Posts about Sidewalks
Not everyone has recovered from the US housing market's collapse, you're most likely to try a new way of getting around when you move to a new place, and traffic studies usually mean faster roads, not necessarily better planning. Check out what's happening around the world in transportation, land use, and other related areas!
Winning the housing game: The US housing market has recovered from the recession, but not everyone is on solid ground. Housing prices have increased dramatically in cities, but not so much in sprawling and rural areas. Maps in this feature show the stark differences. (Washington Post)
Moving moves us: People are most open to considering new modes of transportation right after they move into a new place, according to research out of Cardiff University. (CityLab)
Traffic studies make things worse: Virtually no development goes up without a traffic study, but are traffic studies bad for cities? When the results are plans that focus on moving the most cars quickly, pedestrians and other modes usually get the short end of the stick. (Fast Company Co-Exist)
LA, it is a changin: Los Angeles has long been known as the domain of the car. But before it was, LA had a huge transit system that connected far off parts of a large region. Writer David Ulin believes things are shifting back, and the region will be a nicer place because of it. (New York Times)
No more surging: With autonomous vehicles around the corner, Uber considering ending surge pricing. It won't happen right away, but the company expects that at some point, as its systems get smarter, surge pricing won't be needed. (Minnesota Public Radio)
Walk this way: Science fiction writer Isaac Asimov predicted moving sidewalks would be everywhere in our cities— Quote of the Week
"We all, of course, have our own notions of what real America looks like. If your image of the real America is a small town, you might be thinking of an America that no longer exists." Economist Jed Kolko on the demographics of America today versus 1950. (Five Thirty Eight)
Quote of the Week
"We all, of course, have our own notions of what real America looks like. If your image of the real America is a small town, you might be thinking of an America that no longer exists." Economist Jed Kolko on the demographics of America today versus 1950. (Five Thirty Eight)
Sidewalks are critical parts of where we live. They connect us to restaurants and businesses, make for a safe environment, and foster a sense of community. A plan for Rosslyn's future is focusing on making its sidewalks easier and more pleasant to use.
Cities today are focused on sustainability and on developing mixed-use areas, with businesses and residential sharing the same space. Passed in 2015, "Realize Rosslyn" is Arlington County's long-term sector plan to transform the city into a "live-work-shop-play" urban center. To make access by foot, bike, or car easier, one element of the plan is a call for smarter street designs wider sidewalks.
The plan also prioritizes expanded parks and public spaces and better access to public transit, including Metro.
In a separate but connected project, the Rosslyn Business Improvement District (BID) launched the Streetscape Elements Master Plan. During the planning process in 2013, the BID collaborated with Arlington County and Ignacio Ciocchini, a New York-based industrial designer, to develop the streetscape initiative that would extend the benefits of the public sector improvements envisioned by the larger plan down to the sidewalk and pedestrian levels.
To do this, the BID carried out a comprehensive look at Rosslyn's sidewalks to determine what was missing and what could help create a unified and active streetscape. The BID also studied examples of other dense urban districts that had successfully transformed their pedestrian environments.
After researching, the BID decided on what to install as part of the streetscape. New benches, newspaper corrals, and planters will improve the pedestrian experience; way-finding signs and a mobile informational kiosk will make it easier for visitors to navigate; bike racks will encourage multimodal transportation; and the mobile curbside parklets will support retail and dining establishments. Many of these elements are mobile, meaning they can be moved to where they'll best support the community at a moment's notice.
Combining form and function, the sidewalk elements also complement the unique identity of the neighborhood and the business and residential development happening all around us. For example, the perforated design used in many of the street elements, including benches and chairs, is unique to Rosslyn and derived from the window lights of prominent buildings on our skyline that were simplified and digitally transferred to form the pattern.
Currently, the streetscape project is in a demonstration phase: the public can see many of the elements at the corner of Wilson Boulevard and Oak Street. The hope is to eventually roll out over 600 elements in all of Rosslyn's 17 blocks.
A key aspect of this project was the proactive communication and collaboration between all of the stakeholders, from city planners and policymakers to business leaders and the public. While the Rosslyn BID leads the streetscape initiative, it has received immense support from Arlington County. The BID will use private money to fund the project.
The guiding mantra behind the Rosslyn BID's efforts has been to ensure that all development is people-centric and a reflection of the community's identity. Much like the BID did with the mobile vending zone pilot, the BID will be actively gathering feedback from the community and using that input to guide the next phase of the project as it expands to the rest of Rosslyn.
We hope that everyone who lives or works in Rosslyn—
In December, a traffic signal went up on Canal Road near Fletcher's Boathouse, meaning there's now a safe way for pedestrians and cyclists to cross that very recently did not exist. But if it weren't for the work of DDOT's urban foresters, a key sidewalk leading up to the crossing would still be totally useless.
This sidewalk used to be covered in growth that made it nearly impossible to walk. Photo by the author.
Lots of the District's 8,600 fishing license holders visit Fletcher's to fish in the Potomac River or C&O Canal. It's a popular place to rent bikes, boats, and canoes, and there are great places nearby to have a picnic or walk along the Canal.
For years, pedestrians and cyclists had no safe, direct route from the Palisades and adjacent neighborhoods to Fletcher's Boathouse and the C&O Canal. For example, someone taking the D6 bus to MacArthur Road at U Street NW would have to walk the half mile down Reservoir Road, then bravely cross fast-moving traffic at an unsignalized intersection across Canal Road.
Canal Road and the Clara Barton Parkway form a barrier to pedestrian and cyclist access to the C&O Canal National Historic Park. The red dots represent existing crossing points, and green dots are existing parking lots. The more southern blue dot is where the new signal went in. Base image from Google Maps, with labels by Nick Keenan.
This changed this past December, when DDOT, in cooperation with the National Park Service, completed a crosswalk and traffic signal at Canal and Reservoir Road. The walk or bike ride across Canal Road became safe and feasible thanks to the crosswalk, a pedestrian or vehicle activated traffic signal, and marked areas for pedestrians to stand.
A recently unusable sidewalk near the new signal is back in action!
Even with the work on the new signal underway, the sidewalk along Reservoir Road could have been featured as abandoned urban infrastructure. The actual connection to the neighborhood had in some places completely disappeared. Brush, grass, vines and invasive trees had completely overgrown the sidewalk, and nearly all of the quarter mile sidewalk from V Street down to Canal Road had uncontrolled vegetation growth.
Anyone walking or cycling would need to use the street in many places because the sidewalk was so obstructed.
This past August, as the intersection project progressed, I contacted DDOT's Urban Forestry Administration (UFA) and asked them if they could take a look at the sidewalk. UFA confirmed that the trees were in fact invasive and had not been intentionally planted. And from there, foresters from the agency set about restoring the sidewalk.
The first things to go were bushes and other vegetation along the sidewalk. Foresters also chopped down the numerous invasive trees that had grown between the sidewalk and retaining wall and, in some cases, in the wall itself. Stumps of up to 4" in diameter remained, but they were cut as low as possible. And, finally, foresters removed the leaves and soil that had accumulated over the years.
The traffic signal and other intersection improvements added a decades-in-the-making crossing to Canal Road for pedestrians and cyclists. It also makes things safer for the 58,000 drivers who turn down into Fletcher's Cove each year. But the less well known efforts of DDOT's urban foresters completed what pedestrians and cyclists really needed in order to make the connection useful.
At 15th and L Street NW, where construction is underway to turn the now former Washington Post building into Fannie Mae's new headquarters, the protected bikeway is also serving as a sidewalk. DC's policies say this kind of situation should be avoided if at all possible, and in this particular case, it could be.
By DDOT's rules, Carr Properties, the permittee doing the demolition and construction, is required to set up two separate temporary paths next to this work site: one to replace the closed sidewalk and one to replace the closed bikeway. Space for this would come temporary removing parking or moving (and maybe even closing) driving lanes.
But what's actually there is a series of signs, fences, cones, and plastic barriers establishing a single narrow chute that is partially blocked by fence stands.
On paper this is an alternative track for bicycles only, because pedestrians are admonished to cross at the intersections and walk on the east side of 15th. What's actually happening, though, is that people are taking the most convenient path they see, meaning cyclists, wheelchair users, joggers, people pushing strollers, and people on Segway tours are all sharing the space.
The rules say this shouldn't happen
A few years ago, the DC Council unanimously enacted the Bicycle Safety Amendment Act of 2013. Among other provisions, the act included a measure to protect the rights of people who get around on bike and on foot.
Since the rule went into effect, any permit application has had to comply with the following new District Department of Transportation rule: When construction permit applications ask to close sidewalks and bike lanes, the applicant must submit a plan for safe and convenient alternatives, and DDOT has to approve it before issuing a permit.
The rules themselves are not radical: Maintain safe space separated from each other and other traffic for people who bike and walk, close parking and travel lanes if necessary to create that space, and add shared road markings and signage if cyclists must merge into general travel lanes. The standard "SIDEWALK CLOSED CROSS HERE" signs can only be used as a last resort when no other alternative exists.
There are alternatives here. The current traffic plan preserves five full-width driving lanes (two southbound, three northbound), and only removes a few parking spaces. Almost that almost half the space in this plan is actually occupied by the barriers themselves. The regulations allow taking more space from driving lanes, which could go a long way to easing the disruption.
Demolition on this site should be finished soon, then construction of the new building will take two to three years. DDOT has announced that Carr Properties and Clark Construction will host a public meeting to present the next steps for this project to the community.
Protected bikeways like the one on 15th Street and L Street are a big part of the growth of cycling in the District. This one should remain open and useful during the ongoing demolition and construction project.
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.
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.
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.
Scores that evaluate transportation projects in Virginia recently came out, and many of the highest belong to projects focused on walking and transit. That's because they provide the most bang for taxpayers' bucks.
In Northern Virginia, projects that focused on improving walking conditions and transit service came out on top in statewide rankings for cost-effectiveness. These included:
- Sidewalk work in downtown Falls Church between Park Avenue and Broad Street (#2 statewide)
- More marketing of transit and carpooling in the I-66/Silver Line corridor (#3)
- Improving crossings at several intersections on Broad Street in downtown Falls Church, including at Oak Street (pictured above) (#8)
In the most recent rankings, 287 transportation projects from across the state received two different scores, one based on the total projected benefit and one based on the benefit divided by the total funding request.
Each of the projects above would cost between $500,000 and $1 million, while most other projects would cost many times that amount. For total project benefits, the addition of High-Occupancy/Toll lanes to I-66 outside the Beltway has the highest score, but it requires a $600 million public investment.
Here's more detail about the law
Virginia law requires that "congestion relief" be the primary metric in scoring projects in Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads. Scores also account for a project's environmental impacts, how it fits with local land use plans, and what it might do for economic development.
Three agencies developed the evaluation system: Virginia Department of Transportation, the Office of Intermodal Planning and Investment, the and the Department of Rail and Public Transportation.
The agencies have posted a wealth of data on the HB2 website. You can search for projects in various ways, including by jurisdiction. Data points such as whether or not a project has bicycle facilities, and how it is coordinated with nearby development projects, are posted in an easily navigable format.
What do you think of the analyses? Is there a project in your area that scores higher or lower than you would have expected?
The Kojo Nnamdi Show is asking how you would rate your government's response to the snowtorm, your neighbors', and your own. At 12:40, I'll be on the show to discuss this, and I asked our contributors for their ratings.
Joe Fox gave a succinct set of ratings:
- PEPCO/Dominion/BGE: A+. Don't forget what a disaster the last few real storms have been. Teaming up w/ plow trains & tree trimming crews meant that what problems that did pop up were fixed, and fast.
- WMATA communication: A. They were ahead of the needs, and explained what they were doing and why.
- MNCPPC [Montgomery and Prince George's parks agency]: A. Many of the county park roads were cleared, with bonus points for sanctioning sledding hills this year.
- DC Government: B. Execution was good, but farther from downtown was rough. Bowser had some head scratcher remarks on cars vs. peds, as well as why no travel ban that were a bit hard to comprehend.
- WMATA execution: C. Is it still a surprise that when OPM gives a three hour delay, that rush hour will happen three hours later, and to set up service accordingly? Even with trains every 8+ minutes, still no 8 car trains...
- Citizens: C. These storms bring out the crazies, I noticed a lot more anger this time than in 2010. But sidewalks on private property were cleared faster than before.
- Montgomery, Prince George's, and VDOT (handling VA counties): D+. They did what they could, but were woefully overmatched. Clumsy declarations of victory and broken data trackers brought up comparisons with PEPCO of days gone by.
- National Park Service: F. [See below.]
The National Park Service
The Park Service controls a lot of downtown parks and major trails around the region, but does very little on snow clearance. Contributors unanimously agreed it flunked the storm.
- David Cranor: "The Park Service deserves a very low grade. The Mount Vernon Trail is one of the only ones that was not plowed (thought I don't know about the Rock Creek Park Trail). Sidewalks along NPS property were untouched. I realize they're budget limited, but something needs to be done."
- Neil Flanagan wrote back on Monday: "On my walk to work, through downtown to Georgetown, most government sidewalks were walkable (if not clear), with the exception of NPS."
- Steven Yates: WMATA's response was...mixed. Trying to shelter the trains was maybe a good theory, but the execution was obviously not great. Would it have been better to run the trains underground on Saturday instead? I'm inclined to say no, just because you probably don't want to be encouraging people to be out and about. The running of trains for free on Monday was certainly a nice gesture.
- Travis Maiers: Metro is still operating at reduced service levels. They are apparently still short railcars due to the blizzard. I give them high marks for communicating their storm plan and being realistic on when service could be resumed, but I feel by now, 5 days later, they should be back at full service. Their plan to shut down the system for safety and to store railcars underground was prudent, but I'm not sure it was executed as well as it could have been.
- Svet Neov: I think WMATA did pretty well, since almost everything was running on Tuesday. At my stop (Grosvenor) they did a great job cleaning the sidewalks—
those were done wayyy before the parking lot was.
- Abigail Zenner: I thought they did a great job all things considered. Even northern cities have trouble with storms of this size. I grade them a B+ or A-. The poor rhetoric notwithstanding, DC did well.
I thought that many District agencies did a good job communicating on social media and through emails to ANCs. My ANC colleagues would then send information to our lists.
[The Department of General Services] promised to clear areas around DCPS schools by midnight Monday and Tuesday morning, the sidewalks all the way around Stoddert Elementary was cleared including curb cuts and bus stops. I have never seen these walks cleared so fast. I did also tweet at DCPS, Stoddert, DPR, and DGS.
- Steve Seelig: From a cycling perspective in DC, it was great. I rode from Friendship to downtown on both Monday and Tuesday, and because only part of the roadways were plowed, there was plenty of room in the curb lanes to ride where a car could not fit.
As for biking infrastucture plowing: an A+ for the Capital Crescent Trail -plowed from Bethesda to Georgetown. An F for NPS on any of its trails. DDOT gets a C+ for just getting to the L Street, M Street and 15th Street bike lanes.
- Justin Lini: In DC's Ward 7, snow removal was a bit inconsistent. Parkside and a number of other communities saw plows nearly every day of the storm. In some cases, even blocks with public housing were cleared during the storm. However, some of my neighbors in other communities didn't see any attention at all until Monday.
The Mayor's office also did daily briefings by teleconference with the ANCs. These were useful because they communicated DC government's plans so we could set expectations, but they also keyed us in on potential trouble. They also assigned us extra staff liaisons that could help resolve issues with trouble spots.
We were able to get an important pedestrian bridge cleared by Monday evening. In the past this bridge was never consistently cleared even in routine snow events. I don't know if the other ANCs used their liaisons, but I found mine to be a good partner. I don't know if previous administrations employed this measure, but I thought it was very effective.
Uncleared sidewalks are a huge problem in the ward. As of Tuesday many property owners, especially large apartment buildings and retail areas, did not clear sidewalks along some high volume corridors like Minnesota Ave NE. In some cases contractors had blocked sidewalks or intentionally used them to store piles of snow. Many crosswalks are also plowed over. The decision not to enforce sidewalk clearing laws on these properties until late was a big mistake that shouldn't be repeated.
Mayfair Mansions, Ward 7, on Tuesday. Photo by Justin Lini.
- Steven Yates: I can't really speak for other jurisdictions, but in my time here, I've been mostly impressed with how well DC handles large amounts of snow, given that these sorts of storms don't happen that often (oddly, smaller amounts of snow they seem to do less well with). This storm has been no exception. The street I live in (which is by no means a major street) was at least passable a few hours after the snow ended.
- Ned Russell: Alexandria streets were far worse [than in DC] both for cars and pedestrians, not to mention the DASH bus service did not run even on a limited schedule to serve rush hour on Tuesday. Sidewalks across the station that peds need to use to access Braddock Road were not cleared until this morning.
- Svet Neov: The only complaints, other than slow sidewalk cleanup, I've heard is dead end or small streets in Arlington which didn't get plowed until [Tuesday] night.
King Street Metro. Photo by Justin Henry.
Montgomery, Prince George's, and Fairfax
- Ben Ross: "I grade MoCo an A- on street clearing but an F on sidewalks. Our businesses, at least in Bethesda, did very well on sidewalks, much better than in past big snowstorms. [But] 27 hours after it has finished opening the roads to cars, the county has announced, it will begin accepting complaints about unshoveled sidewalks.begin accepting complaints about unshoveled sidewalks 27 hours after it finishes opening roads to cars. Ike Leggett announced "common sense" enforcement of the snow shoveling law. In my mind, common sense means that if you have shoveled out your driveway, you should have shoveled the sidewalk.
- Kristy Cartier: In Fairfax County, the roads had at least one lane Tuesday so I'd give them a B+ (only because there are disappearing lanes). For sidewalks, I would give a D. One person was walking on Rte. 50 near Rte. 28 and two people were standing on Reston Pkwy Wednesday morning waiting for the bus. I hope that the addition of the Silver Line stations improves Fairfax County's response to clearing at least some of the sidewalks.
- Matt Johnson: I didn't have any trouble [Wednesday] morning. But [in the] afternoon, I had to go to an appointment in the city, and drove to Glenmont. On my way from Glenmont to the ICC, I discovered that the 3 northbound lanes are essentially functioning as 1. The curb lane never appeared, except for the dashes periodically peeking out from the edge of the snow. The center lane would run for a few blocks and then suddenly, without warning, disappear, forcing drivers to swerve into the left lane, the only one left.
In addition, pedestrians were walking in the lane, since the sidewalks were impassible, and unaccessible from the buses that run on Georgia. On the day after the storm, this might be acceptable. But several days later, on one of the region's most important radial corridors, this is quite intolerable.
- Joe Fox: I've noticed that roads maintained by both state agencies (MD SHA and VDOT) fared the worst, by far. I've posted several tweets about Colesville Road this morning, which, despite having the ability to reverse lanes, has gone from 3 lanes to one the last two days, wreaking havoc in the neighborhoods, and with a slew of bus lines.
To me, the fact that county/local roads/sidewalks/paths seemed to fare a lot better brings to mind the argument that counties (Montgomery, Fairfax), should follow the lead of the independent cities in their respective states and take control over their transportation infrastructure (save for perhaps interstate highways and maybe toll roads) from the state agencies, who are simply not equipped to handle local issues like intersection design, traffic signals, and snow clearing.
Photo by Aimee Custis.
- Svet Neov: Given the amount of snowfall I would give the region a B. I flew home on Monday morning after being stuck in Texas and used almost every mode of transportation in several places around the area. The airports were back up and running on Monday (as normal as possible). I flew into BWI which seemed to have no problems.
- Ned Russell: After reading the discussion and thinking about all the things that go into snow response, I give the region a B-. But there are a lot of things that could have been done better.
- Canaan Merchant: I'd give it a B-. For what we can expect of the region I think they did well. But to get an A they're going to have actually acknowledge that people like to use sidewalks, bike facilities and transit and work towards that as well.
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.
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.
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 email@example.com.
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.
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.
14th St-pocalypse ... kinda love it. pic.twitter.com/LTWoSTlvAP—
David Garber (@GarberDC) January 24, 2016
Vaughn Sterling (@vplus) January 24, 2016
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.
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.
Montgomery County MD (@MontgomeryCoMD) January 25, 2016
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.
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.
Montgomery County MD (@MontgomeryCoMD) January 25, 2016
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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