Post Requiem on the Only Blizzard of the Oughts

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.


10 Responses to Post Requiem on the Only Blizzard of the Oughts

  1. Brando says:

    I often wondered why the legions of unemployed or kids who are having a snow day from school can’t simply be given shovels by the city and put to work. I’m sure it wouldn’t cost much to give them some cash for their efforts and it’d lessen the public safety issue of icy sidewalks.

    That a city, with unemployment in the teens, didn’t find a way to use this as an opportunity to put some cash in pockets while doing some good work amazes me.

  2. The sidewalks near me are pretty clear, but a lot of the pedestrian accesses to the roads (to cross) are a complete clusterfuck, requiring pedestrians to step onto the street that’s got a green light for oncoming traffic.

    Clear sidewalks are only as useful as the intersections.

  3. I always shoveled for cash as a kid. I guess nowadays if it isn’t enough for an ipod, it isn’t worth it.

    I blame the parents.

  4. k8 says:

    Look. I’m all for supporting the down and out. I’ve lived at the poverty level before and volunteered at the food bank instead of using it because I was still solvent enough to do so and needed to do SOMETHING to make myself feel useful. But if you’re getting government resources for your living, then why can’t you give back? At least a little bit of your time? I don’t know. When did a handout really and truly mean a free hand out?

    I am picking up what you’re throwing down.

  5. Lusty Reader says:

    we live in Shaw and i can happily say that a group of 4 local youths made a killing with their shovels in our neighborhood. they knocked on plenty of doors, chatted up people in the street, and attacked the accumulated snow with a vengeance.

    Good for those kids, it makes me happy to know that at least a few were out there.

  6. citygirlblogs says:

    I thought of the many elderly in my building and wondered how they would get around during and after the blizzard. Your points about the ADA issues and what DC could do to improve the situation next time were eloquently put!

    Thank you, while I did point the finger at the city and the missed opportunity to both do right and do good, I also give them just a weee bit of a pass because of the usually inaccurate predictions of snow fall.

  7. Kristin says:

    I had trouble getting around and I’m fairly able bodied. It’s a mess out there! And what happened to entrepreneurship? What’s going to happen in a few years when the kids who don’t care about the money they could make shoveling are out in the working world? I would have paid someone to help in our neighborhood – I worked on three cars and two sidewalks.

    Yes, how will these undisciplined children fare in the real world? An excellent question you pose.

  8. Vie says:

    The sidewalks are quite treacherous – as someone who (strangely enough) has a phobia of ridiculously slippery surfaces, I’ve noticed. Apparently property owners are in charge of clearing the sidewalks in front of them, but when you look at the places owned by the city – like the sidewalks by the parks, and pedestrian bridges – it’s quite awful.

    …And we didn’t even factor in the business that did a crappy job through pure neglect on an inability of owners to get there.

  9. elle dubya says:

    can’t say i’ve ever experienced a snow day, but the youth in my town were pretty good about clearing debris from yards and streets after a hurricane when the schools would shut down. everyone would be outside anyway with power outages cutting off the a/c. with nothing else to do, we went to work clearing.

    Can’t say that I’ve ever been through a hurricane like that – there was this one time in the 80s when DC was under a very serious hurricane watch, but it diverted and the skies were mostly clear all day – but I imagine that entrepreneurial spirit will be the same.

  10. kitty says:

    a real native Washingtonian? color me impressed.

    there are more of us than most people think.

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