D.C.'s Official Pedestrian Advisory Body

Appointed by the D.C. Council to advise the Mayor, the D.C. Council, DDOT and other agencies.

Next Meeting: July 8th, 2024

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“Snowzilla” by the numbers

The winter storm known as “Snowzilla” racked up some impressive numbers, according to District officials:

  • 4.5 million cubic feet of snow removed
  • 949 pieces of equipment deployed
  • $55.3 million spent on snow removal

 District employees and contractors worked 12-hour shifts for nearly a week after Winter Storm Jonas dropped 26 inches of snow on the District on January 22 and 23, said Chris Geldart, director of the District’s Homeland Security and Emergency Management Agency (HSEMA), testifying at a roundtable in City Council chambers on Feb. 18.

Councilmember Brandon Todd (Ward 4) lauded the employees of HSEMA and the other agencies involved in the storm response for clearing the streets, communicating with the public, and making sure services such meals for kids were provided while many regular services were shut down. District agencies “did quite frankly a remarkable job,” Todd said.

However, smaller numbers got the attention of other Council members and members of the public who commented at the hearing:

  • 14 citations issued to businesses for failing to clear sidewalks
  • 7 days that wheelchair users were homebound
  • 5-foot high piles of snow piled on curb ramps

Many of the public witnesses who testified at the hearing focused on the problems created for people trying to get to work or grocery stores on foot or using wheelchairs. Plows pushed snow onto sidewalks on busy arterial roads and onto curb ramps at intersections, making them impassable. Sidewalks were left unshoveled by home and business owners or other responsible parties. Councilmember Mary Cheh (Ward 3) said more attention should be paid to clearing snow from sidewalks and curb ramps in the future. “We really need to reorient our thinking about what we prioritize,” she said at the hearing.

HSEMA is drafting an after-action report that will be submitted to Mayor Muriel Bowser by March 30. Cheh requested that HSEMA address in the report the issue of “orphan sidewalks” – sidewalks that are not adjacent to a home or business and are often left uncleared by National Park Service (NPS) or local government agencies. Councilmember Charles Allen (Ward 6) requested that the report include plans for better cooperation with NPS, which left many small parks that are part of the pedestrian network uncleared and treacherous. Both Cheh and Allen asked how the Serve DC Snow Team, a volunteer brigade of shovelers, could be more effective in the future.

A recurring theme at the roundtable discussion was the decision by the Mayor not to enforce the new snow shoveling law that allows property owners to be issued tickets if they fail to shovel their sidewalks. Cheh called the decision not to ticket scofflaws “a mistake.” Department of Public Works (DPW) Director Chris Shorter explained that DPW employees were busy clearing snow and that Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs (DCRA) employees were brought in to contact business owners about the requirement to clear their walks. After giving some of these owners several days to respond, a total of 14 tickets were issued. Public witness Ian Watlington, who uses a wheelchair and was stuck in his home for a week because of walks and curb cuts covered in snow and ice, expressed dismay at the lack of enforcement. “I am deeply disappointed that Mayor Bowser chose not to enforce (the law),” he said. “If not then, when?”

For more coverage of the roundtable on the District’s response to Snowzilla, check out stories from WAMU, Washington Times, WTOP and Washington City Paper.