A. Surely the driver knew it had snowed
B. Surely the driver was able to see the sidewalks were covered w/ snow
C. The driver failed to adjust his/her driving behavior for the conditions-i.e. that because the sidewalks are covered in snow people will be walking in the road.

I see people walking in the road EVERY time it snows. Its expected. The driver bears responsibility for not driving responsibly in the conditions.

Yes the gov bears responsibility too, but it was the driver who actually did the killing.

by Tina on Feb 20, 2014 11:30 am • linkreport

1. Let me start off by saying, it's disgusting & insulting that the DC Metropolitan Police would cite a dead man for doing something as a result of city negligence. This reinforces the idea that the cops are simply hired goons for the city, not looking out for the welfare of all citizens. Frankly, the Chief needs to be held accountable for this, and people need to be fired. All the way up to the precinct captain, if needed There are no excuses for it, period. It's simply the city going into CYA mode, hoping to make it even harder for them to be sued for their stupidity.

All that said;
2. If people are so outraged at unusable sidewalks, report it to your local authority. It's not a guarantee, but I have seen news reports saying that this is your best shot to have the law enforced and fines levied. It makes sense too, because like it or not, government resources are stretched thin as it is. If you're bothered by something, at least take the time to alert the government to the problem/violation, and document your complaint. If they don't take action after that, then that's all on them, and you'll then have much more of a case to call them out on it later if you choose.

3.While I am as sad as anyone that a person has died, my question would be where should the snow/ice from roads go instead? Forgive me if solutions to this issue have been covered elsewhere and I simply missed it. Yes, snow piled up on sidewalks/corners is a major problem, but to simply complain about something without proposing solutions gets nobody anywhere. Like it or not, most people still drive (even if in somewhat falling numbers), so we cannot, at present, sacrifice road safety/useability in order to clear the sidewalks. How do we balance the two? And perhaps, equally if not more importantly, how do we do it as cheaply as possible? The city (and all area governments) have limited resources to use in these cases, especially for events that will only occur a handful of times a year, if that. We are not Chicago, New York, or Boston. Again, I'm as distraught as anyone that a man died, and the police certainly added insult, but you have to be practical with when it comes to solutions to this problem.

by Mike on Feb 20, 2014 11:38 am • linkreport

Did MPD even do a formal accident report?

The brief Washington Post article only says this:

Police would not say if weather was a contributing factor in the accident.

This poor guy was killed on Pennsylvania Avenue less than 2 miles from the DC line most likely by a commuter from PG or Anne Arundel County.

Which come to think of it is likely the exact same path the charging officer talks to work every day since for whatever reason almost the entirety of the DC Police force lives in PG County.

by TomQ on Feb 20, 2014 11:39 am • linkreport

1. If people are so outraged at unusable sidewalks, report it to your local authority. It's not a guarantee, but I have seen news reports saying that this is your best shot to have the law enforced and fines levied. It makes sense too, because like it or not, government resources are stretched thin as it is. If your bothered by something, at least take some time to alert the government to the problem/violation, and document your complaint.If they don't take action after that, then that's all on them, and you'll then have much more of a case to call them out on it later if you choose. 2. While I am as sad as anyone that a person has died, my question would be where should the snow/ice from roads go instead? Forgive me if solutions to this issue have been covered elsewhere and I simply missed it. Yes, snow piled up on sidewalks/corners is a major problem, but to simply complain about something without proposing solutions gets nobody anywhere. Like it or not, most people still drive (even if in somewhat falling numbers), so we cannot, at present, sacrifice road safety/useability in order to clear the sidewalks. How do we balance the two? And perhaps, equally if not more importantly, how do we do it as cheaply as possible? The city (and all area governments) have limited resources to use in these cases, especially for events that will only occur a handful of times a year, if that. Again, I'm as distraught as anyone that a man died, but you have to be practical with your solutions.

by Mike on Feb 20, 2014 11:39 am • linkreport

@Mike - where should the snow/ice from roads go instead?

In one of the car travel lanes!

by Tina on Feb 20, 2014 11:45 am • linkreport

I have personally seen snow banks of no less than 3 feet in height after the 09/10 storms. That is completely impassable on foot. Even one foot deep snow may be impassable for someone with mobility issues.

by BTA on Feb 20, 2014 11:45 am • linkreport

If there are three car lanes on either side, plow into one of the lanes and clear the sidewalk while you're at it. Shouldn't take a genius to figure that one out.

by BTA on Feb 20, 2014 11:47 am • linkreport

Alternatively go back over the sidewalks afterward and dump it in the river since that's where its going to end up anyway eventually.

by BTA on Feb 20, 2014 11:50 am • linkreport

@BTA: on a bridge, no less! +1

@Mike: "Like it or not, most people still drive (even if in somewhat falling numbers), so we cannot, at present, sacrifice road safety/useability in order to clear the sidewalks." Like it or not, most people still walk at their origin and destination. The idea that the city can operate only with cars is ridiculous.

by Mike on Feb 20, 2014 11:54 am • linkreport

Man set out to walk half a mile in the road way, in the pitch dark, at 5:45am on a bridge that carries ~40K vehicles per day, to go to a dr appointment.

“This was on the Pennsylvania Avenue crossing in SE - the alternative ways across seem like more than a mile out of the way. What other route would you have suggested he take?”

A bus, cab, get a ride, borrow a friends car. This issue was greater than just a sidewalk on a bridge. The entire city street and sidewalk network had a foot of snow on it and at this point, most hadn’t yet seen a plow. The city and federal government were delayed. Anyone who needed to be anywhere at 5:45am the morning after the storm should have given thought to the fact that getting from A to B will need some planning and that perhaps walking in the street in the pitch dark isn’t generally a great idea.

“They plowed the snow into the sidewalk. They took the snow in the street and put it on the sidewalk.”

Notwithstanding the sidewalk already had a foot of snow on it, that happens in every single town and city in the nation that plows snow from the street, it ends up on the sidewalk. In this case, it is a bridge that sees ~40K vehicles per day versus what? 20 per day that walk across it? Where were they supposed to put the snow given the relevance of the use, and the fact the storm had just ended and most of the city hadn’t even seen a plow yet?

“So how the F--- is he supposed to get where he's going if walking on the sidewalk is impossible? What if it's the difference between keeping his job and not keeping his job”

First, he wasn’t going to a job. He was going to a Doctors appointment at the earliest rising doctor in the history of medicine. His options are numerous. Take a cab, ride a bus, borrow a car, get a friend to help, hitch hike, delay his doctors appointment.

by Arkie on Feb 20, 2014 11:54 am • linkreport

my question would be where should the snow/ice from roads go instead?

Next to the curb in the right-hand traffic lane, and then if there still isn't enough room on the bridge get it with a bulldozer and dump it elsewhere.

In places where walking areas are restricted more than on a regular street (such as on the bridge), MORE CARE needs to be taken with how the snow is cleared. Other cities have figured out how to do this.

Alternatively go back over the sidewalks afterward and dump it in the river since that's where its going to end up anyway eventually.

Agree that that's where it will end up eventually, but I'm pretty sure Clean Water Act prohibits this. Many towns in the northeast used to just dump snow into their lakes and rivers but no longer can.

by MLD on Feb 20, 2014 11:58 am • linkreport

Why question the pedestrian's necessity to get where he was going and not the drivers?

by drumz on Feb 20, 2014 11:59 am • linkreport

by the time Dc settles this and the EMT who wouldn't help the heart attack guy, that multimillion dollar rainy day fund is going to be pretty overdrawn.

by jake on Feb 20, 2014 12:01 pm • linkreport

@Arkie -The entire city street and sidewalk network had a foot of snow on it and at this point, most hadn’t yet seen a plow.

Exactly. The driver had a responsibility to respond to the conditions.

Ppl walk in the road EVERY time it snows. It's a predictable occurrence.

Drivers are part of the community and have a responsibility to take on the onus for preventing crashes w/ more vulnerable road users.

by Tina on Feb 20, 2014 12:03 pm • linkreport

Why question the pedestrian's necessity to get where he was going and not the drivers?

Yup, drivers need ALL THE LANES to make sure they get where they're going but screw that guy on foot, why is his trip important?

"Find some other way" is somehow always the answer for people not in cars but never the answer for those in cars.

by MLD on Feb 20, 2014 12:03 pm • linkreport

Seriously? Where should we put the snow? It's a six lane bridge, as many have already said, put it in one of the lanes. And maybe he didn't have many choices, as you might think.

by dc denizen on Feb 20, 2014 12:08 pm • linkreport

@Tina +1
Yep. That's what happens in my neighborhood too. If the sidewalks are slippery or haven't been shoveled yet, and you have to go somewhere then you walk in the street. I've seen that everywhere I've lived.

by dc denizen on Feb 20, 2014 12:10 pm • linkreport

Why question the pedestrian's necessity to get where he was going and not the drivers?

Because the driver wasn't driving on the sidewalk.

by Arkie on Feb 20, 2014 12:16 pm • linkreport

@BTA For this case, dumping it in the river would have been the best solution. @Mike I never said the "city can operate only with cars." I said that cars are still the preferred method of getting around, and therefore you cannot rob Peter to pay Paul. Dumping in the sidewalk should be a non starter, just as dumping in the road should be as well. @drumz, The city's primary concern should be fixing roads first, without harming sidewalks further in the process. After the roads are handled, they should responsibly clear the sidewalks, without impeding the roads. It is a fine balance, and rarely done that way, but that's how it should be. Drives and pedestrians should avoid travailing if at all possible about until crews can clear things.

by Mike on Feb 20, 2014 12:18 pm • linkreport

@Arkie-Do you think the driver was aware there was a recent heavy snowfall?

by Tina on Feb 20, 2014 12:23 pm • linkreport

@Mike-the raod has 6 lanes. There is one lane of sidewalk. Its not "robbing Peter to Pay Paul" to put the snow in one 1/6th of the roadway. In your vision its ok to block 100% of the sidewalk so 100% of the road is clear.

by Tina on Feb 20, 2014 12:28 pm • linkreport

I did not realize that taking photographs and emailing them them AND "walking and dealing with this mess" were mutually exclusive. Huh? That day, I somehow managed to take a photograph and email it to some people, shovel my sidewalk (and my neighbors sidewalk and the curb ramp on the corner and the ridiculous amount of space between the corner and the plowed street), go to work, go out for some lunch, go to the grocery store and then go home, all via walking and Metro. Who knew that taking a photograph, writing a few sentences about it and emailing it to some people took all day and precluded doing anything else? Having been forewarned, I will be sure to clear my calendar next time I want to take a photograph and email it...

by rg on Feb 20, 2014 12:30 pm • linkreport

@Mike -did it occur to you that more people would choose to travel by means other than car if the infrastructure supported that choice? In many many places the infrastructure ONLY provides a mobility network if you drive a car. that is hardly a freely made choice.

by Tina on Feb 20, 2014 12:30 pm • linkreport

Do you think the driver was aware there was a recent heavy snowfall?

I dunno, do you think Joe was aware there was a recent heavy snowfall, and that walking in the middle of the road (which is illegal all the time) in the pitch dark was dangerous.

"Ppl walk in the road EVERY time it snows. It's a predictable occurrence.

Irrelevant, doesn't make it legal. Doing something illegal is never a "predicatable" occurance.

by Arkie on Feb 20, 2014 12:33 pm • linkreport

@Arkie: walking in the road IS NOT ILLEGAL ALL THE TIME. The law states that walking in the road is prohibited IF A SIDEWALK IS PROVIDED as an alternative. Hopefully that clears up your confusion on this matter, and you will now accommodate the idea that people have a general right to travel freely in this country.

by Mike on Feb 20, 2014 12:45 pm • linkreport

@Arkie-do you think the driver was aware that a car traveling at 30-50mph in can kill a human being? Do you think human life is worth more than being right?

The driver-all drivers-have moral responsibility to adjust their driving for conditions to minimize crash risk. They have a legal responsibility to do that too.

by Tina on Feb 20, 2014 12:45 pm • linkreport

Pedestrians always have the right of way. Period. It's never ok to hit and kill them. If it was dark the driver should have been using headlights and paying attention to road conditions.

by BTA on Feb 20, 2014 12:46 pm • linkreport

Not that I wouldn't put this past the MPD, but if you're going to put it in the headline, wouldn't it be worth confirming that he actually did receive a posthumous citation? The only indication about the citation in the NBC4 article is something from his sister, and it's not even a quote.

Unless you're just doing it for clicks, that is.

by Matt on Feb 20, 2014 12:47 pm • linkreport

Fault is for lawyers and insurance companies to decide. What we need to discuss (here and abroad) is how we got to a point where it's ok to hit people with a car as long as you can claim "I didn't see him" or decided the pedestrian was in the wrong for being put in a more or less impossible situation.

by drumz on Feb 20, 2014 12:47 pm • linkreport

Just read the DC regs on pedestrians - the law states that pedestrians must use the sidewalk if available, but if not, may walk in the street. I wonder if a case could be reasonably made that the sidewalk was effectively unavailable due to the several feet of snow piled on it.

@Arkie

"Doing something illegal is never a "predicatable" occurance."

What a load of baloney. I feel quite confident in my prediction that virtually everyone driving on the Beltway today will exceed the speed limit. Same with my prediction that I will encounter a driver in the L street cycletrack this week, as well as my prediction that suburban commuters will block the box at 14th and K today, as well as my prediction that at least one driver will not yield to me when I cross the street at 16th and Corcoran each week, as well as ...

by JDS32 on Feb 20, 2014 12:51 pm • linkreport

I know people like to moan about how we close schools and offices for the tiniest flurries but it's better when we all stay home as much as practicable during these things.

Unfortunately it's more complicated than this.

As soon as the federal government announces a closure bars pounce on the opportunity to open early to take advantage of the situation.

Safety for white collar office workers is often cited with little regard for the service sector workers who don't get much choice.

by RP on Feb 20, 2014 12:52 pm • linkreport

Arkie,
Because the driver wasn't driving on the sidewalk.

The sidewalk functionally didn't exist here. And then the pedestrian was caught in a more or less impossible position. At that point, the letter of the law begins to lose relevance.

Driving after a snow storm is more dangerous than walking after a snowstorm so why should drivers not have to expect to exercise any extra caution in that scenario?

Mike,

The city's primary concern should be fixing roads first, without harming sidewalks further in the process.

Which is the point of the article. The city shouldn't outright ignore the most basic form of transportation we have. And one that is far safer than driving anyway.

by drumz on Feb 20, 2014 12:54 pm • linkreport

RP,

That certainly isn't right and I'm enough of a fraidy cat to ensure that I do my hardest to make sure that work can wait for a day or so.

But to enforce that would require some sort of legal/cultural change and I don't know what's the best method of going about that. Getting the city to acknowledge that sometimes people walk to places would be a help though.

by drumz on Feb 20, 2014 12:58 pm • linkreport

how we got to a point where it's ok to hit people with a car as long as you can claim "I didn't see him" or decided the pedestrian was in the wrong for being put in a more or less impossible situation.

^ This. How did we get to a point where homicide is semi legal as long as your weapon is a car.

by dc denizen on Feb 20, 2014 12:59 pm • linkreport

Getting the city to acknowledge that sometimes everyday people walk to places would be a help though.

Drivers walk too. Everyone walks. It is the most basic form of transportation.

by Tina on Feb 20, 2014 1:02 pm • linkreport

@dc denizen, yeah. Clearly the gov 's negligence contributed directly to creating conditions that elevated potential for crash. However it was the driver that did the crashing and killed someone- a completely preventable crash from both the choices the driver made in how to operate the car under those conditions, and the gov's directive to the snowplow driver to plow the snow up onto the sidewalk.

by Tina on Feb 20, 2014 1:07 pm • linkreport

Text copy/pasted from a 1/23 email to Evans, Bonds, Grosso, Catania, Orange, Cheh, and Gray (no response yet from any of them; I just sent a follow-up) ...

------------------------

Sidewalk shoveling from the recent snowstorm has seemed to be rather lax, as it seems to be with every snowstorm. It's easy to rant about no one shoveling their sidewalks when enforcement seems nil, but at the same time: it'd be tough for many people to really discern whether citations are indeed being handed out... it could just as well be that enforcement is excellent but people are nonetheless flaunting their responsibilities. To that end, three questions:

- Might someone offer some insight on how many citations have been issued so far relating to this snowstorm? Might there be somewhere online where enforcement metrics could be posted?

- Is there any issue with collection of the assessed fines? That is- are the laws being enforced, and if so: are people nonetheless flaunting it?

- Furthermore, what capabilities does DC have in getting NPS to tend to their property?

by Bossi on Feb 20, 2014 1:15 pm • linkreport

Mike -- in DC, cars are not the preferred way to get around. While the data isn't accurately collected, it's fair to say that a (bare) majority of total trips are probably by walking, biking, and transit.

Which is why, annually, I point out in a post at the beginning of the winter season that DC as a city allegedly committed to sustainable transportation, walkability, placemaking, etc., needs to re-orient its planning with regard to "maintenance of way" for all modes.

- http://urbanplacesandspaces.blogspot.com/2014/01/weather-paralysis.html

I see some improvements over the past few years. The city is doing a bit better on not dumping snow in crosswalks at intersections. Some city properties are getting a bit better at removing snow (at least I have seen slow, but incremental improvement on this with regard to the Coolidge Recreation Center). Some bridges you see snow removal occur on walking paths. And DDOT has a program for removing snow from bike trails like the MBT.

But it is clear that there has been no systematic and structured approach to change.

If the city wants to truly be the "most sustainable city" in the US, this is but one of a myriad of issues where the city falls flat and doesn't take the opportunity to create and demonstrate world class practice.

It's about creating and advocating for agendas, rather than just one-off "whining" ... I mean identification of problems.

Like this incident that triggered this particular post, I can think of incidents in previous years, not necessarily just in DC, where people walking to transit stations such as in PG County, during snow conditions, have been hit-killed by cars.

It merely illustrates the basic point, that a more thorough approach, especially in transit catchment areas and walking communities, is required.

Note that the Gazette has a piece on Hans Riemer advocating for better snow clearance in Wheaton and Silver Spring, using the Bethesda Urban Partnership's practices as an example.

And there were a couple letters to the editor in the Post complaining about public institution failures for snow clearance in Fairfax County and wrt DC Govt. and NPS in DC.

by Richard L. Layman on Feb 20, 2014 1:18 pm • linkreport

"the responsibility for clearing this sidewalk rests with the District government"

This is why we have a court system. Sue, sue sue.

by JJJJ on Feb 20, 2014 1:30 pm • linkreport

"What a load of baloney. I feel quite confident in my prediction that virtually everyone driving on the Beltway today will exceed the speed limit".

Yes, and I feel quite confidant that nearly half the cities bicycle riders will continue to ignore their red lights, or thousands of pedestrians will jaywalk but again, just because it is predictable, doesn't make it legal.

"Driving after a snow storm is more dangerous than walking after a snowstorm so why should drivers not have to expect to exercise any extra caution in that scenario"

Who said the driver wasn't exercising extra caution? Simply because he couldn't avoid the man illegally walking in the middle of the street in the pitch dark, doesn't mean he wasn't driving carefully. He wasn't drunk, he stayed on scene.

"The sidewalk functionally didn't exist here. And then the pedestrian was caught in a more or less impossible position. At that point, the letter of the law begins to lose relevance."

Most roads in DC didn't functionally exist then either, would it have been ok for drivers to drive on the sidewalks that had been cleared, or to drive the wrong way down a road because those lanes were clearer because "the letter of the law begins to lose relevance? Of course not so lets not be silly.

The city has ~1,500 miles of streets, or ~3,500 lane miles of street to clear, much of it uncleared at this point, let alone the ~ 3,000 miles of sidewalks and the bike lanes. It all can't be cleared simultaneously, or instantly, and considering the number of people who walk across this bridge daily in normal weather is tiny, reallocating resources to clear the sidewalks for the apparant 1 person per day who does it at 5:45am after a state emergency isn't feasible.

Schools, federal and local government had shut down. Getting around by any method was discouraged and dangerous.

Folks, the story has outrage value, I get it. An old man got hit by a car. Who isn't upset? But, that doesn't excuse him for taking his life into his own hands by deciding to walk 1/3rd of a mile in the pitch dark in the middle of the road. It's dangerous to do, regardless of time or situation and him getting hit by one of the ~40K vehicles who travels that bridge on a daily basis is no more unpredictable than me getting shot because I decided to take a (fictional example) shortcut to my buddys house and walked through an outdoor shooting range.

by Arkie on Feb 20, 2014 1:33 pm • linkreport

I thought it was ridiculous for the federal government (which many private businesses look to for guidance) to be open on Friday when most Metrobus routes were still suspending service due to uncleared roadways. I'm not familiar with Mr. Brown's route and whether taking a bus was an option for him, but it would have been my preferred option (or just stay home, which is what I did, but I realize most people don't have the option to telework).

by grumpy on Feb 20, 2014 1:38 pm • linkreport

@Arkie: your position has gotten so untenable that you're starting to argue against yourself

by Mike on Feb 20, 2014 1:38 pm • linkreport

I have dealt with the problem of snow plows pushing snow onto the sidewalk push that s**t back in the street. Until DC learns to deal with the problem properly and make the streets and sidewalks safe for everyone I will continue to do so when there is snow. I have seen people in wheelchairs trying to get around in snow and lack of attention that people give to sidewalks is down right disrespectful.

Another why do they push the snow to the center of the streets in the medians or the middle lanes.

@Mike

Most of the DC population does not drive and never has

by kk on Feb 20, 2014 1:44 pm • linkreport

And what, pray tell is untenable about any of my argument Mike?

by Arkie on Feb 20, 2014 1:52 pm • linkreport

@Arkie
First, he wasn’t going to a job. He was going to a Doctors appointment at the earliest rising doctor in the history of medicine. His options are numerous. Take a cab, ride a bus, borrow a car, get a friend to help, hitch hike, delay his doctors appointment.
Is it really that difficult for you to understand not everyone is fortunate enough to have the means to hire a cab or borrow a car on a whim? His doctor likely isn't early rising but instead Mr. Brown had to start early because his trip requires multiple connections. If you weren't so disconnected from the plight of many transit-dependent low income folks you may have thought of this. Finally rescheduling may not have been an option. Many of those employed in the service industries are required to provide doctors certification any time they miss work or risk losing their job.

by dcmike on Feb 20, 2014 2:04 pm • linkreport

@Arkie

"Yes, and I feel quite confidant that nearly half the cities bicycle riders will continue to ignore their red lights, or thousands of pedestrians will jaywalk but again, just because it is predictable, doesn't make it legal."

Quite right.

Only your original position was that illegal activities were never predictable. Which you and I both have thoroughly debunked. I'm happy we were able to agree on this.

"Who said the driver wasn't exercising extra caution? Simply because he couldn't avoid the man illegally walking in the middle of the street in the pitch dark, doesn't mean he wasn't driving carefully. He wasn't drunk, he stayed on scene."

It's fairly simple - he wasn't exercising proper caution or exhibiting reasonable judgment because he hit a pedestrian that was walking alongside the road. The bridge has streetlights and a speed limit of 30 MPH, not to mention that given the road conditions he should have been traveling much slower than that.

Unless there is something not reported in the story, such as a tire blowout causing him to lose control of his car, there are a very limited number of reasons he could have crashed into a pedestrian: the motorist could have been fiddling with his phone or radio, speeding, or driving without his lights on, or zoning out, all of which demonstrate a lack of judgment and reasonable caution. There are no mitigating circumstances here.

by JDS32 on Feb 20, 2014 2:07 pm • linkreport

Most roads in DC didn't functionally exist then either...Of course not so lets not be silly.

If I didn't think those suggestions were silly I would have suggested them.

Look, you seem to think that the onus of responsibility should be on the pedestrian and that because of his actions there's no one to blame but himself.

I disagree. I think poor maintenance of infrastructure, combined with a cultural/legal regime that does its best to ensure that drivers don't usually have to face any responsibility (staying on scene doesn't count) led to conditions that led to him being hit. If either of those things would be better, we'd be better off as a society overall.

Police hardly ever investigate fatal pedestrian collisions where you only have the word of one party. That's a clear and loud sign of inequality in our streets that priveleges drivers and normalizes reckless behavior (not just in snowy conditions either). In light of that, I'm extremely skeptical whenever someone claims that the only person who could have prevented this was the pedestrian themself.

by drumz on Feb 20, 2014 2:11 pm • linkreport

"Police hardly ever investigate fatal pedestrian collisions where you only have the word of one party. "

This is partly why the citation was so despicable. Mr. Brown will not have the opportunity to contest the citation. Mr. Brown will not have the ability to plead his case and the insurance companies will not be able to consider his side of the story. And through this action of the MPD, the driver has essentially been exonerated. This is the ultimate and costliest example of how "blaming the victim" is the most disgusting possible act of CYA.

by KG on Feb 20, 2014 2:17 pm • linkreport

@JDS32,

"he wasn't exercising proper caution or exhibiting reasonable judgment because he hit a pedestrian that was walking alongside the road."

Exhibiting reasonable judgement does not involve expecting someone to be walking illegally in the street on a bridge in the pitch dark during a snow emergency.

What DOES constitute a lack of reasonable judgement is a person who decides to walk illegally in the street on a bridge in the pitch dark during a snow emergency.

@DCMike,

"Is it really that difficult for you to understand not everyone is fortunate enough to have the means to hire a cab or borrow a car on a whim?" His doctor likely isn't early rising but instead Mr. Brown had to start early because his trip requires multiple connections. If you weren't so disconnected from the plight of many transit-dependent low income folks you may have thought of this

No, but you seem to be making this up as you go. You don't know what is "likely". For all you know, he just as likely had a car, and tons of friends willing to give him a ride, but decided he wanted to go for a walk in the brisk pre-dawn winter.

What I know is that bus fare costs $1.50, and if he was truely low income, DC Department of Human Services has a well used and established program to drive low income residents to their doctor appointments.

Regardless of his situation, he had options other than taking his life into his own hands and walking in the middle of the street in the pitch dark over a bridge after the blizzard of the year during a snow emergency when all state, federal and local governments were shut down.

by Arkie on Feb 20, 2014 2:24 pm • linkreport

Drumz,
"In light of that, I'm extremely skeptical whenever someone claims that the only person who could have prevented this was the pedestrian themself".

What about "he was walking in the street" don't you understand? The driver wasn't driving on the sidewalk when he hit this guy. Why are you so insistant that Joseph shoulder absolutely none of the the responsibility for his actions or well being?

This is why we have contributory negligence laws. He was walking in the street, which is illegal... Full Stop. You may disagree with the law which is fine, but it doesn't change the situation. The reasons he was walking in the street are completely irrelevant.

by Arkie on Feb 20, 2014 2:47 pm • linkreport

DC is responsible for clearing their publicly accessible property just like any other entity that has ownership of land in DC. 24 Hours, that's what the law says. That being said, an entire city cannot be cleared in a day. There has to be an order of priority, and the City chooses to go with opening up Emergency Routes first. Kuddos to that; we need to make sure that these predetermined routes are accessible. The second priority is Downtown and the business corridors. Again, this makes sense. When the city is shut down, revenues drop throughout the city in all markets and we all lose. Priorty number three needs to be an equal share of public access routes, for ALL forms for transportation. This is where the City start to derail and streets/automobiles are given a clear priority. Why? Quite simply, because roads bring business back to the city and business generates tax revenue. It is not a car/pedestrian battle as can be shown in the fact that DC is more than happy to ticket & tow...

According to the Washington Times (02/19,
D.C. dramatically revises number of vehicles ticketed during snow emergency), "The total number of vehicles ticketed for parking on snow emergency routes increased by nearly half, to 959 tickets issued during the 24-hour snow emergency declared last week. Of those vehicles ticketed, 234 vehicles were towed and owners charged an additional $100 tow fee.

The revisions also increase the amount of fines doled out to motorists, with more than $263,000 in fines levied for those ticketed and towed.

Towed vehicles also had to pay a $20 impound fee and $20 per day for storage if they left their car for more than 48 hours."

...Why then does the city not take into account that enforcing snow removal requirements for land owners is an opportunity to generate further revenues? Ironically the answer appears to be in the finances. It is easier to plow a street, than clear a sidewalk. It requires less time, resources, and human capital to clear a road with a truck mounted plow than it does to clear a sidewalk "by hand". The City gets more bang for its buck. Until DC is willing to invest more resources* into: awareness of snow removal requirements**, human resources to enforce these requirement, and human/mechanical resources to clear the snow (on non-motor vehicle thoroughfares) ...we, as residents and visitors to the city will continue to face this again & again.

*Funded through enforcement
**Ignorance of the Law is not an excuse (but it is reality)

by Steve on Feb 20, 2014 2:50 pm • linkreport

What about "he was walking in the street" don't you understand?...This is why we have contributory negligence laws. He was walking in the street, which is illegal... Full Stop. You may disagree with the law which is fine, but it doesn't change the situation. The reasons he was walking in the street are completely irrelevant.

The whole point of the conversation is to demonstrate why the laws need to change. Both about how DC clears snow (so it doesn't force pedestrians onto the street, which does make why he was walking in the street relevant) and how we investigate and proceed in cases where a pedestrian is struck.

I for one, don't like living in a society where walking is considered an inherently risky activity.

by drumz on Feb 20, 2014 2:54 pm • linkreport

@Arkie: you keep saying that walking in the street is illegal, except that you're wrong about that. if your premise is flawed, the rest of the argument doesn't stand well.

by Mike on Feb 20, 2014 3:16 pm • linkreport

...to continue @drumz point "about the conversation": What was implied by @drumz but nor specified, is the culture of expectations of driving behavior.

Drivers are not socially expected to stop at marked (but un-signalized) xwalks when ppl are clearly waiting to cross when its daylight and dry out. (Even at signals drivers routinely run red lights to turn R on red and hit ppl as they cross w/ the light.) Drivers are not even socially expected to slow down. Yeah there's a law to the contrary but it is Never/Rarely enforced, thus underscoring the expected social behavior of drivers not taking any responsibility for the safety of other ppl while they're driving.

This driver was driving in the socially accepted norm. that is why @Arkie/others are defending this way of driving.

This social norm is one of the modifiable conditions at the root cause of Mr. Brown's death and the death of so many other ppl who are the victims of preventable crashes. This expected social norm for driving places the movement of the car over human life. To value the movement of a car over human life is immoral.

by Tina on Feb 20, 2014 3:32 pm • linkreport

Arkie: your whole reasoning relies on the idea that pedestrians are not allowed in the roadway. Where is that law?

by SJE on Feb 20, 2014 3:38 pm • linkreport

... and if the officer had written a citation of 'reckless driving for the conditions' to the driver, which under current law probably would have been fully supported, and if there were other laws and enforcement emphasizing a drivers' responsibility to drive in a way to protect human life over the movement of ones car at all times, the social environment would change, just as it has with driving while intoxicated. Just as it has in other first world nations with large proportions of car ownership, but with much lower road death crash rates than ours.

by Tina on Feb 20, 2014 3:52 pm • linkreport

As a Sousa bridge pedestrian can I point out again that Sousa bridge is dangerous for pedestrians 24//365 even in the sidewalks? This bridge needs serious pedestrian improvements before someone else is killed.

by Mike on Feb 20, 2014 3:58 pm • linkreport

This was a very well-written and thoughtful piece that neatly stayed out of the more extremist positions and debates that showed up in the comments. I'm afraid the comments don't jibe with reality. I wrote last weekend about how hard it can be to shovel and calling for understanding of those who are forced to bear a legal burden to clear sidewalks that they never asked for or bargained on. One of the tougher aspects of that task is that even after you clear the snow, plows may come by and push a wall of ice on to the previously cleared areas. It really sucks.

Having said that, it's hard to imagine what else might be done. Plows don't pick up snow and dump them in trucks to cart away when they're busy keeping the roads clear. They can't push it forward given the volume of snow in a road. It has to be pushed to the side.

Favoring drivers over pedestrians? Undoubtedly. For good reasons. Most obviously, emergency vehicles require clear streets. That's why the main emergency routes get favored over side streets, the latter of which often become encased by the snow from the main streets in the same way sidewalks get buried. A bridge like the Souza bridge was built for cars. Six lanes versus one much smaller lane for pedestrians -- because the vehicular traffic is exponentially so much larger. I would imagine that in the typical minute each lane of traffic carries more people than walk over the bridge any day. To expect that a pedestrian lane on that bridge to get the same level of attention as the roadway is to be divorced from reality. Ideally, there ought to be separate pedestrian bridges that might be less treacherous.

As for comments about drivers needing to be more attentive somehow -- to magically perceive all dangers and obstacles even as they travel at fairly high rates of speed -- this is equally divorced from reality. Just today, I drove over a pothole on 295. I saw it only after the car ahead had cleared it. There was little or no time to adjust my line of travel and I wasn't about to swerve recklessly at that moment to avoid what appeared to be just another pothole. That would have been very dangerous. The impact when I went over it was much more jarring than I expected, as the hole was bigger than it had seemed a half-second earlier. I feel lucky not to have had a flat tire. I am also reminded of an incident a few weeks ago, when a squirrel ran out in front of my car. I did swerve to avoid it, turning in the direction it came from, but the panicked animal lurched back that way, putting itself right back in the path of my tire. Running it over became unavoidable. When you're driving, unexpected dangers can pop up becoming visible only when it is too late to avoid them.

by Fischy (Ed F.) on Feb 20, 2014 4:32 pm • linkreport

As for comments about drivers needing to be more attentive somehow -- to magically perceive all dangers and obstacles even as they travel at fairly high rates of speed -- this is equally divorced from reality.

Then slow the heck down. Especially when you're on a city street (even if it is a wide bridge) and especially at a time when the pedestrian facilities are out of order.

by drumz on Feb 20, 2014 4:40 pm • linkreport

@Fishcy Plows don't pick up snow and dump them in trucks to cart away

Some do. Its a design that can be acquired and is used in many places. But even the plow-and-push design does not require snow being pushed onto the sidewalk. One lane, 1/6th of the roadway can store the snow and its is still passable by emergency vehicles.

Expectations of prioritizing passage for walking is a social construct and as such the reality of can conform to whatever we decide.

As for comments about drivers needing to be more attentive somehow -- to magically perceive all dangers and obstacles even as they travel at fairly high rates of speed
---b/c no driver ever anywhere under any circumstances should be expected to slow down?

Just today, I drove over a pothole on 295. I saw it only after the car ahead had cleared it. There was little or no time to adjust my line of travel and I wasn't about to swerve recklessly at that moment to avoid what appeared to be just another pothole.

@Fischey -the time of prevention was way before you got to the pothole. Had you left more space between your car and the car in front of you, you would have seen the pothole in time to slow down.

Are you comparing the squirrel you ran over to human beings killed by drivers? Human beings rarely behave the way you described the squirrels' behavior. If it was a small residential street then you should expect children to do this and drive accordingly to prevent killing one.

by Tina on Feb 20, 2014 4:52 pm • linkreport

@BTA "Is there a DC Pedestrian coalition?"

Check out the DC Pedestrian Advisory Council (DCPAC): http://www.walkdcwalk.org

The DC City Council established the DCPAC in 2010. I've been to a couple of their bi-monthly meetings. They are very organized. All of the appointees are volunteers. They've done a lot to make recommendations for specific intersections and neighborhoods with high rates of pedestrian crashes.

DCPAC could make for a valuable ally for advising the mayor to improve snow removal in the future. I'm sure this is already a priority for their next meeting, but public support can only help. Again, they should be viewed as an ally and valuable resource.

by Gerald F on Feb 20, 2014 5:11 pm • linkreport

That's exactly what I was looking for, thanks!

by BTA on Feb 20, 2014 5:18 pm • linkreport

Favoring drivers over pedestrians? Undoubtedly. For good reasons. Most obviously, emergency vehicles require clear streets. That's why the main emergency routes get favored over side streets, the latter of which often become encased by the snow from the main streets in the same way sidewalks get buried. A bridge like the Souza bridge was built for cars. Six lanes versus one much smaller lane for pedestrians -- because the vehicular traffic is exponentially so much larger.

Seems to me that maybe they could plow 4 of the lanes, and use the other two for snow storage until they can get a bulldozer or something to actually move the snow off the bridge. Plenty of room for emergency vehicles and since there wasn't a ton of traffic that day (plenty of people staying home) I bet plenty of room for the car traffic too.

They could probably also use the side 2-3 feet of each lane, which would squeeze things down and make traffic go slower for the day; that would probably be a benefit given the conditions.

by MLD on Feb 20, 2014 5:18 pm • linkreport

Fischy: I accept that there are trade offs, and that we need to clear driving lanes. However, we need a better balance.

Here, the bridge is 6 lanes. There is a single pedestrian lane. Why do we clear all six driving lanes and dump it in the pedestrian lane?

Cars can drive on snow. Pedestrians have a harder time. People in wheelchairs and walkers, small childen just cannot get around at all. Where are they supposed to go?

The current policy gives harder treatment to those less able to handle it. Its is like raising taxes on the poor and disabled to make life easier for the well off.

So, what can we do?
1. Make a narrow pedestrian path, so at least there is some option.
2. Sacrifice one of the driving lanes (or make it narrower)
3. Sacrifice a parking lane
4. Enforce speed limits and prosecute drivers who kill
5. PSAs reminding drivers that when it snows they need to slow down and that pedestrians are going to be in the street.

by SJE on Feb 20, 2014 5:22 pm • linkreport

@BTA You're welcome. Their next meeting is on Monday, March 24th at 6:00pm. The location is TBD.

by Gerald F on Feb 20, 2014 5:27 pm • linkreport

@SJE, good plan!

by Tina on Feb 20, 2014 5:34 pm • linkreport

Even if sidewalks are cleared, plows make crossings at corners nearly impossible with high, uneven piles of snow and ice.

@Charlie: a potential slip and fall is nothing to be regarded casually ("wet feet or a broken arm"). I broke my leg falling on ice. Six months in a cast, surgery with general anesthetic, months of physical therapy to be able to walk without limping. No more running, jogging or vigorous dancing. I was lucky not to be crippled.

by Willow on Feb 20, 2014 7:11 pm • linkreport

@Tina -- I certainly wasn't comparing human behavior to squirrels. Just making the point that when suddenly there's something there that is wholly unexpected, it can be almost impossible to avoid. I have no idea what happened on the bridge, other than to assume that the driver certainly wasn't expecting to see a pedestrian in traffic on that bridge. It's not a residential street. It's a bridge. Built for cars to cross the river.

by Fischy (Ed F.) on Feb 20, 2014 11:44 pm • linkreport

If you want to blame the city, go ahead -- though I don't entirely agree with the criticism. In a city of infinite resources, the city would have no excuse for doing this, but choices have to be made in extreme weather in a city that doesn't have the snow-clearing resources of a more northerly city that can more reasonably spend more resources that way.

Just don't blame the driver, without knowing any more of the circumstances, as some seem inclined to do above.

by Fischy (Ed F.) on Feb 20, 2014 11:49 pm • linkreport

I also feel it might be interesting to note that my girlfriend slipped this morning on her driveway -- on some wholly invisible ice that formed overnight from melting snow either from her yard or roof. Not badly hurt, but it wasn't the first time this season, either. Ice happens in winter, no matter how effort gets put into snow-clearing of surfaces that people walk on...and for what it's worth, it probably would have been safer if we'd left snow in the driveway...at least on the sides where people walk. It's much safer to walk even on flattened snow than on ice that is invisible over the pavement.

by Fischy (Ed F.) on Feb 20, 2014 11:56 pm • linkreport

If there's a sidewalk that's a sign that it's a bridge meant to move people across the water, not just cars.


Just don't blame the driver, without knowing any more of the circumstances, as some seem inclined to do above.

At the same time one shouldn't decide that there is nothing to be done on the premise that the pedestrian was in the roadway and thus, at fault.

This story isn't about determining fault. It's about how once again, it's proven that our leaders largely don't care about safe streets. And that leads to situations like this.

by Drumz on Feb 21, 2014 6:45 am • linkreport

@Fishy -really, squirrels running into the road are "wholly unexpected" to you? People walking in the road after a big snow are "wholly unexpected" to you?

Yes, "ice happens in winter". A reasonable person expects ice, especially the morning after a heavy snowfall, and slows down.

Everything you list is expected. Is there someone reading this who has has not encountered potholes, squirrels, ice-in-winter, and people walking in the road (especially after snowfall)?

Its all expected. Drive accordingly and prevent crashes.

by Tina on Feb 21, 2014 8:15 am • linkreport

@Bossi: Furthermore, what capabilities does DC have in getting NPS to tend to their property?

The National Park Service did request volunteers to help shovel around the Mall after the snowstorm. But they are in a pretty unenviable position with a limited maintenance staff/budget and a ridiculously broad mission for maintaining random DC parks/circles as well as major roads like the GW Parkway, BW Parkway, Suitland Parkway, and Rock Creek Parkway. All of the major parkways really should be maintained by local authorities (with NPS perhaps retaining responsibility for the "greenery" surrounding it) so they can focus on their actual parks. But that's a conversation for another day.

by Tom on Feb 21, 2014 8:15 am • linkreport

The driver hit and killed someone with his/her car.

by Tina on Feb 21, 2014 8:21 am • linkreport

A few questions from someone who actually shoveled and reshoveled his walk and still could not always win the battle over the past three weeks:
1) If you want draconian laws on clearing sidewalks -- rather than just mere social pressure -- what is the timeframe and what are the standards for "clear"? Is a homeowner culpable when it snows a lot in the day and he/she gets home at 9 pm? When it melts in the day and freezes on a clear sidewalk into black ice at night? When he/she is 70 years old and the two feet of snow-slush outsides weighs 4 kg a shovel-full?
2. Since public sidewalks are in part a public good, why shouldn't we consider pedestrians being asked/required to take part in the clearing?
3. When snow is pushed into great piles on a neighborhood corner -- a huge piece of sidewalk real estate which is often where people are forced out onto the street -- who should be responsible for that extra task? Who should be fined for not clearing it?
4. In a big snowstorm, who are you going to ask to go around citing or even arresting non-shovelers when there is already enough burden on public services and in fact people are asked not to go to work?

by polo on Feb 21, 2014 8:56 am • linkreport

This is a tough one. But it does appear that the next time such a storm occurs, snow on this bridge should be pushed towards the two center lanes (which would then be cleared as time and resources allow). At the same time, a small bobcat-type sidewalk clearing maching should clear the two pedestrian/bike paths, perhaps by dumping the snow directly into the river. This would keep the bridge open for all uses from the start, but would expand the cleared general purpose lanes from 2 to 3 as soon as possible.

Dump trucks can be used to move snow off a bridge. Perhaps there's a plow that could throw snow from the GP lanes into the river? Since there are a number of such bridges in the area, it would be worth it to purchase these vehicles.

by DaveG on Feb 21, 2014 8:56 am • linkreport

When the city decides to make the sidewalks impassable by plowing snow from the roadway on multi-lane bridges, they could/should mark off the right-most lanes in each direction with cones and designate their use for bicycles and pedestrians until the sidewalks are passable.

by Keith on Feb 21, 2014 8:57 am • linkreport

@Keith -that is a very good and simple idea; easiest to achieve.

by Tina on Feb 21, 2014 9:18 am • linkreport

For the public good, it is each property owner's responsibility to clear snow off their own walks, period.

If one is staying home from work due to snow, then they have more time to clear their walks.

by DaveG on Feb 21, 2014 9:32 am • linkreport

Yes -- dump the snow over the bridge directly into the river. Nothing lives in that river, right -- so, we won't worry about crushing living things?

by Fischy (Ed F.) on Feb 21, 2014 10:00 am • linkreport

I'm touched by the concern for living things, unless they're humans not in a car.

by Mike on Feb 21, 2014 10:05 am • linkreport

Polo: enforcing a law that people should clear sidewalks, on pain of fine, does not make it draconian. You can get a more serious fine for parking in the wrong place at the wrong time, while the current sidewalk clearing laws are not enforced at all.

by SJE on Feb 21, 2014 10:13 am • linkreport

Its not recommended to dump snow into bodies of water for ecological reasons.

What's wrong with @Keiths suggestion?

by Tina on Feb 21, 2014 10:14 am • linkreport

Evidence suggests DC has no interest in enforcing the law or even clearing its own sidewalks.

Several days after the earlier storm, I dutifully reported several uncleared sidewalks to 311, including the sidewalks surrounding the T Street Park. The response on all was that it was private property and the city had no enforcement authority. Including the park, which is the ONLY thing on the entire block and identified as city property.

I also wrote to the Mayor's Office about this issue, but have yet to receive any response or acknowledgement. I hope this man's family sues the city, because it's the only chance of getting the District to actually care about the safety of its pedestrians and enforce the laws.

by Adam F on Feb 21, 2014 11:42 am • linkreport

What's the problem with dumping snow directly into a river?

by DaveG on Feb 21, 2014 2:18 pm • linkreport

Why exactly do we plow????? In the city, where the speed limit is SUPPOSED TO BE 25 mph, you should be able to come to complete stop on packed snow. Only roads on hills, and major through-fairs should be completely plowed, and anywhere where speeds are above 25mph.

But don't expect the government to abide by the laws they create. they have no issue ticketing owners, and the little guy, while ignoring their own rules.

by dc lifer on Feb 21, 2014 2:32 pm • linkreport

What's the problem with dumping snow directly into a river?

Uhh there are a bunch of laws against it so your town doesn't just dump oil and salt-laden snow into a waterway all at once? Melting at least means it might be diluted by more precipitation or caught up in filtering through the ground.

Clean Water Act (and whatever its equivalent for rivers/lakes is).

by MLD on Feb 21, 2014 3:29 pm • linkreport

I was talking about dumping snow from the sidewalk into the river. Are you saying there's always oil and salt on the PA Ave. Bridge sidewalk? And that it would't run off into the river anyway?

by DaveG on Feb 21, 2014 3:38 pm • linkreport

In general dumping plow snow into a river introduces pollutants, overburdens the river, and can crush things under the snow. In the case of a sidewalk on a bridge, I don't think any of that is relevant. (The ice will float on the deep water, and the bridge drains directly into the river anyway.)

by Mike on Feb 21, 2014 3:49 pm • linkreport

I totally understand not dumping snow in the river generally but in the case its going to melt and run off anyway... seems a bit overreactive.

by BTA on Feb 21, 2014 3:55 pm • linkreport

I'm not going to get into a logical debate about it. Federal law forbids dumping snow into waterways and has for 30+ years. It can't be official policy.

http://denr.sd.gov/dfta/wp/snow.aspx (snow plowed from roads is as contaminating as raw sewage)
http://thebeatnews.org/thoughts/2011/02/14/dumping-snow-in-housatonic/

And no, it isn't just going to do the same thing when it melts. Some of the pollution will stay on the road, some will eventually run off into drains where it will be treated, some of it will run into soiled areas and be filtered through the soil.

I dunno, maybe you guys aren't from places where it snowed a lot - every little town used to just plow their snow straight into the rivers back in the 60s and it was BAD for the rivers!

In the case of a sidewalk on a bridge, I don't think any of that is relevant.

We are talking about how to avoid blocking the sidewalk. Right now the snow plowed from the bridge is "stored" on the sidewalk - you'd have to store it somewhere else to keep the sidewalk clean. So we're talking about more than just the snow covering the sidewalk.

by MLD on Feb 21, 2014 4:31 pm • linkreport

Right unless one wants to build bridge drains that connect to the sewer system...somehow I don't see that happening...

As for clearing the bridge itself, another option is to have three plows and a sidewalk bobcat (like I described in my earlier comment) all clear the bridge at the same time. The inside plow would be in front, followed closely by the plow in the next lane, and so on, with the sidwalk bobcat going last. This would remove most of the snow from the bridge, more or less at the same time.

by DaveG on Feb 21, 2014 4:38 pm • linkreport

Great, I think that is a great idea, as is just using one of the general traffic lanes temporarily until they can bulldoze/dump truck the snow elsewhere (RFK parking lots).

by MLD on Feb 21, 2014 4:40 pm • linkreport

Sorry I meant to say that the plows and bobcat would be moving the snow towards the outside edge of the bridge as they make their pass.

by DaveG on Feb 21, 2014 4:42 pm • linkreport

Where they ultimately put the snow is less important than keeping access to those who are not driving cars. If they do not maintain a viable non-car network they will end with people driving everywhere, or with pedestrians etc taking over the road. None of that is good for current drivers.

by SJE on Feb 21, 2014 5:33 pm • linkreport

@keith - When the city decides to make the sidewalks impassable by plowing snow from the roadway on multi-lane bridges, they could/should mark off the right-most lanes in each direction with cones and designate their use for bicycles and pedestrians until the sidewalks are passable.

This sounds like the most practical and cost efficient way for DDOT to protect the rights of all travelers irrespective of their mode of transportation.

by dc cyclologist on Feb 21, 2014 11:37 pm • linkreport

In any season, sometimes I see people walking in the street when the adjacent sidewalks are perfectly clear, or so they seem from my windshield perspective. Two questions: 1. By law, must pedestrians always use the sidewalk when it's available? 2. Why would anyone NOT use the sidewalk when it's available and clear of obstructions such as uncleared snow, ice, toys, trash, etc?

by DaveG on Feb 25, 2014 2:27 am • linkreport

Bottom line is that pedestrians and cyclist are still the bottom of the rung in the eyes of DC. Even though this city claims to be green and progressive, its actions speak louder than its words. All they need to do is enforce the rules already on the books, by forcing everyone to clean off their sidewalks. But they don't, and don't seem to care. Just look at the bike lanes they provide us. Would you actually let your child cycle in a bike lane between parked cars and fast moving traffic???? Why don't we have ANY pedestrian streets in DC???

The car remains king and will remain for a while. It will take time to change people's mindset.

by dclifer on Feb 25, 2014 7:28 am • linkreport

Why would anyone NOT use the sidewalk when it's available and clear of obstructions

For safety reasons to avoid getting jumped. Walking in the street is often suggested as a personal safety technique.

Sometimes the person is about to cross the street, sees your car and continues walking in the street until you pass.

The point is, people are OFTEN seen walking in the road. Drivers can and should expect it, accept this reality w/o getting pissed off and drive in a manner to avoid killing people with their cars.

by Tina on Feb 25, 2014 8:56 am • linkreport

Hmm interesting perspective Tina. I've noticed it mostly in "rougher" neighborhoods, but I never thought of it as an intentional safety tactic. But that point is an aside, the point here is that pedestrian access was purposefully blocked in order to provide better vehicle circulation which is blatantly discriminatory.

by BTA on Feb 25, 2014 9:38 am • linkreport

But, but...if you're a libertarian clearing the sidewalk is voluntary!!

Seriously, since it is legal to walk in the street (which obviously should be done only as a last resort) that means that Mr. Brown is off the hook, legally speaking, and the driver that hit him is at fault.

by DaveG on Feb 25, 2014 10:59 am • linkreport

Police often don't know the laws they try to enforce. You often see bicycles given tickets after they were hit by cars who were clearly at fault. Same with motorcycles. Just give the ticket to the guy who is in the ambulance...

by dclifer on Feb 25, 2014 11:13 am • linkreport

Technically, it may be illegal (meaning contrary to a DDOT regulation) to walk in the roadway if there's a sidewalk -- one of DDOT's regulations, 18 DCMR 2305.2, says, "Where sidewalks are provided, it shall be unlawful for any pedestrian to walk along and upon an adjacent roadway." Applying this reg to Mr. Brown's walk would be bizarre -- sidewalks weren't "provided" for him to use; DC affirmatively chose to deprive Mr. Brown of his right to use a sidewalk by making the sidewalk unusable for the sake of drivers. Even applying this reg more generally (when sidewalks are both "provided" and available to use) would be questionable, unless it is applied to one of the most common reasons people walk into the street -- to get to the driver's side of their cars (I have yet to see people intent on driving consistently crawl in through the passenger side which is, technically, what this reg would require). And, as Tina says, it isn't uncommon for people to walk in the street because they feel safer from (other forms of) crime when they do that. It's common for police to recommend that people walk in "well-lighted" areas (e.g. 3d bullet on http://mpdc.dc.gov/sites/default/files/dc/sites/mpdc/publication/attachments/Robbery%20Detail%20Alert%20Card.pdf) and often the street has the much better lighting than the sidewalk.

by Eileen on Feb 25, 2014 11:18 am • linkreport

Seems to me the city is money hungry & are more concerned with prestige & status instead of concern for the residents of DC who was born & raised here; who helped build this city! Most people here now that you are allowing to move in & take over do not know the heart of DC & could not possibly love our city as we have! No concern for the Ederly , our kids yoju send them to school in bad weather & do not reprimand residents for not shoveling their walks to make it safe for them to do so! Isn't two kids beening hit by cars enough? What is it gonna take? Those of you who sit at home and make these decisions need Jesus!

by JoJo on Mar 4, 2014 9:44 am • linkreport

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