Greater Greater Washington

Posts about Weather


National links: Houston, we have a... well, you know

The right hurricane could devastate Houston, and along with it some major sources of energy for the US, Baltimore's Black Lives Matter candidate is for real, and a California city is considering building a park overtop a freeway. Check out what's happening around the country in transportation, land use, and other related areas!

Photo by NASA Goddard Space Flight Center on Flickr.

For Houston, not if, but when: Houston is the energy capital of the United States, with major chemical, oil, and gas facilities sitting on its ship channel. The city would also be a sitting duck if the right hurricane came along. This interactive story shows what happens when flooding inundates Texas' coast. (Texas Tribune)

Mayor of Baltimore: Black Lives Matter activist DeRay Mckesson is running for Mayor of Baltimore on a platform that's heavy on city planning. He wants to revitalize neighborhoods by making it easier for low-income residents to get home loans, along with restart the Red Line subway project that was cancelled last year. (Curbed)

Tip of the cap: Glendale, just north of downtown Los Angeles, could build a park overtop Highway 134, reconnecting downtown with the northern part of the city. City council members are visiting Dallas' Klyde Warren freeway cap, and will take a vote after that. (Time Out Los Angeles)

Circling Atlanta: Ryan Gravel wrote his master's thesis about the idea to turn a a network of old freight rail lines into what is now knows as the Beltline, a green ring of transit and trails around the city. Now, he's head of the "Atlanta City Design Project", a new effort to re-imagine Atlanta as a sustainable and inclusive city. (Atlanta Magazine)

Pilot light out: America's contract air carriers that do a lot of the regional work for major airlines have been suffering from a lack of pilots. Republic Airways just filed for bankruptcy, and some argue that this is a long term deficit that will hamper the industry for some time to come. (The Economist)

The coffee shop it is a changin':The coffee house has gone through four major stages, from a place to simply get a drink to a third space for the community to boutique coffee shops to, finally, the coffee bars popping up today. The general trend: less WiFi and invitations to sit and work for hours, more face time and conversation with baristas. (Core 77)

Quote of the Week

"These new standards are an urban design revolution, they overturn the destructive Chinese model of superblocks, gated communities, and giant streets that has been too long eroding the livability their cities. [The authorities] have been testing these ideas for years, but now they are moving them to a scale that is unprecedented."

- Architect Peter Calthorpe speaking to City Metric about changes a Chinese policy group has made to their urban design standards.


Did Metro handle buses correctly in this mostly-non-storm?

On Monday afternoon, WMATA announced that Metrobuses would only run on a "moderate" snow plan, which cancels or reroutes a large number of buses. But when snow didn't materialize on much of the region, the agency restored service at dawn Tuesday. Did it make the right calls?

Not what happened. Photo by tadfad on Flickr.

Ned Russell wasn't so enthusiastic about the original decision. On Monday, he wrote,

This seems a bit much for what is forecast to be rain to an inch dusting in the city. NYC buses don't change at all for this little snow. I live in Eckington and the three primary routes that serve the neighbourhood—D8, 80 and P6—are all detoured or cancelled with far fewer stops in and around the neighborhood.
Gray Kimbrough felt some whiplash from the decisions:
I understand that there's a lot of uncertainty here and it's impossible to please everyone, but keeping transit service running is important to the region. Preemptively announcing significantly limited service only to switch back to regular service early this morning was disruptive to a lot of people.

I guess this could be the new normal strategy, which could be okay if we're clear on what it means. "WMATA plans to curtail bus service tomorrow but will reevaluate at 4 AM; check back for updates" would have been a much more helpful communication to riders if that was their intended strategy all along.

I checked and the @metrobusinfo Twitter account did tweet the revision just before 4 am, though @wmata didn't until 6 am and it didn't really filter through the media until later in the morning.

Other contributors, however, defended Metro, saying this was a very tough situation.

Abigail Zenner felt that she'd rather Metro preemptively cancel service than try to run it and have buses get stuck, as she's experienced in her neighborhood of Glover Park.

Warmer temperatures mean no ice. It could have easily gone the other way. We are cursed to be on the snow line.

In the past, we would slide to the bus stop only to find out a bus was stuck on a slippery spot never to be heard from again and blocking the road.

Adam Froehlig explained the extremely difficult forecast:
Yesterday afternoon it looked tricky. The "cutoff line" was basically right on top of the region, aligned southwest to northeast. This is a difficult forecast, as Abigail mentioned earlier. In scenarios like this where you're close to the freezing point not just at the surface but at lower altitudes, all it takes is a difference of one or two degrees at the right altitude to make the difference between rain, snow, or some other form of freezing precipitation.

What looks like happened is temperatures stayed just warm enough at the right altitudes to keep the precip as mostly rain or rain/snow mix from the District south and east. It should be noted (and highlights the cutoff mentioned above) that Dulles and BWI have been all snow since 4am, while National has been oscillating between rain or a rain/snow mix.

So the change overnight is likely what prompted WMATA to change their plans this morning, and also played a factor in OPM's status decision.

Jonathan Neeley also gave Metro the benefit of the doubt:
The thought I keep coming back to is that the blizzard was a chance to not screw up royally, and Metro seized it. They agency didn't handle everything perfectly, but given its however-many-years' worth of poor decision making and customer service, I think it's OK to say things went well.

Obviously, yesterday's precautions wound up being unnecessary, but as others have said, that isn't always clear until pretty late in the game. I don't know exactly what factors went into making decisions about bus service, both yesterday and pre-blizzard. But I'm willing to consider that being a bit too trigger happy in that realm has been part of a tradeoff that meant a positive move for bus and rail service overall.

Also not what happened. Photo by Samir Luther on Flickr.

While contributors reached a consensus that the forecast was understandably uncertain (one model predicted no snow and then 10 inches on consecutive runs six hours apart), some were still not persuaded that going to the moderate plan was necessary in the first place. Kelli Raboy said:

Going to the moderate snow plan was an overreaction, even for the worst-case forecasts. The moderate plan cuts a significant number of routes. The light snow plan would have been more reasonable.

Many people in this region rely on WMATA to get to work. When they cut bus routes far in advance of potential snow, it sends the message that WMATA is not a reliable option for transportation. I'm lucky to be able to telework when WMATA overreacts like this. Many people, especially the underserved in our communities, do not have that luxury.

From an operational standpoint, I understand the need to have a plan ready several hours in advance (so that employees and buses are in the right place at the right time). But that reasoning went out the window when WMATA changed their minds at the last minute anyway.

I also think they did a poor job communicating the changes. There was never any suggestion yesterday that the plan could change in the morning.

Matt Johnson agreed:
I think Metro is being overly cautious, and too much so in this case. The forecast was very uncertain (0-10" forecast), but Capital Weather Gang favored the "nuisance" end heavily, meaning that they thought the best chances were for very little snow.

Metro announced that they were going to "moderate" snow plan, which cuts service to many residents and businesses throughout the region long before forecasts were nailed down. And I suspect strongly that they were simply managing expectations. "Oh, look everybody, we're doing more than we promised!" That's not acceptable in this case, because as has been pointed out, the cancellation of much service was the last word anyone heard about it.

It would have been much more prudent for the agency to have said Monday night, "Given the uncertain forecast, Metrobus service and routes may be affected in the morning. Please check the website for up to date information in the morning. An announcement about service will be made no later than 5:00 am."

Ned Russell added, "Residents should not have to check their transit options every morning of their commute. I imagine a lot of people are not in the habit of repeatedly checking WMATA's status round-the-clock."

What do you think?


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.


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.


DC is testing a way to curb stormwater pollution

What happens to all the water when snow melts? To keep our water clean, DC wants to limit the amount of stormwater runoff a property can have, and create a market for buildings that go over to buy credits from those who don't. If it works, the program will serve as an example for other cities facing similar challenges.

DC hopes to mitigate the environmental harm of stormwater runoff, like melting snow. Photo by Pamla J. Eisenberg on Flickr.

Here's why runoff is bad

When it rains or snows, paved and urban environments send a tremendous amount of water into the nearest gutter. From there, it either goes to treatment or, as in two-thirds of DC, directly into the nearest body of water.

As stormwater flows to the closest river or lake, it picks up all of the pollution that has built up on city streets since the last rainfall (picture once white snow on the sidewalk after a couple days). This contaminates the surrounding environment and can lead such areas to be declared potentially toxic for humans, as is the case along much of the Anacostia.

Photo by Chesapeake Bay Program on Flickr.

Pollution is far from the only concern. The banks of Rock Creek or the Potomac demonstrate a separate, but no less harmful, problem stemming from urban runoff around every drain pipe: erosion of natural waterways.

Here's what DC wants to do about it

DC's Department of Energy and Environment has created a new approach to fixing the urban stormwater runoff problem.

The first part of the new law is that all new or renovated buildings above a certain size must capture and reuse or evaporate a specified amount of stormwater runoff.

If a building goes over its limit of allowed runoff, its owner (or the owner of the business occupying the building) has to buy credits that increase that allowance. On the flip side, if a building's runoff is under its limit, the owner can sell its credits to those going over. This is called a stormwater retention credit marketplace.

Requiring developers to contribute some part of their profit to remediate a property's negative impact on the public commons makes a lot of sense. This approach also treats all developers or redevelopers equally.

This won't be easy

The framework does, however, have a serious weakness from an impact point of view: Not all stormwater runoff has an equal impact on the environment, or on social welfare. A lot depends on factors like the state of the sewer system in the area and how close it is to a body of water, among others.

In fact, given the District's geography and different types of sewer systems, on many regulated sites, even full compliance with the capture requirements will have little or no water quality impact. Such differences do not, however, make stormwater retention any less viable; on the contrary, it means the relative impact of each individual project will vary greatly depending on its location. This is especially true for areas adjacent to or east of the Anacostia River.

Stormwater runoff to the Anacostia. Photo by Krista Schlyer.

Another potential difficulty stems from the inclusion of projects completed before the legislation was enacted, making them eligible for credits and potentially flooding the market with excess credits.

One possible solution that would be to establish a buyer of last resort, public or private, which would allow developers to unload unwanted inventory at a guaranteed price.

The right market could make this work

Washington's new program is attracting the interest of organizations and investors, but so far, it has been hampered by confusion surrounding the long term shape of the marketplace and the price for credits. Furthermore, the regulatory framework defines all stormwater runoff as equal, with volume being the only unit of measurement.

However, critically, the law sets up the possibility for an independent organization to serve as a market maker by creating or buying large numbers of credits. This should facilitate development of the marketplace by guaranteeing developers of credits a price at which to sell and allowing buyers to enter stable, long-term purchasing agreements in order to meet new regulatory requirements.

RainPay, an initiative of the Anacostia Waterfront Trust, is one such attempt. The organization will broker credit sales agreements with developers that would meet their regulatory requirements for a defined period of time, and then work with landowners in the places likely to achieve high pollution reduction to create new credits. If the marketplace develops as planned, it will result in a self-supporting system of substantial water quality gains without any government or philanthropic money.

Other non-profits, including the Nature Conservancy, are looking for ways to exploit this new regulation. Real estate developers, engineering companies and investors are also exploring the budding marketplace.

"The District's basic regulatory framework, coupled with a sophisticated intermediary like RainPay, will create a new market in ecological protection that, with adaptations to the overarching state (or national) legal and regulatory framework, can be replicated elsewhere," says Anacostia Waterfront Trust Executive Director Doug Siglin. "It is possible that someday London, Beijing and Nairobi could enhance their impact on water quality through local versions of the RainPay program. In this sense, RainPay could be a global market-maker."

Before stormwater retention credit marketplaces start popping up around the world, the regulation must be proven to work in Washington. It is apparent that knowledge about the credit market is still low. The program is relatively new and anything that can be done to increase awareness will help speed the development of the market. Obstacles remain, but if it works as planned, cities may have a powerful new policy tool for reducing stormwater pollution.


How would you grade the region's snow response?

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.

Photo by Clif Burns on Flickr.

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.]
Contributors' views varied, but overall, there was a good amount of consensus. Here are some key points and ratings, broken down by agency.

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."

Photo by Bill Couch on Flickr.


  • Kristy Cartier: WMATA gets an "A" for communication.
  • Abigail Zenner: I agree with Kristy about WMATA. Our ANC has battled with WMATA about better explanation on bus route changes. I was irritated they went to severe snow routes Friday morning, hours before the storm was due. BUT, they were very clear about when and where service would be restored and it was exactly as they said, at least in Glover Park.
  • Dan Malouff: WMATA I think was OK but a bit too gun-shy on closing everything early, and hasn't clearly communicated some stuff about reopening. For example, it's understandable that some buses have to go on detour, but Metro seems to have no system in place to let riders know if their bus is detouring or not.
  • Mathew Friedman: I rode the G2 to work Thursday morning for the first time since last Wednesday. It doesn't run from the "moderate" snow plan on up. Neither does the G8, which is a major route running down Rhode Island Avenue. From my neck of the woods, those are the only 2 bus lines that run downtown and for a full week, neither was running. I can at least walk 5 blocks to Shaw Metro if I need to, but for folks further out, that's not an option. I would think that taking so long to bring these bus routes and many others back online must leave a lot of people stranded.

    Photo by nevermindtheend on Flickr.
    • 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.

    Photo by nevermindtheend on Flickr.
    • 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.
    Alexandria & Arlington

    • 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.
    What grades would you give? Fill out the Kojo show's poll and post your thoughts in the comments. And listen in at 12:40 to hear me and Petula Dvorak discuss the issue.

    If you're reading this before 12:40, it's also worth tuning in to Kojo for a segment on whether high traffic fines change behavior (they don't), including Gabe Klein as one of the guests.

  • 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


    We can all help during a snow storm. Here's how.

    There are lots of ways to help keep your neighborhood safe during a storm, and speed recovery once it passes. From pitching in to clean up snow and ice to just staying off the roads or visiting neighbors, every little bit helps.

    Photo by DVIDSHUB on Flickr.

    On Wednesday, when we got our first (and much smaller!) wave of snow and ice, I watched a DC Circulator driver stop his bus and wait rather than drive on icy, untreated roads. Doing so meant blocking a lane of 37th Street NW, but it also meant that he was not putting people using the street at risk.

    That got me thinking about how we can all help care for our communities when bad weather hits. Local governments can't do it all, especially during events as historic as what we just experienced. Here are some things you can do:

    Move snow off the sidewalk

    Clear snow and ice, starting with your sidewalk and nearby curb cuts. If you can, help your neighbors who may not be able to shovel. It's particularly helpful to focus on areas that, when clear, make it a lot easier to get around, like entrances to crosswalks and bus stops. Also, dig out areas around fire hydrants so firefighters can get to them quickly if there's an emergency, and around storm drains so melting snow doesn't cause flooding.

    Worth noting: When you shovel, don't just shovel the snow away from your house and onto other parts of the sidewalk; the entire block needs to be clear! Also, if you have a car and you clear it out, don't try and save the spot. No one owns the street.

    Use the roads sparingly and responsibly

    Plows have made many major roads driveable. But officials across the region need us to avoid driving if possible because there's still tons of snow to move, and they don't want response resources going toward stuck cars. The fewer cars that are on the road, the easier it is for both plows and emergency vehicles to do their jobs. Pedestrians can also help by not walking on the roads unless that's the only option for getting anywhere.

    Drivers who absolutely need to be on the road should clean the ice and snow off windows, lights and roofs. Check out traffic cameras and news reports to plan your route, and rely on snow emergency routes and major roads that are treated more often; drive extra carefully and give priority to snow plows and emergency vehicles; watch for pedestrians in crosswalks or potentially on the roadway in places where sidewalks have not been cleared.

    Stay informed and share information

    Keep up to date on the weather and snow recovery activities in your area and across the region. Government officials and utilities need help spreading the latest information, which is constantly changing. These are some of the local governments you can sign up to get text alerts from:

    Radio, television, and news and government websites also work well for broadly applicable information, and neighborhood listservs and social media like Twitter provide more localized updates.

    Regardless of where you get information, there's no guarantee all your neighbors have seen the same updates. Make sure to share what you find both online and by word of mouth—it never hurts to knock on a neighbor's door and tell them what's up.

    Report issues quickly and often

    During and after storms, it's critical to quickly report water line breaks, natural gas leaks, dripping fire hydrants, or electrical outages, but keep in mind that utility crews may take longer to respond than normal and that problems that are usually quick fixes can be more difficult. Call 311 or report issues online that require local government attention, including knocked over street signs, traffic light outages, potholes, or street and sidewalk repair. And remember, crews would rather hear about a problem multiple times than not at all.

    High priority streets that serve as snow emergency routes are always the first to get plowed, with secondary and neighborhood streets taking a back seat. Here are a few area plow maps:

    And here's where you can report unplowed streets:Visit your neighbors for help and companionship

    Take a walk around your building or street to visit those who you haven't seen out and about during the storm. Sometimes even a brief "check in" can make all the difference, both for some needed social interaction and for safety. Some people may not have been able to go out since the storm started, and a friendly visit can mean the world to them. Single parents or other caregivers who have been at home for days might appreciate and accept an offer for childcare or watching those for whom they care.

    For safety's sake, talk with people you see shoveling the snow, especially the elderly or those who don't often perform difficult physical tasks. If they are having trouble breathing or look tired, suggest they need a break from shoveling. Even with the worst of the storm over, ask neighbors if their smoke and carbon monoxide detectors work or if they want to have a free smoke detector installed. And check if they still have adequate supplies of batteries, water, food, and other safety essentials. It never hurts to ask if they have their list of emergency numbers to call, plus an easy way to contact a friend or relative for assistance.

    Our actions and decisions make a big impact during and after a storm

    Local governments continue to respond to and recover from the storm, but they can only reach one neighborhood at a time. We can all help speed up the pace by taking action in our community. And that can go a long way.

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