At the end of the day on Friday, I created “Snow Helper” Watch Areas on SeeClickFix, with the advice of SCF Co-Founder Ben Berkowitz, in an attempt to keep track of all the snow-related issues reported in the District. Even though the Mayor says our streets are “90 percent” cleared, there are still piles of ice and slush blocking crosswalks, bus stops and Metro stations, making our city inaccessible and inconvenient, especially for pedestrians, cyclists and mass transit users.
Of the 12 Watch Areas I created at the last-minute on Friday (in preparation for Monday’s snowfall, which turned out to be light), Capitol Hill was the most active over the weekend. At least fourteen issues were reported in that neighborhood, dealing with unplowed streets, dangerous pedestrian conditions, and obstructed transit connections. One resident even wrote about a snow-ridden, poop-infested playground, made unsuitable for children to play in.
In Mount Pleasant, one woman wrote about her fear of falling on crutches (she has limited physical mobility because of her arthritis), since her apartment exit is covered in snow and ice. Just another example of how important it is to think of people with all types of abilities — and modes of transport — when making plans for your city. It can’t just be about car drivers.
Stories like this abound all over Washington (and the suburbs), and the situation has revealed a spectrum of reactions. Many individuals have turned to online tools like SeeClickFix and Facebook to help rally volunteers to clear our streets, in the absence of a timely response from city officials. Some people are calling for a “snow tax” to make sure we have enough plows available in case, God forbid, we have another record-breaking blizzard. Others just want to point fingers — especially at Mayor Fenty, and even President Obama.
Online tools, though, seem to be the quickest way to organize snow removal solutions. “It’s about empowering citizens to help out as much as it is asking for help from the government,” as Berkowitz said to me over the phone this morning.
The Washington Post partnered with PICNet and Non-Profit Soapbox to create the “Snowmageddon – The Clean Up,” which looks an awful lot like SeeClickFix, where you report a problem, look for reports near you, and then organize a “clean up party” with your neighbors.
As heard on Greater Greater Washington, a group of Tenleytowners used Facebook to invite people to the Tenleytown Insurrectional Snow Cleanup and Snowball Fight to make sidewalks more accessible. There were 10 confirmed guests. “Walking is really the only way to get around right now – so it behooves us to make it as easy and safe as possible for everyone of every level of ability to walk around as best as possible,” the event organizers wrote.
Elsewhere, via blog post, Dennis Jaffe organized a Valentine’s Day snow cleanup (“Give a hand. Save a hip,” he quipped) to shovel out bus stops.
Now if we could just figure out what to do with all those overflowing trash cans…