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Council Debates Snow Removal On County Sidewalks

by Aaron Kraut — March 19, 2014 at 10:35 am 516 7 Comments

Sidewalk on northbound side of Woodmont Avenue at St Elmo Avenue, on the Friday morning after a Wednesday-Thursday snow stormMontgomery County has received 449 complaints about snow-filled sidewalks and walkways this year, but none have resulted in any consequences for private property owners.

Richard Nelson, director of the Department of Housing and Community Affairs, said the department’s normal practice is to send a letter to the owner of the property in question. County law requires private property owners to remove snow from adjacent sidewalks and walkways within 24 hours of the end of a snow storm.

The DHCA oversees enforcement of the law. At a County Council hearing Tuesday on snow removal this winter, Nelson said the department’s typical practice is to send an inspector to sites of complaints when there is a second complaint.

This winter, Nelson said the DHCA sent inspectors to 40 sites and in each case, the situation had been resolved.

The topic was one of many in a discussion that began focused on the county’s snow removal performance during the Feb. 12-Feb. 13 storm and veered to additional measures the county should take to ensure clear sidewalks, bus stops and pedestrian crossings.

Councilmember Hans Riemer proposed a Sidewalk Snow Removal Plan after that storm, which dumped 12-21 inches of snow throughout the county.

“The idea of kids walking in the street around high schools, that’s still happening. I got reports of that this winter. I got reports of people using motorized wheelchairs in the street, on University Boulevard,” Riemer said Tuesday. “These things are happening and we can do something to improve this.”

Council President Craig Rice had already said the county needs to rely on the 24-hour law and community outreach instead of Riemer’s proposal.

On Tuesday, he said pedestrians need to use common sense when it comes to safety and snow-filled sidewalks.

“What we don’t do a good job of is telling people to stay in place while walking as well. We quickly say don’t drive,” said Rice, when describing the county’s outreach during a snow storm. “It’s not worth your life to go out to 7-Eleven to get a pack of potato chips or whatever it is that they’re doing. If it means that they’re trying to get to work, it’s communication with us.”

Councilmember George Leventhal echoed Rice’s feelings by saying residents should continue to notify the county government of unplowed streets and sidewalks, but should do so while realizing that clearing sidewalks and the county’s roughly 5,000 bus stops isn’t a realistic idea.

“It is not realistic to expect that immediately after a snow storm, conditions are safe,” Leventhal said. “If we’re actually asking for real outcomes and real solutions, I think we also have to acknowledge some rule of reason.”

Councilmember Nancy Navarro expressed support for Riemer’s effort, asking that the county at least come up with a planning process for sidewalk snow removal in future major snow events.

“I don’t think it’s fair to say to people, ‘Just don’t walk,’” Navarro said. “They’re going to walk.”

Nelson said private property owners will often complain that shoveled sidewalks get re-covered with snow when road plows push snow back onto the sidewalks.

“We can think about, particularly for next year, to begin a more visible campaign to alert people to what is in fact required,” Nelson said.

  • Gull

    “It’s not worth your life to go out to 7-Eleven to get a pack of potato chips or whatever it is that they’re doing. If it means that they’re trying to get to work, it’s communication with us.”

    Uh, yea, that’s just it – the next morning after the snow, i’m expected to get to work, and yet the sidewalks are not shoveled. I do communicate with the County where my problems are, and it takes 3-4 days before anything is actually done – generally because the sun melts it off, not because anyone actually shoveled anything. I’ve had to walk in the street many of times this winter, which is not always any better because the plows only clear an area wide enough for a car, they don’t usually scrape all the way to the curb or road edge.

    • Crickey7

      Unbelievably tone-deaf. Drivers have options. The roads are generally passable, if not totally safe. Sidewalks are often impassable and people really do need to use them–it’s not a luxury. That people are forced to take their motorized wheelchairs into the roadway proves this.

    • Over It

      So true. To get to work I have to walk from the bus stop at West Cedar Lane and Old Georgetown Road about one block to the office park. The sidewalk in front of the water tower has never been shoveled. Sometimes a single snow dump lasts more than 2 weeks at that particular location, during which I’m forced to walk in the street on a blind curve where cars are coming. Am I supposed to take the 2 weeks off work? Meanwhile my boss easily drives to the office on the cleared roads.

  • Frank

    Let’s get an army of additional county employees to sit around on the payroll waiting for the two or three snowstorms per year. We can cover the expense through higher taxes (maybe a shoe tax to go with the bag tax). That’s not a problem for those whose tasseled loafers don’t provide enough protection on snowy sidewalks. For those of us who struggle to live here, I guess Hans and Nancy would just prefer that we move to Prince George’s County.

  • TennisDad

    Staff at QO HS could not figure out how to move snow from the corner’s of their property and sidewalk that adjoins the school. So much for caring about students who walk. I wish I would have taken photos. I will next time.

  • BeamerBro

    I used to live in the DC area, but now I live 5 minutes away from the Canadian border, and we’ve had the roughest winter in 25 years. I hate the fact that the elderly and people in wheelchairs have this awful decision of whether to stay on the sidewalks, much of which is not cleared, or go out into the streets—this is one of many important reasons why I clear my sidewalk! Clearing snow is not so much in the DNA in the DC people, but it is here, in Buffalo. And if you can’t think about your neighbors, contemplate the fact that a large share of the local commercials are slip-and-fall lawyers suing people for not clearing their sidewalks after a snow.

  • Shasha
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