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DDOT reminding property owners to shovel sidewalks

As DC prepares for some snow tonight, DDOT and DPW are taking clear steps to remind property owners that they are legally required to shovel sidewalks.

From the press release:

There may also be enough snow to shovel and residents and businesses are reminded they should be prepared to clear the walkways adjacent to their properties, as required by District law. To encourage compliance, DDOT and DPW are launching a public awareness campaign called "Is your sidewalk shoveled?" The campaign's simple message is driven home on a poster by the image of a mother pushing a baby stroller in the street adjacent to a snow covered sidewalk.

"It is our responsibility to make sure the roadways are treated, plowed and passable," said DDOT's Interim Director Terry Bellamy, "But many people moving around the city are on foot, and we need every property owner to pitch in to ensure the sidewalks are as safe and clear as the streets."

The two agencies will promote the campaign on their web and social media sites and make the information and materials available to local residents, businesses, BIDs, bloggers and media outlets to help spread the message. DDOT also plans to post the campaign poster on bus shelters in the city later this winter.

This is an important step. At last night's meeting of the Pedestrian Advisory Council, DDOT's George Branyan noted that during last year's storms, many business owners expressed surprise when he told them the law requires shoveling sidewalks.

Awareness is one of several steps necessary to ensure people can navigate sidewalks on foot. DC also needs fines for violators, and resources to help people unable to shovel, like businesses willing to do it for a fee and volunteer help for poorer and elderly residents or nonprofits. DDOT has started encouraging people to form neighborhood shoveling teams like we did last year; organizing these more formally would be a great step for ANCs to take.

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


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Back in high school I tested the concept of pouring gasoline on the snow & tossing in a lighter. Worked like a charm. Not highly recommended near federal buildings.

by Bossi on Jan 11, 2011 12:43 pm • linkreport

Who are we supposed to call if someone doesn't shovel their walks? I tried calling 311 last month when Mt. Vernon Square (which I think is government-owned; not sure) was unshoveled. They said they couldn't help me because snow-shoveling complaints go to the DC Department of Consumer Regulatory Affairs, which was closed for the weekend when I called at 6pm on a Friday. Considering that impassible walks are a weather-related emergency situation, I suspect that my 311 operator was talking nonsense, but I can't be sure.

by tom veil on Jan 11, 2011 12:48 pm • linkreport

While it's a nice ad campaign, ultimately it's toothless since DDOT and DPW currently can't issue fines in any sort of timely and reasonable manner (they have to sue the person in court for something like $25).

Here's a question: After last year's blizzards, why didn't Cheh and Wells introduce a bill to fix the solution? Why did they wait an ENTIRE YEAR to introduce a fixer bill?

And Mt. Vernon Square if federally owned; which means NPS has the responsibility for cleaning the sidewalks. However, they never do that and the city can't issue fines to the Feds.

by Fritz on Jan 11, 2011 1:07 pm • linkreport

Cheh and Wells did introduce a bill, in December 2009; it had a hearing in February 2010, but never had a markup. With Wells chairing the committee, he is likely to move this bill.

DC officials say they have been working with NPS to try to get them to shovel their sidewalks.

by David Alpert on Jan 11, 2011 1:14 pm • linkreport

Also a good reminder: if your property is at a street corner, keep the ADA compliance cut-throughs clear to the street, and keep them well gritted/salted.

by Rudi on Jan 11, 2011 1:18 pm • linkreport

Oops. They must have grabbed that photo from my blog, and it's a Boston Globe photo, which I used in an entry on 1/31/2009. Good to know they are reading it.

by Richard Layman on Jan 11, 2011 1:20 pm • linkreport


It's always entertaining to see where one's photos end up... I've made it into a couple DDOT and WMATA reports :D

by Bossi on Jan 11, 2011 1:25 pm • linkreport

@David A: Thanks for the info; didn't realize it had been previously introduced. I wonder then why Graham didn't move the bill out of his committee.

by Fritz on Jan 11, 2011 1:26 pm • linkreport

Bossi -- last Fiscal Year I worked in Baltimore County. I was talking with the project manager for BRAC planning and she showed me one of the reports turned in by the consultants, and it included one of my photos of a Circulator bus stop on Massachusetts Ave. NW. So yep, it is funny. But at least I make clear in my blog (at least I think I do) when I use other photos (under my expansive definition of fair use).

by Richard Layman on Jan 11, 2011 1:29 pm • linkreport

Graham didn't move the bill out of committee because he hates pedestrians (he isn't one so why should he care?).

Seriously, I suspect that he got strong-armed by some business people/developers about what a hardship this would be on them. Pretty much every other Northeast city has enforceable fines (usually in the $100 range and tickets) on the books to shovel sidewalks.

It never ceases to amaze me about how many practical, common sense things other places do that we simply don't do here.

by Ward One Resident on Jan 11, 2011 2:23 pm • linkreport

"DDOT's George Branyan noted that during last year's storms, many business owners expressed surprise when he told them the law requires shoveling sidewalks.": Why would you not shovel? You make it even more difficult for your customers to patronize you! What a freakin no-brainer if you own a business!

by thump on Jan 11, 2011 2:24 pm • linkreport

So Bossi and Richard - How do you feel about having your own copyrights violated?

by ah on Jan 11, 2011 2:46 pm • linkreport

I license under cc, so no qualms from me.

by Bossi on Jan 11, 2011 2:47 pm • linkreport

Why isn't this the city's responsibility? Last I checked, sidewalks are public property. Moreover, older and/or infirm individuals are not capable of shoveling a significant amount of snow, and businesses that are closed due to snow won't have employees available to clear the walks.

by mw on Jan 11, 2011 2:49 pm • linkreport

Just as an fyi, we have obtained the rights to use the photo. I think it's a great image that really drives home how important it is that everyone do their part to clear the sidewalks around their property. Because if you don't then people will walk in the streets and that can be extremely dangerous.

by John Lisle on Jan 11, 2011 3:05 pm • linkreport

Very effective poster.

DDOT should do one of these posters with a FedEx truck blocking a contraflow bike lane, and a mother forced into traffic with a child in a kid's seat behind her.

by oboe on Jan 11, 2011 3:07 pm • linkreport


Have you ever lived in an area that gets snow? It is almost always the property owner's responsibility to clear snow.

by Alex B. on Jan 11, 2011 3:07 pm • linkreport


We have been over this in every single thread we've had about snow issues/shoveling. Shoveling your own sidewalk is the norm in every single city where it snows. If you think for more than 30 seconds about the logistics of trying to organize workers to shovel/snowblow sidewalks across an entire city vs. requiring each homeowner arrange to deal with it themselves you might realize why everyone does it this way.

Have you people ever even shoveled your own walk? It doesn't take very long. "But the old people!" Here's an idea, be a good neighbor and shovel your elderly neighbor's walk too!

by MLD on Jan 11, 2011 3:15 pm • linkreport


Continuing Alex B's comment- if you want to pay plenty higher taxes to have DDOT staff on the streets every snowstorm, with the complaints of "Why are they shoveling; there's only an inch!" or "Way to drop the ball- my sidewalk hasn't been shoveled yet!", then let's go ahead and have DDOT shovel for us.

Other than that, sometimes we snow belt populations (well... DC is fringe snow belt) need to remember that each and every one of us constitute the "public" that maintains our public right-of-way. If your neighbor isn't physically capable; offer to do it for them... or pay a kid on your block a couple bucks to do yours. I used to make great money as a kid; now I just do my whole block for free despite living in an apartment. It's a great chance to meet the neighbors.

by Bossi on Jan 11, 2011 3:15 pm • linkreport

Here's a nicer one even from the Washington Post, on Franklin Street NE... and an instance of my point that DC needs to develop a wider perspective on snow clearance, to encompass pedestrians and bicyclists


Hopefully, I won't be pressed to write a similar article within the next couple months...

I like this shot of a resident clearing a nearby crosswalk, because he felt the need:


This crosswalk stayed under-cleared for more than one week, and it's a couple hundred feet from the Takoma Metro:


by Richard Layman on Jan 11, 2011 3:20 pm • linkreport

yes, I have shoveled snow, quite a bitlast year in fact. I can easily shovel snow as I'm an adult and in decent shape. Others aren't as lucky, and many elderly or invalid persons lack the strength or ability to walk outside and ask someone else to do it for them. And no one so far has explained how a business that is closed due to a snow emergency like the one we had a year ago can reasonably be expected to shovel the walk outside of their premises. Finally, just b/c other cities require residents to clean up those cities public property doesn't justify that policy. At the very least, the city should use its discretion in imposing fines (assuming that it ever grants itself the ability to do so).

by mw on Jan 11, 2011 3:35 pm • linkreport

The policy is justified because there is a long history of property owners being responsible for some basic maintenance of the public space their property adjoins. In DC, many front lawns are actually in public space. In most cities, the little grass median between the sidewalk and the street is also public space, yet the responsibility of the property owner to maintain.

As noted, this is the way it's done because there is no realistic, plausible alternative.

I don't see the elderly being a problem - this is only an issue in DC because we get snow so infrequently. Other snow cities have the exact same basic laws, and they get by just fine. I can't even count how many times I shoveled the walk for my elderly neighbor when I was a kid growing up in Minnesota, or how many times I shoveled my out-of-town neighbor's sidewalk in Michigan when they were on vacation. It's just part of the culture, like asking your neighbor to get your mail for you while you're out of town for a week.

Businesses rarely have a problem shoveling because businesses rarely close for modest amounts of snow. This is just part of doing business. Again, it's a cultural thing - people deal with it. Here, people don't know how to deal with it. They assume that there must be some huge apparatus of government and technology that clears the sidewalks, but the reality is that most of the sidewalk work is just a little elbow grease from your fellow citizens and employees.

by Alex B. on Jan 11, 2011 3:47 pm • linkreport

fair enough. I'll admit to coming to DC from a non-snow culture. if this policy works in other cities, then that's good enough for me. That being said, I'm still reluctant to endorse large fines for failing to clear walks during actual snow emergencies. the business problem is an issue if the owners and employees can't actually get to the location, which I think was the case for a lot of businesses in Feb of 09. Again, discretion in terms of who to fine and the amounts is important.

by mw on Jan 11, 2011 4:00 pm • linkreport


Srsly? How did my home town manage to get almost every sidewalk cleared every time it snowed? I know for a fact that we had elderly and handicapped people.

When you see a $1M+ home with a BMW parked in the driveway,and the sidewalk is untouched,that's pure laziness/indifference.

by dynaryder on Jan 11, 2011 4:17 pm • linkreport

@mw - regrading businesses getting walks shoveled, and to further Alex Bs example of shoveling for neighbors in Minnesota -in Michigan I had a teen-ager job to shovel the walk of the business down the street in evenings/early mornings/weekends when they weren't there. My condo bldg in DC, which is something like a business or non-profit org, hires someone to shovel snow.

Business or private (or NPS) the sidewalks on the property you inhabit are your responsibility. Its not that much of a mind stretch.

by Tina on Jan 11, 2011 4:18 pm • linkreport

I don't think NPS owns Mt. Vernon Square. I have an NPS map (I'd provide a link, but I forget where I found it online) that shows all the NPS properties in DC, and Mt. Vernon Square doesn't appear to be one of them. It surely isn't under the Architect of the Capitol. It's probably city property, and there ought to be some way to look that up.

by Herschel on Jan 11, 2011 4:41 pm • linkreport

It may be worth highlighting that last February was a pretty exemplary snowstorm, even by definitions of those from further north. Much of the time DC just gets a couple inches each season; nothing too profound. When a couple feet of snow comes down at once, however, it's understandable (though certainly not pleasant) for both governments & individuals to become quite overwhelmed.

by Bossi on Jan 11, 2011 4:41 pm • linkreport

It turns out that the Park Service - which is responsible for the squares, circles, and parks throughout the city - does not have to clear the sidewalks. Metro doesn't have to clear the sidewalks at their bus stops. This means that a lot of bus stops become unusable when there's snow.

by Todd on Jan 12, 2011 9:14 am • linkreport

NPS was the owner of Mount Vernon Square until reasonably recently. Probably when DC got a bunch of federally owned lands (such as Eastern Market Metro Plaza), this parcel was also transferred to DC control. It can be looked up if you go to the surveyor's office, and look at the plat. It will show the particulars of the transfer of control. The Historical Society should be maintaining the sidewalks there if it snows.

Bossi -- wrt the last year's snowstorms, what's interesting isn't that it was a lot, but how it illustrated various gaps in approaches to what I prefer to term maintenance of way, that in respect to pedestrians and transit users, as well as bicyclists, there is no systematic plan and approach. If you tout your community's "walkability" or the centrality of transit, then you need to ensure that maintenance of way procedures include provisions for pedestrians and bicyclists, and special considerations for transit.

Of course, pedestrian and bike plans in places like Minneapolis have such provisions, even if in other places where snow is common, such provisions, plans, and procedures are not common.

The point is to adapt your management and operational planning to address evident gaps. Hence, the entries regarding snow clearance that I wrote in 2009 or 2010, and in the Western Baltimore County Pedestrian and Bicycle Access Plan that I wrote, I also put in language about snow clearance, both with regard to pedestrians/sidewalks and for trails in urban areas that are used for transportation purposes.

by Richard Layman on Jan 12, 2011 9:17 am • linkreport


Plans for snow clearance are great, but this is still a fundamentally cultural issue. People will not follow the plan if they never have to deal with it - since snow is relatively infrequent, and most of the snow events in DC are like the ones we just had (minor inconveniences where a lack of shoveling isn't a huge deal), there's no mechanism to actually implement the plan.

To use a sports analogy, it doesn't matter if your team has the greatest strategy and tactics for how to win the game, if you never practice, you're probably not going to be very good. Snow cities, with or without a superior plan, do better with snow because they get a lot of practice.

by Alex B. on Jan 12, 2011 9:33 am • linkreport

Snow in the DC region is not infrequent. It happens every year. I moved to DC in Sept. 1987. On Veterans Day (mid-November), it snowed 12-14 inches. There are major storms every season, where the snow accumulation remains due to the temperature. Snow in Atlanta, now that's infrequent.

As far as what I think "the plan" should be, read my piece on maintenance of way from last year. If the city puts in procedures to remove snow from walkways on publicly owned properties, including parks, focuses on transit stops and stations, and comes up with a practice that can be implemented in commercial districts without BIDs, then 3/4 of the battle would be done.

The issue isn't perfection--every square foot of sidewalk being cleared. The issue is interdicting the most serious problems, in the areas where people are most likely to walk (or bike) or need to be accommodated to get to transit.

by Richard Layman on Jan 12, 2011 9:52 am • linkreport

I'm sorry Richard, but snow here in DC is very infrequent. The places that have good snow culture get various dustings of snow (the levels that would require you to go out and shovel) every week.

So far this winter, I count 2 total snow events - today's, and the dusting we got around Christmas. That's it.

Cities in the Midwest get far more snow, and they get snow events more often (large dumps of snow in the Midwest are quite rare, actually - instead of one storm dumping 20 inches, they will get 5 storms over the course of two weeks that each bring 4 inches).

I'm all for your plans for the institutional level - getting cooperation amongst various public sector groups that are responsible for parks, bridges, etc. However, the bulk of the sidewalks in the District will have to be cleared by citizens who live next to those sidewalks, and that kind of speedy and efficient removal of snow requires a strong snow culture and lots of practice.

by Alex B. on Jan 12, 2011 10:02 am • linkreport

Having grown up in Michigan I agree heartily w/ Alex B that the DC area gets little snow and thus doesn't have practice with "snow culture". I also agree w/ RL that there are enough events that snow removal for "maintaining way" is an issue once a year (avg.). Given these combined conditions perhaps the institutional plans do need to be stronger here where the endemic snow culture is weak. This includes many more public reminders that "you are responsible for your walk" than is needed around the Great Lakes. There is evidence of this need on this thread with mw assuming/asserting that the govt. should be removing snow from sidewalks and questioning the ability of businesses to do it adequately. (they can.)

by Tina on Jan 12, 2011 11:01 am • linkreport

FWIW, I grew up in Michigan and lived there for 27 years. I am familiar with "snow culture"... and the lack thereof. Tina's reply encompasses my sense about the issue. Yes, people don't know as much about snow here, but that doesn't mean throw up your hands, and remedial steps-marketing are often necessary.

by Richard Layman on Jan 12, 2011 2:31 pm • linkreport

I don't know where I said "throw up your hands," I think DDOT's little advertisement here was a great first step.

Still, the key is building that culture up and constantly reminding people what their duties are.

Even last winter, when we had record snowfall, we still only had 4 real snow events. This handy-dandy chart from a company that sells road salt and de-icer notes the average number of significant snow events in various snow-belt cities:

They define a snow event as a 24 hour period with at least one inch of accumulated snow - i.e. a ballpark figure for what's required to bring the plows out. All of those major snowbelt cities are in the double digits of events per winter. DC is probably under (on average) the lowest city on that list, St. Louis.

by Alex B. on Jan 12, 2011 3:15 pm • linkreport

While it is certainly technically and organizationally possible to make sidewalk snow clearance a governmental function, and it is a public way, we don't because:

A)Values: We don't value sidewalks as much as roads.

B)Geography: We don't get *nearly* enough snow to justify maintaining the kind of organizational agility required of a sidewalk snow clearing employment schedule.

C)Pragmatism: It's just easiest to leave it to landowners' self-interest. As a temporary labor force, they'll work cheaper and more thoroughly than anything government can put together themselves. It's not very *good* in dense areas, but then again, see A).

D)Politics: Nobody cares enough to make it politically important. From a poli-sci standpoint, participation campaigns are designed not to address a problem so much as to defuse campaigns for effective regulation of the problem by injecting the issue with personal responsibility & ethics infighting. This one is particularly potent because each person will personally address their exposure to the problem before thinking about lobbying for change, and the problem fixes itself a few days later when everything melts.

Fines are not an effective countermeasure, they are purely a message in furtherance of a public participation campaign.

by Squalish on Jan 13, 2011 12:09 am • linkreport

I agree with Squalish's comment. My point is that certain areas--not every inch of sidewalk--should be prioritized for snow clearance, given their impact on people's ability and need to walk to get to activity centers, to transit, etc.

WRT biking, that means similarly that highly used bike infrastructure (trails, cycletracks, etc.) should also be cleared, not unlike Montreal's reseau blanc.

But yes, the amount of snow in the region is minimal comparatively speaking, and government agencies pressed with big agendas and limited budgets are not likely to get to this in a systematic fashion.

by Richard Layman on Jan 14, 2011 10:11 am • linkreport

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