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Pedestrians


Walkers were left out in the cold after the blizzard

If you try to walk around in many parts of our region, particularly in the suburbs, it's easy to get the feeling that you're an afterthought, at best. Governments' actions in the recent "Snowzilla" blizzard show even more clearly how being "multimodal" is more lip service than reality.


Photo by Fionnuala Quinn.

In Fairfax County, sidewalks in neighborhoods and along major arterial roads were impassable a week or more after the storm. Schools in Fairfax, Arlington and other jurisdictions closed for seven consecutive weekdays, putting many parents in a bind. Children lacked safe routes to school and safe places to wait for buses.

This was no simple issue of having to prioritize; as Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chairman Sharon Bulova told residents, the Virginia Department of Transportation, which plows all of Fairfax's public roads, was not going to clear the sidewalks, and the county had no plan to either.

Continue reading my latest op-ed in the Washington Post.

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Pedestrians


If students were cars, schools would have opened sooner

Many of the region's schools closed for a full week after the recent blizzard, leaving parents to scramble for childcare and students missing out on valuable classroom time. That's what happens when your storm recovery efforts prioritize making it easy to drive rather than giving everyone a safe way to move around.


Photo by Fionnuala Quinn on Twitter.

The historic storm hit the DC area on Friday, January 22nd. By the time the last flakes fell on Saturday night, just about everything was covered in over two feet of powdery, slippery, transportation-crippling snow.

It was soon pretty easy to drive, but not get around by any other means

As crews throughout the region got to work on their respective snow clearing plans (impressive work for which they deserve a lot of thanks), roads became passable and then completely clear. In contrast, sidewalks, curb cuts, and bus stops were often blocked not just by snow, but also frozen slush.

Some of the area's bike trails were cleared, but access points were plowed in, and the network as a whole was not rideable. Metro returned to service, but getting to stations was a dirty, icy, boulder-climbing adventure and plowed-in bus stops left people waiting often in very busy streets.

Without good options, the only choice left for most people was to drive, clogging our already strained roadways that the remaining snow had narrowed.

As the week wore on and roads became clear, adults returned to work. But faced with the conditions that would have left children walking and waiting for buses in the streets, school officials decided there were not enough safe routes to school, and kept most of the region's schools closed for the entire week.


DC's 5th and Sheridan NW, the Tuesday after the storm. To the right on 5th (the street going left to right) is Coolidge High School. To the left is Whittier Education Campus. Photo by Julie Lawson.

This didn't happen randomly. Arlington is an example of why.

These conditions were a result the fact that our systems for clearing snow focus first on getting cars moving again. People walking and biking are, at best, an afterthought in the region's snow clearing plans.

For example, Arlington posts a clearly thought-out snow operations plan on their snow operations web page:

  • Phase I: During the storm, county crews keep the arterial and collector roads as functional as possible to make sure that emergency access like EMS, fire, police, utility trucks etc. could still get through.
  • Phase 2: Immediately after the storm, they keep working those major corridors, widening lanes so everybody else could start driving again, too.
  • Phase 3: When those are under control they start working their way into residential streets.
Arlington has no unified public plan for clearing the rest of the transportation network - the sidewalks, trails, curb cuts and bus stops that are necessary for people walking, biking and taking transit.

Private individuals are responsible for clearing the majority of sidewalks, and various agencies of the County government are responsible for some routes. Apparently, there are designated "safe routes to schools" that are meant to get priority in snow clearing, but those routes are not made public and are not given priority if the schools are closed. However, many stretches are left without anyone to clear them, unless the County chooses to on an ad-hoc, complaint-based basis.

For example, the stretch of sidewalk along Lynn Street between the intersection of Lee Highway and the Key Bridge is along National Park Service Property. After this storm it took more than a week before the snow and ice were clear along this stretch, which cut off the main sidewalk access between Rosslyn and DC.


Arlington's "Intersection of Doom," at Lee Highway and N Lynn Street, just south of the Key Bridge. People walking and biking would need to climb over this snow/ice mound to get to the iced over sidewalk that leads to Key Bridge. Photo by the author.

When this snow plan was implemented, the streets were cleared, but the sidewalks and bus stops students would have needed to get to school were covered, often in mounds of snow deposited by snow plows. Instead of forcing kids to walk or wait for buses in the street, officials closed most of the region's schools for the entire week after the snow storm, forcing students to lose valuable instructional time at the end of the grading period.

Meanwhile, the region began to get back to work. By Wednesday, after three full days of being closed to allow the region to focus on digging out, most business were open and workers were working.

There are other ways to do this

During and immediately after the late winter blizzard of 1996 that dumped about the same amount of snow as last week's storm, New York City shut down all streets in Manhattan to private cars. The only vehicles on the roads were emergency equipment, garbage trucks, transit vehicles and of course snow plows.

NYC-DOT knew it could never get the city up and running again quickly if they decided that their first priority was to make it possible for everybody to drive their cars again. Roads were opened to traffic only after the sidewalks and bus stops were clear. In New York this took two days.

Arlington could do the same thing: Clear just enough of the roadway to accommodate emergency and service vehicles and eventually transit, but not more. With virtually no cars on the roads, people could at least get around on foot without putting their lives in danger.

And because transit and school bus stops would be cleared and almost no traffic on the road, these buses could actually get through and run on normal schedules. All kids, walkers and bus riders alike, would have a safe way to get to school.

Arlington does transportation well… when it doesn't snow

Fortunately, a good model exists right under our own noses. Arlington's transportation program looks at mobility as a public right, and sees all modes as legitimate. This includes mobility for people in cars, but doesn't leave out people on bikes, people on transit and people on foot.

Arlington's snow operations planners should try looking at mobility the same way when they plan for snow removal.

In this storm we saw a snow removal plan focused on getting cars back on the road. That happened by Wednesday. But cars don't occupy desks at schools.


After snow storms, it'd be smart to prioritize getting schools up and running. Photo by Arlington County on Flickr.

Our public schools closed for a week because there wasn't a safe way for kids to get to them. We need a transportation system that serves the students, whether they drive, ride the bus, walk or bike to school.

We didn't have that after the recent blizzard, so we didn't have school.

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Pedestrians


Sidewalk snow shoveling hall of shame: Walmart, Autozone, Exxon, Hechinger Mall

Shoveling from the weekend's snowstorm is a big job. Many residents and businesses have cleared sidewalks, but some have not. Those that deserve a special circle of hell: businesses who had no trouble shoveling huge parking lots but left their sidewalks impassable.


Photos by Steve Money on Twitter.

Like the Georgia Avenue Walmart, which Steve Money says cleared its delivery area but piled snow high on the sidewalk. That forced people on foot to walk in the road on busy Missouri Avenue.

The same goes for Autozone, right near the Rhode Island Avenue Metro. Shane Farthing says someone in a wheelchair had to go into the street to get to the Metro.


Photo by Shane Farthing on Twitter.

Kate Sweeney nominated the Exxon at Franklin and 12th streets NE in Brookland. She says, "They never shovel the sidewalks. Infuriating! The parking lot isn't totally clear but they've shoveled enough that people can get to the pumps."


Photo by Kate Sweeney.

The Hechinger Mall and 7-11 on Bladensburg Road also shoveled parking but not sidewalks, says Dan Malouff, who had to walk in the road to get home Tuesday night.


Photos by Dan Malouff.

What will DC do?

One thing these businesses have in common is that their customer base is largely or entirely arriving by car, so access on foot is not a priority. But even if it's not in their interest to make it safe for people to walk, it's important.

Last year, the DC Council passed a law authorizing the government to fine property owners who don't shovel their sidewalks by eight daylight hours after a storm. Mayor Muriel Bowser, who wasn't a fan of the idea when she was a councilmember, announced she wouldn't enforce the law, but then later announced that she would in fact enforce it, on businesses in particular.

I actually think it's reasonable for her to forebear on giving any tickets to individual homeowners for now. People have had a lot of time to shovel by now, but there's not much reason to slap a $25 ticket on an elderly homeowner or something like that. However, Walmart and Autozone aren't unable to shovel; they are choosing not to.

These are the kinds of properties DC should fine. If anything, the issue is whether the fine isn't large enough. When the bill was being debated, I advocated for very small fines for an individual homeowner and potentially large ones for a very big commercial property.

If a company owns a large site with a big parking lot and can clear it, but doesn't bother to open the sidewalk, only government action, or maybe shaming, will change that.

Thanks to the many people who sent in photos and sorry we couldn't use them all (at least not yet)! If you see other big offenders, post them in the comments or send them to snow@ggwash.org.

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Pedestrians


Officials are blaming people for walking in the street, but they aren't ensuring clear sidewalks

In the snowstorm's aftermath, local officials are telling people not to walk in the streets. But they're not offering any alternatives to those who don't drive.


Photo by Jason Vines on Flickr.

After the snowstorm, something magical happened. People began filling the streets, to play in the snow or to frequent the few businesses that managed to stay open. Across the east coast, people starting documenting their vibrant, yet unplowed, streets with the hashtag #snopenstreets.

Local leaders have been vocal: "Don't walk in the street"

But city and county officials spent much of the weekend admonishing people for walking in the street, and even threatening to fine people for it.

On Twitter, DC Councilmember Jack Evans told people whose only option was to walk to stay inside if there wasn't a clear sidewalk.


Screenshot from the author. Original tweet was deleted.

In an exchange with Greater Greater Washington contributor Gray Kimbrough, Montgomery County officials dismissed concerns about a dangerous situation for pedestrians on a busy street by saying people should just stay off the roads.

In a press conference yesterday, Prince George's County Executive Rushern Baker asked people to move their vehicles out of the path of plows, but then went on to ask that neighbors avoid walking in the streets:

"There are people walking in the middle of streets," he said. "It is dangerous. Please, if you don't have to be outside, do not go outside."

In a Washington Post article, DC Police Chief Lanier said that police would cite drivers stuck in the road, but that people could also be fined for walking in the street. "We're going to have to start stepping up and being a little more aggressive about asking our public not to be out, walking in the streets," Lanier said.

At the same time, clear sidewalks aren't a priority

While there is a legitimate need to keep roads clear of vehicles and people so that emergency vehicles and snow plows can pass, those who aren't driving need a way to get around. That's supposed to be clear sidewalks, but efforts to make that happen have been dismal at best.

In DC, police the mayor decided not to fine residents for failing to shovel their sidewalks, even though a new law permits them to do so.

During the Twitter exchange Kimbrough had with Montgomery County, the Montgomery account said the county had not cleared its own sidewalks because the primary focus is on roads for now.

And in many suburban parts of the area, governments don't clear sidewalks on major roads at all, so the responsibility falls to good neighbors.

Drivers shouldn't trump pedestrians after a snow emergency

With restaurants and bars offering specials, sledding hills calling out to kids (and kids at heart), and, you know, people needing supplies after being stuck inside for 48 hours, residents are going to leave their homes no matter what, even with most transit options closed.

But sidewalks aren't cleared, and in many places won't be cleared for days (until the snow melts). So now, with sidewalks impassible, pedestrians are still walking in the street. But cars aren't moving at 6 mph, they're moving at 40 mph. We should make space for our most vulnerable road users first. Otherwise we expose them to unsafe situations.

While the line on Friday and Saturday was generally "stay off the roads," it has since evolved to "If you get stuck and block snowplows, we'll fine you." A message that's basically "it's fine to drive now, just stay out of the way of plows" and that does not stress the importance of slowing down and watching for people walking implies that drivers have more right to mobility than pedestrians in a snow emergency. So does telling people not to walk at all.

Just last night, a snow plow struck a man walking on Georgia Avenue in Montgomery Hills. And two years ago, days after a snowstorm, a driver struck and killed a man on the Sousa Bridge. The pedestrian path had not been cleared. In fact, it had been filled with the snow plowed off the vehicular lanes.

Is this what Vision Zero looks like for our region?

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Transit


Metro will run bare-bones service Monday; local officials urge people to stay off the roads

Metro will run extremely, extremely limited (and free) service Monday. Meanwhile, local jurisdictions are working to plow roads, and DC is recruiting people to help shovel sidewalks. What do you think of the region's snow recovery efforts?


Metrorail service Monday. Map by Peter Dovak. Click for full version.

We're doing our own shoveling and so forth, but want to let members of our community discuss the latest in the snow dig-out.

WMATA just announced there will be service every 20-25 minutes Monday on just underground parts of the Red Line (Medical Center to Union Station), Orange Line (Ballston to Eastern Market) and Green Line (Fort Totten to Anacostia).

Buses will run a "lifeline service" of a vehicle every 30 minutes only on 22 lines: the 32, 33, 36, 53, 70, 90, A6, A8, S4, U8, V4, and X2 in DC; the C4, D12, K6, P12, Q2, Y2, and Z8 in Maryland; and the 16A, 16E, and 28A in Virginia.

Metro won't charge any fares on the rail or bus.


Photo by Ryan McKnight on Flickr.

Officials say don't drive or walk yet

DC officials are urging people to stay off the roads unless necessary. Anyone who tries to drive and ends up blocking a major road could face a $750 fine. Many sidewalks are still impassable on foot, which has led to some people walking in the street.

Some officials have responded by urging people not to walk in the streets; others have responded by pointing out that many have little choice. The Bowser administration has been pleading with residents to volunteer to shovel out others who can't do it.

What are you observing? What do you think of the region's snow response so far?

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Pedestrians


Construction has made a busy Silver Spring street dangerous for pedestrians

In downtown Silver Spring, a busy Georgia Avenue sidewalk is closed for the construction of a new apartment building. The signed pedestrian detour is very inconvenient, and many people are choosing to walk in the travel lanes of the road instead.


A pedestrian walks in the right lane of northbound Georgia Avenue rather than using the inconvenient detour. All photos by the author.

A couple weeks ago, Foulger-Pratt, the general contractor working on the new building, closed the stretch of sidewalk in the 8600 block of Georgia Avenue to begin construction on the site.

The closure is just north of the crossroads at Colesville Road and Georgia Avenue, the heart of downtown Silver Spring. A quarter mile from the Silver Spring Metro Station and very close to a number of high rise commercial and residential buildings, the area sees a lot of foot traffic.

While there is a detour for people on foot, it requires them to cross Georgia Avenue twice, along with Fidler lane, resulting in three streets crossings where there were previously none.


A map of the current detour pedestrians must take to get around the construction. Image from Google Earth.


Pedestrians opt to walk in the road alongside moving vehicles rather than using the signed detour.

Closing the right lane could allow for a temporary sidewalk

There's a simple way for the Maryland State Highway Administration to solve this problem: close the northbound right lane of Georgia Avenue to create a temporary sidewalk that's separated from traffic by barricades.

In the right lane of northbound Georgia Avenue where the construction is, on-street parking during the week is allowed except from 3:30-7 PM. Since many drivers are already accustomed to this lane usually being a non-travel lane, it shouldn't be much of an issue for the SHA to close this lane to create a temporary sidewalk.


The closed sidewalk, looking south. Note the parked car in the right lane beyond the construction zone.

While closing the lane may cause some delay at rush hour, doing so could also save lives.

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Bicycling


Oregon plans to rebuild an iconic tunnel for bikes and pedestrians

Oregon is rebuilding the 73-mile Historic Columbia River Highway, which runs through the beautiful Columbia River valley, as a bike and pedestrian trail. Check out this video of their plans to dig a new tunnel through a mountain along the river to complete the trail.

The planned about a quarter-of-a-mile Mitchell Point Tunnel would recreate the former tunnel on the site that was demolished to make room for the construction of Interstate 84 in the 1960s.


The old Mitchell Point tunnel. Photo from Oregon DOT.

The proposed tunnel—including plans to recreate the iconic "windows"—and associated trail connections along the five-mile Mitchell Point section of the trail are expected to cost $35 million. Funding has yet to be secured.

"Our goals of reclaiming that are going to be the most expensive aspect of the state trail segments but our hope is to one day be able to provide that experience," says Kevin Price, Oregon Parks & Recreation district manager, in the video.

Oregon's Mitchell Point tunnel plan is far and above any trail plans under development in the Washington DC region. Is there anywhere that our region could do the same to improve regional trail connectivity?

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