Winter is almost here and planning for the first snowstorm is well under way even with the strongest El Nino in history suggesting we could see less this year. Historically we get 2.3 inches of snow in December with only a 9 percent chance of snow on Christmas morning, but preparation is key.
There has been a long-running debate in D.C. over whether we should fine businesses and residents who don’t shovel their sidewalks after a storm. I have long been a proponent of fining them. You only need to take a walk on Q Street, N.W., between 16th and 18th to see what it looks like days after a storm when the snow has turned to ice and the sidewalks in front of many expensive brownstones and condos have never seen a shovel. The owners of those buildings apparently ascribe to the 1987 Marion Barry philosophy enunciated after a major storm hit D.C. while he was at the Super Bowl in sunny California and didn’t bother to come home. It went something like “The Lord brought the snow, the Lord will take it away.”
The reality is there are thousands of people who can’t get out of their homes and if they get out are forced to walk in the middle of the street because of the snow and ice covering the sidewalks in front of these homes whose inconsiderate owners are waiting for it to melt.
In 2014, the City Council passed a new law requiring residents and business owners in D.C. to clean their walks within eight hours after a storm or be fined. So with winter around the corner and the snow season upon us, I hope with this new law citizens of the District will see a difference in their neighborhoods.
Mayor Bowser recognizes there are seniors and persons with disabilities who will not be able to comply and is trying to do something to help them. Clean sidewalks are even more important for this group of residents who might be less stable on their feet and might need to get to medical appointments.
So in an effort to help ServeDC, the Mayor’s Office on Volunteerism, is working to recruit up to 2,500 volunteers to join the D.C. Resident Snow Team organized to help vulnerable neighbors with snow removal. Thus far, according to Kristal Knight, director of ServeDC, they are about halfway to their goal. They hope to find people in every neighborhood so when a senior or disabled citizen registers with ServeDC someone in their neighborhood will be available to help them shovel the snow from their walks and steps. ServeDC will provide snow shovels if needed.
In the long run we should be doing even more to get ready. Cities from New York to Providence are dealing with this issue. While it is a fact they get more snow than we do and it becomes more of a priority, removal of snow involves both safety and economics everywhere. One of the reasons D.C. is attracting so many millennials and empty-nesters is because we are a walkable city with good public transportation. That should not stop because it snows. One suggestion is for the city to contract with a non-profit, provide snow shovels, and have them hire the unemployed who want to earn money by shoveling snow. Plans could be made to transport these workers into neighborhoods where needed. Some cities actually plow sidewalks themselves and people have the cost added to their property taxes on an annual basis. There are a lot of ways to do a better job of getting our city cleaned quickly after a storm.
Like with so many other things it is all in the planning. A good start is what Mayor Bowser is doing by recruiting volunteers for this coming season.
If you are able and would like to be a good neighbor you should become one of the 2,500 volunteers for the Resident Snow Team. To sign up, visit snowteam.dc.gov. If you are a senior over the age of 60, or if you have a disability and do not have someone in your home who can shovel your steps and sidewalk, you should call 311 today to get your home on the list for help.
Peter Rosenstein is a longtime LGBT rights and Democratic Party activist.