Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Walking in the road to avoid snow-clogged sidewalks

This is what happens when sidewalks are not cleared near activity centers. The top photo shows a pedestrian walking in Sunset Hills Rd near the future Wiehle Metro station and several retail and commercial areas. The second photo shows that pedestrian standing in a snow bank waiting for the Fairfax Connector bus.

The third photo shows a pedestrian at Wiehle Ave and Sunset Hills Rd adjacent to the new Wiehle Silver Line station. The final photo shows a dog walker using the partially cleared bike lane on Soapstone Dr. As we often see, bike lanes are used by more than just bike riders.

Sunset Hills Rd in Reston

Pedestrian at bus stop on Sunset Hills Rd

Near Wiehle Metro station

Pedestrian walking in Soapstone Dr bike lane

What's the solution? Fairfax County needs a snow clearing ordinance, with exceptions for the elderly and others who physically can't remove snow on public sidewalks and trails adjacent to their property. Volunteers could be on call to assist. Business owners and residents would have to figure out how to clear snow from their sidewalks. HOA's could include sidewalk snow removal in their budgets.

VDOT should tell their snow plow drivers to try to avoid dumping snow on curb ramps at intersections. VDOT and the county should identify key transportation trails used by cyclists and clear them of snow: the W&OD Trail (see FABB blog post about their efforts to clear snow), the Fairfax County Parkway Trail, and others.

The Fairfax Board of Supervisors has tried to address this issue in the past. I searched through Board meeting summaries for references to "snow" for the past several years. A common theme emerged. Every year there is an "historic" or "unprecedented" snow storm. The Board directs staff to look into the problem of clearing snow from sidewalks and trails. Nothing happens.

I shouldn't say that. After prompting from the Board the county started clearing snow from sidewalks on some county properties. The schools have gotten better about clearing snow adjacent to their property but the sidewalks and trails leading to schools are not cleared. Some progress has been made but much more needs to be done.

The following was extracted from those Board meeting summaries and is included below for reference purposes (and your reading enjoyment):

From the February 7, 2000 Board of Supervisors meeting summary:

Supervisor Mendelsohn stated that the snowstorms of the last few weeks brought to his attention a safety issue for students walking to school. With the completion of a sidewalk on one side and a hike/bike trail on the other side of Dranesville Road last June, Fairfax County Schools' Transportation Department discontinued bus service to Herndon High School students who lived within one mile of the school and could use the new trail as access to school.

Supervisor Mendelsohn stated that during the recent snowfalls no one cleared the sidewalks or trails of snow on Dranesville Road. It appears that no one is accepting responsibility for clearing this trail and sidewalk and that this same problem may be present along major roads in Fairfax County. Neither VDOT, the Schools, nor Public Works has offered a solution to this issue.

Therefore, Supervisor Mendelsohn moved that the Board direct the County Executive to address the issues of who owns the sidewalks and who is responsible for the maintenance of these walkways along major roads and report his findings as soon as possible.

Following discussion, Chairman Hanley relinquished the Chair to Vice-Chairman Hyland and asked to amend the motion to direct staff to also work with the School Division, and this was accepted.

Vice-Chairman Hyland returned the gavel to Chairman Hanley.

Supervisor Hudgins noted safety issues for senior citizens as well as students and asked to amend the motion to direct staff to publish and identify with the School Division the responsibility for clearing the walkways to inform the community and ensure that the snow is removed, and this was accepted.

Following further discussion, regarding public transit bus stops and public walkways, Chairman Hanley seconded the motion, as amended, which carried by a vote of nine, Supervisor McConnell being out of the room.
From the February 24, 2003 Board of Supervisors meeting summary:

Supervisor Hudgins commended the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) for its snow removal from the streets following the heavy snow accumulation from the February 15, 2003, snowstorm. She noted, however, that those residents who walk, bicycle, and use public transit face serious impediments. Several constituents called her office to express concerns about the dangerous conditions at bus stops. Since residents are encouraged to use public transportation as much as possible to relieve road congestion, particularly in inclement weather, she expressed her belief that more should be done to make conditions safe for pedestrians. She noted that the current standard is unacceptable because snow removal on streets makes conditions worse for pedestrians.

Accordingly, Supervisor Hudgins moved that the Board direct staff to work with the Department of Public Works and Environmental Services, the Department of Transportation, and VDOT to determine what strategies can be taken to assist how snow removal from walkways, particularly at bus stops, can be accomplished to assist pedestrians using public transit after snowstorms. Supervisor Bulova seconded the motion, which carried by a vote of eight, Supervisor McConnell and Supervisor Mendelsohn being out of the room.
From the April 28, 2003 Board of Supervisors meeting summary:

Chairman Hanley said she received a letter from the Non-Motorized Transportation (Trails) Committee requesting that the County look into adopting a Snow Removal Ordinance.  Although the creation of such an ordinance has been examined by the County in the past, the Trails Committee has made several recommendations that may merit another look at its feasibility.  Additionally, this winter's harsh weather showed that while the County has made great progress in snow removal since the "Blizzard of '96" there are several areas of snow removal that can be improved, particularly related to pedestrian facilities and snow removal.

Therefore, Chairman Hanley asked unanimous consent that the Board direct staff to review the Trail's Committee's recommendations, particularly the recommendation for County maintenance staff to clear snow from sidewalks along the perimeter of the property, and provide the Board with its findings.  Without objection, it was so ordered.

Following discussion, Supervisor Connolly asked unanimous consent that the schools be included in the survey.  Without objection, the request was so ordered.

From the February 9, 2004 Board of Supervisors meeting summary:

Supervisor Hudgins moved that the Board concur in the recommendation of staff and approve the draft letter from Chairman Connolly to Secretary Clement transmitting the comments and recommendations to VDOT as contained in the Board Agenda Item dated February 9, 2004.  Supervisor Bulova seconded the motion.

Discussion ensued with input from Christopher D. Wells, Pedestrian Program Manager, Department of Transportation.

Following discussion, Supervisor Hyland referenced Section 4.5, Maintenance, of the draft Virginia Department of Transportation Policy for Integrating Bicycle and Pedestrian Accommodations, and asked unanimous consent that the Board direct staff to provide a recommendation on whether citizens should be required to shovel and clear their sidewalks of snow and ice.  Without objection, it was so ordered.

Supervisor Hudgins asked unanimous consent that the Board direct staff to concentrate on some level of population density or something that identifies the number of people, streets, pathways, and public facilities that are needed to be accessed and recommend the most feasible method of accomplishing the task of snow and ice removal.  Without objection, it was so ordered.

Following additional discussion, the question was called on the motion and it carried by unanimous vote.
From the March 30, 2009 Board of Supervisors meeting summary:
36. SNOW REMOVAL (12:18 p.m.)

Supervisor Gross said that the sudden snowstorm earlier this month brought many calls to her office concerning plowing the snow off the roads in neighborhoods. Just as important, and sometimes overlooked, are the sidewalks in front of residential and commercial properties. Children and adults, who depend on clear sidewalks as part of their daily routine, are put at risk of injury (or worse) when they are forced to walk on icy sections or along the edge of the road.

The Cities of Falls Church and Alexandria already have laws requiring property owners to clear their sidewalks. One constituent suggests a minimum requirement of a two foot wide path be cleared within the first 12 to 24 hours after snowfall.

Therefore, Supervisor Gross asked unanimous consent that the Board direct the County Executive to disseminate information on previous efforts to develop a policy addressing when property owners are responsible for sidewalks adjacent to their homes. Without objection, it was so ordered.

Discussion ensued regarding the possibility of not enacting a law, but instead urging that citizens voluntarily remove snow, and urging civic and homeowner associations to become involved in the snow removal process.

Supervisor Gross asked unanimous consent that the Board direct staff to circulate information regarding the County’s Policy for snow removal to the public. Without objection, it was so ordered.
From the May 24, 2011 Board of Supervisors meeting summary:

Supervisor Cook said that trails and sidewalks are key assets and pieces of infrastructure that are used not only for exercise and enjoyment, but also commuting. Unfortunately, due to budgetary constraints, the County is unable to ensure these particular pieces of infrastructure stay "clean, clear and accessible.” To address this glaring need, the County's Trails and Sidewalks Committee is asking that volunteer support for cleaning and clearing sidewalk and asphalt trail surfaces be authorized to help maintain public walkways in an acceptable condition. He noted that cleaning and clearing does not include significant maintenance projects, but rather minor upkeep efforts such as raking, edging, and trash and debris removal.

Supervisor Cook referred to his written Board Matter which includes a set of suggested guidelines, drafted by the Trails and Sidewalks Committee which explain the vision the Committee has for this undertaking. They seek to develop an informal program that encourages and organizes volunteers to assist in the clearing of trails and sidewalks.

Supervisor Cook said that his community engagement initiative has worked to inspire and train residents to take ownership of neighborhoods by working together to address opportunities for growth as well as meeting challenges.

Therefore, Supervisor Cook moved that the Board direct the County Executive to develop guidelines for implementing a citizen volunteer trail and sidewalk maintenance program, and present these guidelines to the Board at a future date in this calendar year for consideration. As part of the development of such guidelines, the County Executive should consult with the County Attorney to insure that any legal liability issues are addressed appropriately in the program guidelines. Supervisor Herrity seconded the motion. Discussion ensued regarding:

Supervisor Foust asked to amend the motion to change the reference in number 1 of the proposed Guidelines for Volunteer Efforts from “. . . walkway surface (either concrete or asphalt)” to “all trails,” and this was accepted.

Supervisor McKay asked to amend the motion to include coordinating with the schools regarding prioritizing routes for snow removal, and this was accepted.

The question was called on the motion, as amended, and it carried by unanimous vote.

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