During a recent bar conversation, a few friends remarked on the laudible snow removal efforts in DC. While I would agree that the DC government did a nice job, in the big picture of clearing streets, I am not willing to hold the bar quite so low.
Since the snow stopped falling on Saturday night, I have traveled by foot, Metro Bus, Metrorail, and Cab through the neighborhoods of Capitol Hill, Brightwood, Petworth, Cleveland Park, Adams Morgan, Woodley Park, Dupont Circle, Farragut, Midtown, Georgetown, Penn Quarter, and maybe a few more. Sidewalks are still hazardous to an athletic adult male fully equipped with snow boots because of large swaths of unshoveled walks with compacted snow/ice. They are extremely arduous for women with baby strollers, and they’re impassible to anyone in a wheelchair.
I get resource allocation theory. I understand that we needed to focus on the largest and most heavily traveled streets first, and then work down towards smaller streets. I further understand that sidewalk clearing is largely the responsibility of landowners whose property abuts said sidewalk but what about the intersections? What about the accessible ramps at intersections that are covered by snow-banks that the road crews had to build? What about the sidewalks adjacent to public parks?
This impacts pubic safety, the local economy, civic morale, and very well might be a giant civil rights law suit because of violations to the Americans with Disabilities Act.
I am a native Washingtonian, thus I understand that DC Government doesn’t handle snow as well as some localities because we don’t get it as much. It would be an illogical and grotesquely wasteful use of funds to acquire equivalent resources as a city like Chicago when snow’s like this only occur once a decade or so.
The sidewalk issues are more about human resources, however. This work requires people with shovels, and snow blowers, and salt/sand dispensers.
What’s the unemployment rate in the District?
When I was a much younger Washingtonian, snow days were a source of elation not just because of the promise of a day without school but at least in equal measure, they provided the opportunity to make some quick cash clearing sidewalks for people who were unable, unwilling, or simply preferred not to do it themselves.
As a neighbor who is a few years my junior and I cleared our own sidewalks and those of three other neighbors who are many years our senior, I kept waiting for those tweens and teens to arrive with shovels and an entrepreneurial spirit. They never came. Four hours spent on walkways and freeing cars from snow banks and we didn’t see a single one.
I am now – officially – a curmudgeon as I have made more than the statutorily allowed references to things that happened “in my day.”
In case you haven’t seen it, the Washington Post has a terrific op-ed piece by the “guy who wound up being detained by police” in the Great Snowball Fight of 09.