Unshoveled Sidewalks Generate Anger and Activism

by Borderstan.com February 12, 2010 at 9:48 am 2,115 17 Comments

Luis Gomez Photos snowpocalypse snowmageddon snowverkill Logan Circle, 15th Street NW Borderstan

Thursday: 15th and S Streets NW. (Luis Gomez Photos)

Sidewalks left unshoveled by residents and businesses in the wake of the city’s two recent snowstorms are generating anger and activism in DC.

Tuesday’s post, “Will DC Enforce the Law on Shoveling Sidewalks?” generated a healthy number of reader comments about residents and businesses who do not shovel their sidewalks. DC states that property owners are responsible for removing the snow on sidewalks abutting their property within eight daylight hours after a storm stops; read the regulations here.

But the law is not working–the Dupont-Logan-U Street area (and much of the city, undoubtedly) remains a hazardous collection of snow and ice-ladden sidewalks. To be fair, many residents and businesses have shoveled their walks, but a walk anywhere in the area shows that many have not done so.

Why have snow- and ice-clogged sidewalks been such a problem during the recent heavy snowstorms? It is probably due to the fact that property owners face no real penalties and there is no mechanism for enforcing the regulation and the fines, which are miniscule.

Local resident Josh Glasstetter has a good post at Next American City titled “Snow Excuse,” in which he outlines how DC can revamp the law on sidewalk shoveling to actually give it some teeth and make it effective–and it obviously is not effective in its current form. He suggests a system in which non-shovelers would be issued tickets, similar to parking tickets.

In a sign of how important clear sidewalks are to Washingtonians, especially those in densely populated downtown neighbohoods, local groups have sprung up to handle the problem.

Moreover, local blogs and community listservs have given the issue attention. Unshoveled sidewalks is generating many messages and spirited discussion over at the Dupont Forum on Yahoo! Groups. Other sites, including 14th & You and Greater Greater Washington, have written about it.

At GGW there was a Wednesday post, “Tenleytowners digging each other out,” about a community effort in Tenleytown to shovel sidewalks on Thursday (“Tenleytown Insurrectional Snow Cleanup and Snowball Fight” on Facebook). The group also used shame as a tool against residents and businesses by posting pre-made signs where sidewalks were not shoveled. The sign is great; you really have to read it.

There was even a group formed on Facebook to get volunteers to shovel sidewalks yesterday. “SHOVE(L) IT, DC!” was formed especially to help the elderly and disabled by Will Stephens, an ANC 2B/Dupont commissioner.

This is a real issue for urban neighborhoods, especially downtown ones such as Dupont-Logan-U Street. We shop and commute via our sidewalks, which are as important to us as streets. Our neighborhood has many residents who walk to work–they do not take public transportation, let alone drive. Local businesses depend on customers being able to get to their stores.

This makes the issue of sidewalks a quality of life issue, not some boutique issue that only affects a few Washingtonians. In short, it matters.

My advice to DC politicians and officeholders would be to pay attention to the issue of sidewalks, especially unshoveled ones during snowstorms.

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