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Bridge sidewalks need to be plowing priority

The commute on Wednesday for drivers and bus riders was terrible, but once plowing got going, DDOT cleared roads quite efficiently. I was disappointed, however, to still see sidewalks on bridges not among DDOT's snow clearing priorities.

Photo by the author.

By morning, my small residential road was completely clear, as were all roads along the walk to the Metro. Most property owners, too, got snow and ice out of the sidewalks, though one commercial building on a corner annoyingly cleared their front sidewalk but not the side.

Metro seemed to have cleared all sidewalks right around the Q Street entrance to Dupont Circle station, but I was disappointed to find the sidewalks where Q crosses the Connecticut Avenue underpass to be a tightly-packed sheet of ice. As of this morning, it was still not cleared.

Since the abutting property is a road, this sidewalk is DDOT's DPW's responsibility. After the last snow, we heard talk about how DDOT was going to make sure sidewalks on bridges were part of its snow-clearing plan, but perhaps that part of the plan isn't entirely worked out yet.

Update: DDOT officials point out that DDOT and DPW split up the bridge responsibilities, and this one is on DPW. I'm trying to get a list of who is responsible for which bridges.

Many corners also still had piled-up snow. DDOT officials previously said they were planning to train plow drivers to avoid pushing snow into the corners and blocking the curb ramps.

Speaking of snow removal, the DC Council is having a hearing on the bill to fix the fines for property owners who don't clear snow. How well did building owners do at shoveling, especially large commercial ones like apartment buildings and parking lots? What about the National Park Service and other federal properties?

DDOT tweeted that they just plowed the 15th Street bike lane this morning. Many cyclists have started to depend on this lane, so it would be nice to see it also a priority, though cyclists can also use the regular roads and fewer ride in the cold weather. Pedestrians, however, have to walk to the Metro and bus stops, and having safe and passable sidewalks is absolutely critical.

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


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I'd like to thank whoever took the time to shovel at least some bus stops on H Street. I understand WMATA doesn't do it so I guess it was the property owners. Or perhaps the shoveling fairy?

by Kate on Jan 28, 2011 12:35 pm • linkreport

I agree. I was driving across Chain Bridge this morning and saw a poor bicycle commuter braving the sidewalk, which looked pretty treacherous. The bridge itself (car lanes) was fine; but the sides were atrocious. I hope he was OK.

by Ed Hoover on Jan 28, 2011 12:39 pm • linkreport

In a world of shrinking budgets, there's going to be more and more people concerned that their priorities aren't the city's priorities anymore.

by Fritz on Jan 28, 2011 12:41 pm • linkreport

Jaspy brought up this point a few days ago Re: Key Bridge.

What is the unemployment rate in DC? Seems like you could find a few people to work for 2 days or give them some food.

by charlie on Jan 28, 2011 12:42 pm • linkreport

I have seen a lot of people walking in the middle of busy streets because the sidewalk is not plowed. as a driver, this is annoying, but more importantly makes me very concerned that someone will be hurt or killed. its not a convenience thing, but a serious safety concern. People need to buy some boots and not be afraid to walk through the snow, but it is also the city's responsibility to do what they can to clear sidewalks especially on busy roads and bridges. I agree with charlie that this could be a temporary employment opportunity.

by fivepercentyak on Jan 28, 2011 1:01 pm • linkreport

@ Charlie: Yep. DDOT said Key Bridge is not their jurisdiction, and sent me to NHTSA, who told me I needed to contact their Region 3.

I've also whined to Arlington about Key Bridge (which is for a small part in Arlington as well). And I told Arlington that the Marriott does not comply with the city ordinance about side-walk snow removal.

by Jasper on Jan 28, 2011 1:06 pm • linkreport

The Glover Bridge (Mass Ave over Rock Creek) was similarly uncleared as of today. Not sure about the Taft or Ellington Bridges, which get considerably more foot traffic (since the Woodley metro is at one end).

I get that resources are scarce, but clearing these sidewalks really is important. Of the 3 bridges mentioned above, I believe only the Ellington has a bike lane (which could be plowed as part of the normal street plowing). Otherwise, pedestrians are left to navigate a treacherous, icy, bumpy path. Yes, most able-bodied people can make it across, albeit very slowly. But the consequences of a fall on the sidewalk on the Glover or Taft bridges are pretty severe -- either you fall off a high curb into heavily-trafficked lanes of always-speeding cars, or you fall into a low railing (and hopefully not over it, as that would entail a 100+' drop).

by Paula Product on Jan 28, 2011 1:12 pm • linkreport

I hate to sound all 'small governmenty' on this but at some point it may take groups of individuals who care about dangerous areas to work together to shovel sidewalks and other areas of public space.

by Randall M. on Jan 28, 2011 1:29 pm • linkreport

@Randall -- the same can be said for plowing streets - where does it end? The fact of the matter is that thousands of people depend on sidewalks to get to stores, work, home, and other destinations, and it's fair to treat these areas as a shared responsibility.

Going further, it might very well be that more district residents use sidewalks than roads, particularly during snow emergencies. Since DC residents pay the taxes that support snow removal in the district, one can argue that high-use sidewalk areas like the CT Ave example cited above should receive higher priority than even the high-travel commuter corridors. That's not really a defensible policy, of course, but it might suggest a reconsideration of the real effects of a pop-economics approach to the problem.

by reader on Jan 28, 2011 1:46 pm • linkreport

You're right Randall - it may be up to private individuals to take care of this because government isn't. But DC government spends a truckload of clearing the roads, so it'd be nice if they'd approach particularly critical bits of sidewalk similarly.

by Paula Product on Jan 28, 2011 1:47 pm • linkreport

Now we just need the Pennsylvania Ave bike lanes too! Here's what it looked like this morning:

by Just161 on Jan 28, 2011 1:48 pm • linkreport

@ Paula: it may be up to private individuals to take care of this

So tell me Paula, which private individuals should clear the bridges in DC? Key Bridge, Memorial Bridge, Dumbarton Bridge, etc? Surely you are not suggesting that commuting walkers and bikers take their shovels home in the bus, in metro and on their bikes to shovel snow of a bridge? And if you are suggesting that, why would walkers and bikers have to do that, but car drivers not?

by Jasper on Jan 28, 2011 1:58 pm • linkreport

Re: Pedestrians walking in the street due to snow on the sidewalk.

If I see a pedestrian walking in the street they had better be able to keep up with traffic. And they need a license and insurance and a license plate. They walk around like they own the street. I mean, it's just rude and arrogant to hold up traffic like that. Don't they know I have someplace to be. And they better follow all the rules of the road. No running stop lights or stop signs or turning without signaling. Damn scofflaw pedestrians. A bunch of Usain Bolt-wannabes with their ridiculous shoes. ROADS are for cars!

by David C on Jan 28, 2011 2:06 pm • linkreport

The bridge on 7th St SW crossing over the SE/SW freeway is another one that rarely gets cleared quickly, even though it's one of the few ways for pedestrians to cross from the residential section south of the freeway to the office district north of it. The owners on either side do a good job of clearing the approaches, but the city consistently neglects to clear the actual bridge sidewalks. Reporting it via is occasionally helpful, but not always, and in my experience Wells' office has been unwilling to intervene unless there's a report and then non-action.

by Moose on Jan 28, 2011 2:09 pm • linkreport

On the bright side: the sidewalk on 19th Street next to the DC Jail and the DC General campus was cleared of snow. It has not been cleared in years past.

by rg on Jan 28, 2011 2:22 pm • linkreport

I propose not spending any tax dollars to plow public roads if public sidewalks are not cleared as well. It is blatant discrimination otherwise.

If the sidewalk is covered with ice and the road is dry I am walking in the road. Any driver who hits me better pray they kill me because I certainly will go after them.

by Curious George on Jan 28, 2011 2:23 pm • linkreport

I'm with Curious. Moreover, last year I saw Harriet Tregoning say that 40% of DC residents do not own cars. As one of that 40%, I want 40% of my tax dollars that go to DDOT and DPW for snow/ice clearing to go to meet the needs of us non-car owners. Let the commuters get out of their cars and shovel the snow from the streets if it's that important to them. They can cart it back out into MD or VA in their trunks.

by Eileen on Jan 28, 2011 2:29 pm • linkreport


I have to traverse a footpath on a District bridge - which is never cleared, probably as other spans grossly overlooked by the District!

Only way for the District government to acknowledge their oversight is to walk in the roadway, safely staying close!


by Disgusted on Jan 28, 2011 2:36 pm • linkreport


Er, excuse me but I own three pairs of boots and none of them provide enough traction for ICE which is usually found UNDER sknow.

So we pedestrians take the gamble. Slip in fall in packed ice or walk in the streets and risk injury.

by HogWash on Jan 28, 2011 2:40 pm • linkreport

The over passes on North Capitol would be another place where bridge sidewalks are not cleared.

by kk on Jan 28, 2011 2:46 pm • linkreport

I have a Modest Proposal (apologies to Jonathan Swift).

We could have separate but equal pavement options for drivers and pedestrians. Sort of like when there used to be separate water fountains, schools, etc.

Just adding fuel to the flames....

by Curious George on Jan 28, 2011 2:46 pm • linkreport

Rather than the usual complaining about the unfairness of it all, what exactly are some solutions?

Charlie proposed using the very many unemployed DC residents to hire them as unskilled workers for a few days of sidewalk shoveling. That's an interesting idea. How would the city pay for it? Which agency would employ them? And what sidewalks would be the priorities?

What are other options? Does the city own snowblowers it can use on sidewalks? Are they cost-effective? Does it make sense to spend money on snowblowers (and maintenance) that are used maybe a few times a year? Who's sidewalks would get priority?

Nanny state governess Cheh and Tommy Tax 'N Spend Wells introduced a bill to fine owners of sidewalks who don't shovel the snow. Great. But what happens when it's Federal/NPS property, foreign property, WMATA, or vacant property? And even if you issue the fine, that doesn't mean the sidewalk will be shoveled any time soon.

How about some more options for a solution, rather than mere complaining and the usual anti-car/anti-suburban commuter rantings?

by Fritz on Jan 28, 2011 2:48 pm • linkreport

@ Fritz: How about some more options for a solution

The solution is simple: DDOT needs to shovel the side walk. If they can manage the equipment to clean the roads, they can manage the equipment to do side walks. We're not talking rocket science here. We're talking shoveling side walks along roads that are getting plowed perfectly. The solution is for DDOT to start shoveling.

by Jasper on Jan 28, 2011 2:56 pm • linkreport

While I would love to see all sidewalks cleared regardless of where the responsibility lies, it's shortsighted not to even consider the costs involved. The AOC does a great job clearing sidewalks and paths around the Capitol Complex in amazingly quick time. I could only imagine the funds they have available to do so. It seems like its a worthwhile question to ask what important pedestrian routes are not being cleared, but complete coverage is likely to be too costly.

Roadways are cleared in part to benefit commuters, but also emergency vehicles and delivery trucks.

by SE on Jan 28, 2011 3:21 pm • linkreport

@Fritz, DDOT could use some of the same equipment that WMATA uses to clear the sidewalks and walkways near their stations. Maybe sidewalks are cleared on Day 1, but they should be cleared quickly. If DDOT gets to your sidewalk and it isn't cleared - ticket (DDOT can write tickets).

Perhaps there could be an option to contract out to DDOT for annual snow clearing - paid as part of your property taxes. In which case you wouldn't get a ticket when DDOT came calling. But would require DDOT to make sidewalk clearing more of a priority.

For Foreign or Federal Property, if they don't clear their sidewalks, we dump the snow in their parking lots and in front of their buildings.

by David C on Jan 28, 2011 3:27 pm • linkreport

I think some consideration should be placed on certain side walks that are challenging but I think that the priority roads should be the primary focus during the first few hours after snowfall. I'm not saying that cars are more important but right now, they arguably move more people and are hard enough cities to do well.

I do agree that a plan should be in place for bridges. I'm a cyclist and I'd appreciate being able to get to Virginia. That said, hiring hundreds of people to clear sidewalks would be great and likely cost hundreds of thousands per snow fall, depending on the number of sidewalks or public spaces. If not for plowing first, how would these shovelers even get to these locations?

Thursday, I personally shoveled a short block-long section of sidewalk in front of an NPS park near the Fort Totten Metro station along South Dakota Avenue NE. This is not the first time I've done this and I've had help and helped others previously. I did it because I physically could, it was something that provided a great community benefit, and I live close by and would have to walk that area anyway. Did I get paid for this? No. Did people look at me as if I was crazy? Probably. Nevertheless, at some point people who can do should do and stop complaining that this or that should be done by someone else.

by Randall M. on Jan 28, 2011 3:39 pm • linkreport

RE: Key Bridge

Key Bridge is DDOT's. They maintain the structure and lighting. Maybe some of our business improvement districts (like Georgetown's for Key Bridge) can help out with some of this where there isn't an adjacent property owner

RE: $$$

Here is the trade off all you sidewalk advocates: If they pay for removing the snow on sidewalks now, they will not have money to improve/expand sidewalks later. The money comes from the same bucket.

RE: Which sidewalks?

I think we should concentrate on the routes designated as the safe routes to school first. (yes, there is a list somewhere) Then, the locations where walking in the street is too dangerous -- bridges, underpasses, etc. Then, at least one side of the street if sidewalk on both sides.

by Some Ideas on Jan 28, 2011 3:39 pm • linkreport

Also, the Taft bridge on Connecticut Ave. south of Calvert street.

Last year, somebody (DPW?) had some nice Bobcat-sized plows and finally cleared these sidewalks several days into the snow horror.

So the equipment apparently exists somewhere...

by Urban Garlic on Jan 28, 2011 3:55 pm • linkreport

@ Some ideas: Key Bridge is DDOT's.

They disagree:
Thank you for your concerns regarding the snow and ice removal on the Key Bridge. Your concerns are very important to us; however, the District of Columbia does not have jurisdiction in this matter.

We encourage you to share your concerns with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), which oversees all operations and policies conducted along Key Bridge. You may contact them by phone at 1-888-327-4236, by writing NHTSA Headquarters, 1200 New Jersey Avenue SE, West Building, Washington, DC 20590 or you can visit their website at

Thank you again for expressing your comments with us.


The Mayor's Correspondence Unit

by Jasper on Jan 28, 2011 4:08 pm • linkreport

Sadly, the Mayor's Correspondence Unit is NOT DDOT and do not know anything. If you look at the actual highway information at DDOT on their own project "dashboard"; there is project CD014A under contract to JMT for design:

So if it isn't DDOT... the city is paying WHOLE lotta money to design a rehabilitation to a bridge they don't own...

by Some Ideas on Jan 28, 2011 4:48 pm • linkreport

Russia has experience in the removal of show!

Lothrop Mansion located at 2001 Connecticut Avenue NW serves as offices for the Russian Trade Representative.

Is there respect - there at two METRO stops that are never cleared.

by Disgsutsed on Jan 28, 2011 4:48 pm • linkreport

I was pleasantly surprised to see a team of NoMa BID workers shoveling sidewalks on M Street NE between 2nd and 4th Streets (near the New York Avenue metro) yesterday morning. In the past, I've had to walk in the street when these sidewalks have been icy.

On the other hand, I was annoyed yesterday afternoon to walk past an open business (a clothing store in Georgetown) with completely unshoveled sidewalks. If your sidewalks aren't shoveled, you shouldn't be open. Is there a venue to report businesses who don't shovel?

by NearNortheast Pedestrian on Jan 28, 2011 4:50 pm • linkreport

Is there a venue to report businesses who don't shovel?

311, but I'm not sure what priority they put on enforcement. (Well, okay, I am sure what priority they put on enforcement.)

But '311' is the answer you're looking for...

by oboe on Jan 28, 2011 5:31 pm • linkreport

@ Some Ideas: Sadly, the Mayor's Correspondence Unit is NOT DDOT and do not know anything.

That's all fine and well, but this is the reply I got after I left a message on the DDOT website.

I am not responsible for DC's internal messed up communications. I can not help it that the Mayor's correspondence unit answers messages left on the DDOT website.

It does remind me of this bit of Blackadder (possibly the best scene of all):

by Jasper on Jan 28, 2011 9:11 pm • linkreport

Well, another thing for which you can thank our former Mayor...request response taken directly to the Mayor's office from whatever the web frontend (DDOT in this case) to our great loss of all meaningful communication with those who actually know something. In the Williams administration requests like this actually went to the appropriate department for action (not that the response was immediate or entirely satisfying then, but I never had a just plain dumb response)

Don't get me started on FOIA's...

by Some Ideas on Jan 28, 2011 9:22 pm • linkreport

@Urban Galic Also, the Taft bridge on Connecticut Ave. south of Calvert street.
Last year, somebody (DPW?) had some nice Bobcat-sized plows and finally cleared these sidewalks several days into the snow horror.

So the equipment apparently exists somewhere...

Those were all contractors with the nice (and working) equipment. I hear the feds had to order DDOT to bring in contractors because most of DDOT's equipment was inoperable and after having federal workers not able to get to/from work the feds were (no pun intended) 'fed' up with the situation. So, no, I don't think that equipment exists anywhere where we can get at it ... short of going the contractor route again.

by Lance on Jan 28, 2011 10:56 pm • linkreport

Don't we have prisons full of people being useless?

How about some snow-shoveling chain gangs?

by JJJJJ on Jan 29, 2011 1:16 am • linkreport

The Ellington Bridge from Adams Morgan, and Connecticut Ave. bridge into Woodley Park are still both still ice, except where many steps have worn through it.

by Ginger B. on Jan 29, 2011 2:27 pm • linkreport

BTW: Arlington and VDOT did give me a decent response. I have no clue if they will act upon my request, but at least they answered me in a satisfying fashion.

by Jasper on Jan 29, 2011 2:29 pm • linkreport

If I remember correctly, the "Mayor's Correspondence Unit" is really each agency's correspondence unit answering questions relevant to that agency and then being sent out under a different name so as to show that "the Mayor" knows all.

The main issues with "the city" clearing all the sidewalks is simple: Money, or rather the increasing lack thereof. Rerouting money from property taxes to sidewalk shoveling is far more complicated then necessary. And it also means you'd have to take away someone else's money since it's a shrinking pie.

Snow is not something unique to DC. How do other big cities that regularly get snow deal with sidewalk clearing? And does it make sense for DC to have a large stock of snowblowers, Bobcats, etc., when snow is, comparatively speaking, a rarity here?

by Fritz on Jan 30, 2011 2:43 pm • linkreport

@ Fritz: And does it make sense for DC to have a large stock of snowblowers, Bobcats, etc., when snow is, comparatively speaking, a rarity here?

Does it make sense to be a city that promotes walking and biking, and have your side walks impassable for a couple of weeks every year?

Does is make sense to be a city that is trying to build side walks along every single street and have them not be passable for a couple of weeks every year? Would that fly for roads?

by Jasper on Jan 31, 2011 10:03 am • linkreport

Jasper - It's about money. How do you pay for the city clearing all the sidewalks? And how do you justify paying X thousands of dollars for snow-clearing equipment that may not get much use? It's simply about where the money is going to be found to pay for it all. Righteous indignation is not, unfortunately, a method of payment.

by Fritz on Jan 31, 2011 11:20 am • linkreport

@ Fritz: How do you pay for the city clearing all the sidewalks?

How do we pay for the city clearing all the roads?

Righteous indignation is not, unfortunately, a method of payment.

The point is that there is an unjustifiable distinction between roads and sidewalks. And bike lanes for that matter. The reason that there is no money to end something silly is no justification.

There are two simple solutions. Either spend less money on clearing roads, or raise taxes. Both are fine with me.

by Jasper on Jan 31, 2011 11:29 am • linkreport

@ Jasper We have a $600M budget deficit. The idea that the city will (or should) devote more money to remove our 15" average snowfall is silly.

I personally rarely use the roads in a car, and find the snowy sidewalks and bike lanes I do use inconvenient. Even so, I believe roads should receive the priority. Scarce resources should be allocated to the greatest good.

by jcm on Jan 31, 2011 11:39 am • linkreport

@Jasper: Answering questions with rhetorical questions doesn't really help matters much.

Unless you can figure out where the money will come from to have the city clear all the sidewalks - given that we're looking at massive budget deficits for the foreseeable future - there's not much to discuss. Simply saying raise taxes or spend less on road clearing really isn't helpful.

But it does remind me of the scene from the Simpsons where the Shelbyville residents are outwitted by Homer. As two angry Shelbyville residents shake their fists at Homer as he drives across the border, the father looks at his son as says "Shake harder son! Shake harder!"

Unless we can figure out the cost aspect to having the city clear all its sidewalks, roads, and bike lanes, shaking our fists at the snow will be the only real option.

by Fritz on Jan 31, 2011 12:26 pm • linkreport

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