Snow Shoveling and Governance in D.C.

Having suffered through my fair share of Boston Snowmaggedons (thankfully, I’m missing this year’s), to complain about D.C.’s response (or lack thereof) to its recent snow event is almost ridiculous. We’re talking about three inches on Saturday, followed by above-freezing temperatures. It’s even melting! (which I don’t think will happen in Boston until April…).

But this leads to a problem: uncleared sidewalks. Almost no one as of noon on Sunday had shoveled their sidewalks. While the mayor’s office told people they had 24 hours to clear sidewalks, that’s really not good enough–people are walking in the street because the sidewalks are impassible. By Dupont Circle. That’s really not very safe.

I’ve discussed before how much difficulty D.C. had passing a bad snow removal bill (boldface added). One problem is that the 24 response time is far too long. Here’s how it’s done (boldface is the City of Boston’s):


•Remove snow, slush, and ice from sidewalks and curb ramps abutting your property within 3 hours of snowfall ending (or 3 hours from sunrise if snow falls overnight) as required by law. Violators will be fined (see fines below).

•Remove snow, slush, and ice from the full paved width of the sidewalk and curb ramp or a minimum path of 42 inches wide. Narrow paths encumber carriages and wheelchairs, and properly cleared pathways ensure flow and safety of pedestrian traffic.

•Remove ice to bare pavement or make as level as possible and treat with sand, sawdust or similar material.

•Please clear any snow that may be blocking a handicapped ramp, fire hydrant or catch basin.


•Shovel or plow snow into the street: Violators caught shoveling snow from private property into the street will be fined….

There are also ice removal regulations that are very strict (slush is annoying; ice is dangerous). So the Council could pass a law that does something.

But the second thing Boston does is that the city places a lien on those it fines. These aren’t fines that never get paid–shockingly, when the title to your property is in dispute (with the attendant financial and legal difficulties that can impose), landlords and property owners clear the sidewalk.

OK, so slush is merely annoying and bad for your shoes, though we’re supposed to stay below freezing this week, so it’s all turned to ice. But the inability of the mayor and the D.C. Council to pass a meaningful snow removal bill–and for pedestrians, not clearing sidewalks is like not clearing roads for drivers–is yet another failure of governance, combined with learned political helplessness.

As we say often on this blog, people have to like this crap.

It’s becoming painfully clear that Bowser and the City Council would be really good at their jobs–if it were 1995. Maybe 2005. But in 2015, over half the city uses their feet to get to work (mass transit or walking). 88 percent of new households don’t own a car. As best as I can tell, Bowser and most of the Council are throwbacks to an older D.C. when only the poor used mass transit (I doubt Bowser or most of those who purportedly govern us ever use the Metro on a regular basis), and people drove everywhere*, including residents of D.C.

Well, that’s not going to be the D.C. of the future, or even the present, and it’s time the powers that be in D.C. figure this out.

*I recently attended a public forum about gentrification and ‘Chocolate City’ at the DC Public Library. One of the panelists who grew up in the area and had a parent who lived in D.C. described how the D.C. she grew up in (possibly late 1980s, more likely 1990s) had neighborhoods where people drove around and nobody talked about transportation issues. She remarked that things have changed greatly, which jibes with my personal experience.

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1 Response to Snow Shoveling and Governance in D.C.

  1. BobC says:

    I feel your frustration, but 3 hours is too short for working class homeowners who don’t flexibility during the workday to commute back home to shovel the walk. I get out there as soon as I can (in Pittsburgh), but in the evening after work is sometimes the best I can do.

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