March 04, 2010

There's jus' snow money...

A few days late, but better late than never.

Coincidentally, on the same day that WashCycle posts a Snowmageddon After Action Report, the Alexandria Ped/Bike Citizens Group has their bi-monthly meeting and discusses just that...snow removal.

The basic gist from Yon Lambert's viewpoint (he spent 10 days straight at the city's EOC, plus a couple nights of snowplowing) is that Alexandria (like the rest of the region) was "utterly overwhelmed". Not surprising, since we got a trio of 6+ inch snowfalls inside a 2 week period, with a 3-inch snowfall mixed in (this all per the daily climo summaries at Nat'l Airport). The city's snow removal budget is typically around $650K. They were through that after the December storm, let alone what we've had since then. Normally after a snowstorm, the city has 36 trucks out on the street. During and after the big February storms, they had over 70 trucks double the normal, and were still overwhelmed.

This situation is likely echoed through the other jurisdictions throughout the region. In short, this region just doesn't have the resources to effectively and quickly clear out the snow after such major events.

Yon also pointed out a recent change in city snow removal policy: during larger storms like this, the new policy is to plow every street once, but not down to bare pavement, to facilitate emergency vehicle access, then they go back to the prioritizing of streets. This explains why people (including myself) saw plows all over the place during the snowstorms. The general policy is on the city's snow/ice control webpage, which also has maps showing the properties and sidewalks where the city has responsibility for snow removal.

Besides the above note, the general city policy is to prioritize the major streets (Route 1, Duke St, King St, etc) first. Then the secondary streets and streets that are hilly. City-owned/responsible sidewalks and paths are included at the secondary level, as are curb cuts along King St and Mt. Vernon Ave...a change implemented a couple years ago since these two streets are the primary commercial streets in the city. Residential streets are third in priority.

The big question, as it has been everywhere else, is why the plows were plowing snow onto the sidewalks. The short answer is that there was nowhere else to put it. The longer answer is that, for normal plowing, it's pretty much impossible to do effective plowing without having snow pile up along the curb, and since virtually every sidewalk is right up against the curb (we don't have this problem in Minneapolis), it affects the sidewalk as well. True, there were frontloaders loading snow onto dump trucks, which were dumping the snow at Potomac Yards and another location (I didn't catch the location), but frontloading is a time-consuming process, especially when you have literally hundreds of miles of street to clear.

The other big complaint from the roundtable (how the room was set up) was the lack of enforcement on sidewalk clearing, both in residential areas and the commercial areas. The city does have an ordinance regarding sidewalk clearing...within 24 hours. But we learned that this was waived for several days after the snowstorms. That said, there still were some tickets issued after the waive period was lifted. But there were several comments about residences and shops that still had not shoveled their sidewalks a week after the storm.

One thing we all pretty much agreed on is that everyone needs to have realistic expectations regarding snow removal after such huge storms as this. It's not a case where everything, including sidewalks, is going to be cleared within 72 hours, let alone after 24 or 48. Proper snow removal takes time, and that's something that the general public needs to understand.

Also coincidentally, Fairfax County is going to host a "2010 Snow Summit" on March 16, addressing what worked and what didn't. There's also a spot on the page for county citizens to offer their suggestions on how to improve snow removal.

Snow removal wasn't the only thing discussed at the meeting. The proposed city budget was discussed at-length, including the impact on bike/ped travel within the city. This is important since the city is facing a $44 million budget deficit for this year, though that's peanuts compared to other jurisdictions (Fairfax) and organizations (WMATA).

One bit of good news within the budget: the transportaion operating budget was not reduced. Problem is, trail maintenance is not included within that part of the budget.

Capital-wise, the transportation side (named "Street, Bridge, Non-motorized Transportation & Shared-use Paths:) is basically broken down into three categories: Bridge Repairs, Non-motorized Transportation/Shared-Use Paths, and Street Improvements. This is a change from previous years in that shared-use paths are now part of this category instead of being under Parks and Recreation as in previous years. The Non-motorized category is further subdivided into Shared-Use Paths specifically, a Safety category, and a Mobility category.

The budget also projects out 10 years, the first time the city's done this.

The Shared-Use Path category, formerly under Parks and Rec, is basically seed money for matching grants for paths, but can also be used for trail maintenance. That said, there isn't much going into this category. After the Eisenhower Ave underpass and a couple of trail studies, there's only $118K/yr expected to go into this category.

The Safety category pretty much morphed from the former Traffic Calming category, which will no longer exist. Nor will there be a lot of money for traffic calming. The Safety category is intended to address bike/ped safety issues. It will also address bike lane and sharrow markings.

The third category is Mobility, which addresses mobility enhancements, including access to transit. One project included in this that I was previously unaware of is a "Wilkes Street Bikeway", which will effectively create a bicycle boulevard along Wilkes St from Royal St (where the bike/ped tunnel is) to west of Route 1.

In addition, a partial copy of the city's memo to Congressman Moran was discussed, as it relates to transportation. This memo highlights the city's main transportation priorities. Of note:

- The Potomac Yard transitway, recently awared a TIGER grant and also one of the city's top two transportation priorities.
- An extension of the Eisenhower Ave Metro station platform...basically creating an entrance on the north side of Eisenhower and the city's top heavy rail request
- A Bicycle Initiative to install bike parking stations at the city's Metrorail stops, establish a bike-sharing program, and add bike racks to all DASH buses (Metro bike parking being the top bicycle priority).
- A feasibility study to extend the Columbia Pike Streetcar to the BRAC-133 location.
- Funding for the Potomac Yard Metro station.
- Funding for the Four Mile Run Bike/Ped Bridge (which will connect Commonwealth Ave to Eads St).

A few final notes...Bike-to-Work day is May 21, and BikeDC has apparently changed's now on May 23 (changed from May 9). The Eisenhower Ave Underpass (building a bike/ped path under the street at Cameron Run) has gone to bid. And lastly, "Complete Streets" is expected to go to the Transportation Commission in April.


Jonathan Krall said...

Thanks for the report!

Rainmaker said...

Indeed, thanks for the report!

Btw, the secondary snow dumping location is the Victory Center on Eisenhower (just next to UPS and the South Van Dorn Metro). Still a TON (well, many many tons I suspect) of snow there.

Jayme said...

Thanks, Froggie. I wasn't able to make the meeting due to a concurrent obligation. Your summary is very helpful.