With winter weather ahead, D.C. Council considers plans for clearing snow

The Washington Post Capital Weather Gang predicts above average snowfall and below average temperatures this winter, and District government agencies are planning their response. The forecasters laid out their gloomy predictions and Department of Public Works Director Bill Howland laid out a strategy for clearing snow at a hearing earlier this month. Despite the bad news about the forecast, there was some good news for pedestrians. In locations where local government is responsible for sidewalks, pet-safe de-icer will be used more this year, Howland said. In addition, DPW is ready to deploy specialized equipment for clearing sidewalks along bridges. The challenge of clearing bridge sidewalks was tragically highlighted in February when a man was killed while he was walking along the roadway on the Sousa Bridge after a snowfall left the sidewalk inaccessible.

Ward 3 Councilmember Mary Cheh seemed generally satisfied with preparations for this coming winter. “We’re ready, and we’re in good shape,” Cheh declared as she adjourned the Nov. 14 hearing.

A few days after that hearing, the D.C. Council approved Cheh’s sidewalk clearing bill. “The Winter Sidewalk Safety Amendment Act” would make it easier for the city to press homeowners and business owners to clear snow off their sidewalks. Currently, the District can fine homeowners who fail to shovel, but the law requires going to court to do so. The new law, which won’t go into effect until next winter, would allow the District government to issue fines of $25 to residences and $150 to businesses that fail to clear snow from sidewalks within 24 hours of the end of a snowfall. Residents who are over 65 or are disabled would be exempt from the fine. The Council approved the bill with amendments by a vote of 10-3, with Councilmembers Barry, Bowser and Graham rejecting the plan because of concerns that elderly and disabled homeowners would receive fines.