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Unshoveled Sidewalks Generate Anger and Activism

by Borderstan.com February 12, 2010 at 9:48 am 1,911 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.

  • Anonymous

    My sidewalk is shoveled, but in defense of those who haven’t, many people don’t actually have shovels. My roommates and I don’t and we’ve been looking for months. My neighbors shoveled our sidewalk and I shoveled our own walkway with a baking pan (surprisingly effective). I’m also young and don’t have any health issues (such as, say, a bad back). Surely some people are just being lazy, but many I’m sure could use a hand, or at least a shovel.

  • JMidwest

    You say you’ve been looking for a shovel for months? You must not having been looking very hard. The Logan hardware store had tons of shovels up until the snow storm. They then restocked between the storms. You can probably get one there today or tomorrow.

  • The Smithsonian Institution has done absolutely nothing to make Fourth Street passable – there is not a single pedestrian pathway, and cars and pedestrians have been playing a very slippery game of chicken. It’s dangerous, and they should have taken care of it days ago. Also, the Irish Channel wasn’t dug out as of last night. Ice and alcohol strikes me as the perfect combo for a lawsuit.

    For people who bleat that you don’t have shovels – really? You can’t just ask your neighbor if you can borrow his when he’s done with it? Moreover, there were plenty of kids in my neighborhood offering to shovel walks for cash. When there’s even the tiniest shred of a will, there’s a way.

  • ShopTillYouDrop

    “…many people don’t actually have shovels. My roommates and I don’t and we’ve been looking for months.”

    Months? MONTHS? Gotta ask: buy anything else over those MONTHS? Shoes, new shirt, any other shopping trips? All the Home Depots, Targets, hardware stores, even some Safeways, were all closed during your MONTHS-long hunt?

    Come off it. You didn’t prepare. Most places restocked. Go get a shovel, because it’s getting deep in more ways than one.

    PS You will need an u-m-b-r-e-l-l-a when Spring comes.

  • David

    And how about the giant puddles of slush in the crosswalks and curb cuts? And the unshoveled sidewalks in front of the parks? I think we need to get angrier about that too.

  • Ian

    One of the bigger violators of the sidewalk shoveling law is the DC government itself. Sidewalks on Thomas Circle or adjacent areas under city control are not shoveled. I don’t know how the walkways on Logan or Dupont Circles are faring, but if the area around Thomas Circle is any indication, probably not well.

  • Taboo

    The sign that those guys up in Tenleytown made to post on people’s doors is just priceless. I wish I had the cajones to put it on some the businesses around here, not to mention to neighbors’ houses. http://www.nsflanagan.net/bucket/Posters/you%20can%20shovel%20it.pdf

  • dcvoterboy

    this is one of those public/private issues that no one really thinks about until it impacts them. clearly there’s room for improvement in the District’s snow and sidewalk law/regulation just as there’s room for improvement in people’s willingness to help out and shovel.

    if people want the law to be enforced and improved, there’s going to be administrative and logistical issues that will need to be addressed. a couple that come to mind quickly are: we’ll need DPW or DDOT staff out on the sidewalks inspecting and issuing citations; need for a clear time deadline issued by the District so folks know when they must have their sidewalks cleared by.

    i’m sure some will criticize any effort to really enforce and issue citations and label it a “snow tax”; but until everyone embraces the shared responsibility to help clean the sidewalks, some folks will only listen when you attach a price tag to inaction.

  • Bob in DC

    Here is the text of that Tenleytown sign. I think what I like best is that it looks like a certificate that you get for attending some class at work. There is even a line at the top for the offender’s name. LOL LOL LOL

    “You’re Welcome

    Please, don’t thank us. It’s your duty under D.C. Code § 9-601 to clear the sidewalks of snow within 8 hours of snowfall, but we were just so fed up with falling down outside your property that we did it for you anyway. You may also have piled up mountains of snow on sidewalks so people could get their cars onto the unplowed roads. Forget negligent, that’s just rude and lazy.

    This business or organization shall be listed publicly as a no-good not-shoveling neighbor.”

  • Jacob

    Nebraska Ave. near AU. Big houses with long sidewalks running along the sides that are not shoveled.

  • Melissa

    Tommy Wells has legislation before the council to enable the district to cite and fine non-shovelers. I emailed Jack Evans and he said he will definitely be supporting it.

  • Jessica

    There should be a punishment for homeowners and business owners not shoveling.
    The District SHOULD set the example, but if you think of all the space the city has, there’s always going to be some unhappy people. In the City, you have, what…2-3 feet to shovel?

    We should put up signs that say “I’m a lazy ass who won’t shovel – if you fall here, please sue me”.

    And if you can’t shovel due to illness/vacation/etc, you should have the brains to set up someone helping you.

    Bah, my walk to the metro was horrible.

  • Gumpper

    Fact is that those who didn’t shovel this time didn’t shovel last time, or the time before that. Some folks just don’t care, and until DC starts enforcing the law, most won’t. However, when businesses don’t shovel, we do have recourse — complain to the manager. Whole Foods never shovels the walk in front of its employee parking lot on Church Street, and I complained yesterday morning. Maybe the fact that a police officer was standing next to me (purely coincidental), but within a few hours the walk was clear right down to the brick.

  • We’ve been following this issue closely on TheCityFix DC. Check out our blog post about the lack of pedestrian crossings, from a sustainable transport and urban planning perspective:


    DC At-Large Councilmember Kwame Brown is getting in the action, too, by encouraging local residents to report issues to SeeClickFix:

  • Mary

    The biggest violators in my neighborhood, near 16th St. NW and Park, are the churches. The unshoveled sections of sidewalk on park are adjacent to churches. I guess they’re trying to make all of us walk on (frozen) water.

  • For those in need of a shovel, Logan Hardware on the 1400 block of P Street NW got in a new shipment. http://www.facebook.com/?ref=logo#!/pages/Washington-DC/Logan-Hardware/35130250678?ref=nf

  • Annoyed

    My sidewalk *was* shoveled. And then DCPW *really* cleared our street (thanks!) but put the snow where? Back on the sidewalk. Um, no thanks.


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