Washington, D.C. does a pretty good job of plowing major roads after snowstorms. However, sidewalks and crosswalks are a different story. A little background: I live in the District because I wanted to live in a place where I didn’t need a car, and where I could either walk, bike, take the bus, or ride the Metro to work. When it snows, though, my transportation options are greatly reduced – perhaps even more than for commuters with cars.
My morning went something like this: I walked two blocks to my bus stop (80 bus at North Capitol St. and T St.), through two feet of snow in most places, except where my neighbors and I had shoveled a 12-inch clearing on Rhode Island Ave. NE, which lasted for precisely half a block. I had to walk in the street to get around 5-foot snow drifts left over from the plows. Then, for the second time this winter, I had to stand in the middle of the street to wait for the bus, since there was no cleared sidewalk on North Capitol. There were five of us waiting in the street, including an old man who walked in front of the bus while it was pulling up. Thankfully, the bus driver saw him and stopped in time , but there was no room for error, and it was pure luck that no one got hurt. After I got off the bus at North Capitol St. and H St. NE (where I exited into a 3-foot snow bank), I had to walk 20 feet into the middle of a very busy North Capitol St. to get around the snow drift created from plowing H St. Pedestrians were forming a single file line to cross the road and get through the tiny cut in the snow drift on the other side.
My commute, as shown on Google Maps: I walk two blocks from my house (point A) to the bus stop, take the bus to North Capitol St. and H St. and then walk a final two blocks to get to the office (point B). Walking the whole way usually takes 30 minutes, but it would be impossible today because of the snow piled up on the sidewalks.
Even though I live within walking distance of my office, getting to work after a snowstorm is exceedingly dangerous. I can’t even imagine what it would be like if I were elderly, used a cane or wheelchair, or was not steady on my feet. Luckily, schools are closed today, as children would face equally risky pedestrian (and bus) conditions on their way to school. I am lucky that my office gave me the option to work from home today – as every employer should for its employees that can work from home – but I ventured out because I thought if the buses were running, I could, too!
My question for D.C. leaders is this: Why isn’t it standard practice to plow the sidewalks and crosswalks of major streets (like North Capital, Rhode Island, Mass, etc.) – if not all streets – after a snowstorm? I feel marginalized as a pedestrian and bus rider, and the grumblings I heard on the bus tell me I’m not alone. After the December storm, D.C. hired temporary workers to shovel snow at Metro stations and parking lots – why not create a roster of contractors with shovels or snow blowers to clear the sidewalks and crosswalks? I know that it’s technically not the responsibility of the city to do this. But the benefits of keeping sidewalks clear are simple: If people can access transit, they don’t need to drive and clog up the roads; safe access transit creates lifelines for those who cannot drive or afford a car; and pedestrians are safer since they don’t have to walk in the road.
For now, I’ve learned my lesson – I’ll work from home until the snow melts, because I can. But what if I couldn’t? It’s time for D.C. to plan ahead, be responsible, and restore pedestrian connections for all of us – for the elderly who need transit to stay connected, for the resident who walks to work, and even for the car driver who doesn’t like pedestrians walking in the road. As for the kids, let them enjoy their snow day, but make sure streets are safe for building snowmen and going sledding.
Take Action: To voice your concerns about the lack of pedestrian connectivity and safety after a snowstorm, add your comments to my report on SeeClickFix.
UPDATE, 2/16/2010: A full week after my first blog post, and my bus stop still hasn’t been cleared! I guess Urban Land Company – the owner or realtor of the condo building on the corner – doesn’t appreciate the irony of an “urban” condo building leaving their sidewalks unshoveled. I got to exit into a snow back at my destination – North Capitol St. and H S.t – and the crosswalks there have actually gotten worse during the last week. See some pictures below.