Greater Greater Washington

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Neighbors unite to tackle slippery sidewalks

Fed up with the slippery, dangerous sidewalks in their neighborhood, Glover Park residents took matters into their own hands and came together to de-ice Calvert Street.

Before (left) and after (right) neighbors on Calvert Street cleared the ice from the sidewalks on Calvert Street. Photos by Rebecca Johnson.

After last week's snowfall, we highlighted a "Hall of Shame" of residents, businesses, public agencies, and even embassies who neglected to clear their sidewalks. As the snow melted and refroze, the unkempt walks became a nasty, slippery sheet of ice.

In Glover Park, no one knew whom to call and report the slippery sidewalks. So one enterprising resident issued a call to arms to her neighbors to clear them.

Rebecca Johnson went on the neighborhood's listserv and asked volunteers to meet her Saturday morning to clear Calvert Street from 39th Street to Wisconsin Avenue. A group of seven volunteers showed up, and along the way, some college students came out and joined them.

It would be nice if homeowners and landlords took responsibility for the sidewalks in front of their properties. But it was nice to see the community come together and make their streets safer.


Stunning snowscapes in the Flickr pool

Thank goodness for snow! Without it, we wouldn't have these gorgeous additions to the Greater and Lesser Washington Flickr pool, to share with you as a small consolation for the cold and wet week.

Pennsylvania Ave. Photo by wolfpackWX on Flickr.

Dupont Circle. Photo by Aimee Custis.

National Mall. Photo by wolfkann.

Photo by Vileinist.

Bloomingdale. Photo by Jeff Morrow.

Eckington. Photo by Vileinist.

21st and P St NW. Photo by Aimee Custis.

Got a picture that depicts the best or worst of the Washington region? Make sure to join our Flickr pool and submit your own photos!


One resident really knows how to clear the sidewalk

Uncleared sidewalks are a serious problem in urban areas, but snow makes suburban areas even more impassable on foot. Unless you happen to live near Richard Hoye, who has an actual motorized vehicle to plow sidewalks himself where nobody else will do it.

Photos by Richard Hoye.

Suburban arterial streets can be dangerous to walk on even on clear, dry days, but there's really no consensus about how to clear them for pedestrians after a storm.

Fairfax County closed schools for 3 days partly because students who walk to school couldn't do so safely.

Evan Montgomery-Recht, who lives in Montgomery County, wrote in to the county to ask,

Who is responsible for snow removal on sidewalks along public land or where there is not a clear homeowner or HOA responsible ... I'm specifically referring to Tuckerman Lane, Old Georgetown (including over the 270 spur) and Rockville Pike where there are sidewalks that are actively utilized even in cold weather. Including those who walk to the Grosvenor Metro Station.

I ask as both last year and this year there has been no clearing of the sidewalks. ... Part of the reason I ask because when I lived in MA the towns and counties were responsible for clearing when there was not a clear owner (and yes they would clear them, actually pretty impressive when you realized that all the sidewalks were walkable within 24 hours even when there were many inches of snow.)

Timothy Serrano of the Montgomery DOT's Division of Highway Services replied:
Regrettably, The Department of Transportation is not able to clear sidewalks. We have neither the equipment nor the workforce resources that effort would require. We do rely on residents to be good neighbors and to follow the requirements of the County Code that requires residents and commercial entities to clear the public sidewalks adjacent to their properties.
Hoye, who also knew the county wouldn't do it, decided to take a part of the matter into his own hands, and bought this vehicle, known as "mini-skid steer," to clear part of Old Georgetown Road, where he lives:

Hoye writes,

I bought this slightly used mini-skid steer about a year ago to accomplish a range of tasks. A primary goal was to be able to clear snow from the public sidewalk along Old Georgetown Road from downtown Bethesda to the NIH/Suburban Hospital campuses. I live along that section. My side of 5 Lane Old Georgetown Road has the sidewalk next to the curb.

My mini-skid steer equipped with plow or hydraulic rotary broom is perfect for sidewalks. I'm able to keep up with the snow plows that push the snow back up on a just cleared sidewalk and ram the snow into piles blocking the ADA ramps at street corners.

The machine and accessories has set me back well over $25,000. Hard to justify until you see people walking in the dark, icy street on this major pedestrian route. I got more encouragement a few years ago from our Director of Transportation, who said to one of the County Executive's appointees to to the Pedestrian and Traffic Safety Committee, "I don't do sidewalks."

The DOT should do sidewalks. Since it doesn't, it's good for people who walk on Old Georgetown that Hoye does do them.


How Chicago provides warmth to waiting transit riders

It's been a cold winter in DC this year. Transit riders, stuck waiting for buses and trains, are particularly susceptible to extreme cold. Chicago, where these sorts of temperatures are more regular, has a nice way of keeping their riders warm.

A heat lamp at a Chicago station. Photo by the author.

Most of the outdoor CTA stations have these heat lamps placed strategically in L stations. In many cases, these are placed inside the plexiglass shelters on the platform.

To save energy, these don't run all the time. Riders can turn them on by pressing a button. They turn off after a minute or so, but riders who are still waiting can push the button again.

"Push for heat." Photo by the author.

Given the warmer winters we experience here, it may not be worth installing these on WMATA, but they would certainly be nice to have on days like today.


Sidewalk snow clearing Hall of Shame

Around the city and region, a lot of sidewalks are clear, and a lot aren't. Where they aren't, in many cases the snow is now packed down into a sheet of ice, making walking very treacherous.

I asked readers to send in photos and reports of the problem areas along their commutes. Steve Mothershead, who walks along Martin Luther King Avenue, SE to the Anacostia Metro in the mornings, says most of the sidewalks are not clear:

Photos by Steve Mothershead.

He wrote:

Most of the sidewalks have not been touched, except for the one next to the school. Most of the churches have not touched the sidewalks in front of their properties, and of course the sidewalks in front of the abandoned buildings that the city seems to refuse to do anything with haven't been addressed. This is a highly traveled section of sidewalk and I saw many children on their way to school having trouble walking. Some people were even opting to walk on busy MLK.
Jason Broehm and Robin Swirling both reported problems in Columbia Heights, with the large plaza at 14th and Park, and nearby at 14th and Newton:

Photos by Jason Broehm (top) and Robin Swirling (bottom).

Randall Myers reports Freedom Plaza a sheet of ice as of last night. That one is the Park Service's responsibility.

Photo by Randall Myers.

In Dupont Circle, the bridge for Q Street to the Metro (the DC government's responsibility) has a decent cleared path, but as you can see from the fact that more snow is packed down on either side, it's not wide enough for times of heavier foot traffic.

If you needed a reason to like Argentina more than Botswana, the Argentine embassy cleared their corner of Q and New Hampshire, while the Embassy of Botswana did not. (The Botswanans do have much more sidewalk on 3 sides, though.)

Also in Dupont, Joe Manfre writes,

I don't have a picture, but that Scientology building at the corner of 16th and P has been really bad about clearing the walk on the long, long side of their building along P Street (as opposed to the short frontage along 16th).
There are plenty of homeowners who haven't cleared sidewalks either, but the biggest problem is large institutions. They have more sidewalk, and unlike with an individual homeowner who might be 75 with back problems, foreign governments, the District government, the National Park Service, and large corporate apartment buildings ought to be able to fulfill this civic duty.


Are sidewalks and bike lanes getting cleared of snow?

4-8 inches of snow fell on the region yesterday, as you are surely aware. That means that all road users, drivers, pedestrians, and cyclists have to navigate snowy streets. Property owners sometimes are diligent about clearing their vehicular paths but not sidewalks. How about this time?

Photo by Katie Yaeger Rotramel on Flickr.

Some businesses and institutions won't have had a chance to clear snow by this morning (BID staff seem to be up and about clearing sidewalks right now in commercial areas, for instance), but let's keep an eye on how they do after they have a fair interval to clear snow today.

If you see a problem area this afternoon or tomorrow morning (or a well-cleared area next to a large institution, city property or federal park you want to single out for praise), take a picture and send it to I'll do a roundup of praise and shame for shoveling.

The National Park Service, embassies, and surface parking lot operators have often left very large areas unshoveled. Sometimes bike lanes don't get plowed even when the adjacent streets do.

DC's snow-clearing agencies, DDOT and DPW, announced this year that unlike in the past, they are going to work to clear the pedestrian ways on facilities like bridges. Those have been a real problem in past snows, and not just the long bridges over rivers or Rock Creek; overpasses like Q Street and Connecticut Avenue, or Massachusetts Avenue or North Capitol Street and so on, are also the city's responsibility. After the much smaller snow earlier this month, indeed the city seems to have cleared those well, or at least for the ones I saw.

After the last snow, when I took our baby for a walk to the Shaw library 2 days later, almost every sidewalk was clear (including around the library), with the notable exception of the entire, long sidewalk around Garrison Elementary. DCPS was on winter break, but it would make sense for the city to coordinate snow removal around all its facilities, since parents and children (and people with disabilities and able-bodied adults) need to walk near schools when school is out just the same.

Another parent struggles to push a stroller on Vermont Avenue, NW on January 4. Photo by the author.

How's it looking out there now?

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