Network News

X My Profile
View More Activity
Transportation Home  |  Discussions  |  Traffic  |  Columns  |  Q&A     |      Twitter |    Facebook   |  phone Alerts
Posted at 8:25 PM ET, 01/31/2011

Snow guide for roads and public transit

By Robert Thomson

Driving | Public transit | Streets | Resources | Share your tips

When snow and ice hits, here's a look at ways you can ease your travels. This advice comes from transportation officials, Metro maintenance staff, plow drivers and ordinary travelers who have been getting around the area for years.


roadssnow80.jpgGet snow or ice off the vehicle, including the roof and side windows. You will be doing yourself a favor, because you will be able to see all around. And you'll be doing other drivers a favor, because they hate it when cars finally pick up speed and lose that crown of snow on top. Also:

  • Be sure the battery is charged.

  • Check wiper blades, tires, the tire jack, antifreeze and lights.

  • Keep the gas tank at least half full.

  • Carry an emergency kit that includes a small shovel; a bag of rock salt, sand or cat litter; a scraper and brush; a flashlight with extra batteries; jumper cables; blankets; and a first-aid kit.

  • Don't use cruise control.

  • Allow extra room for stopping or for taking evasive action.

  • Turn your lights on and use your turn signals.

  • Stick with the main roads as long as you can rather than detouring onto secondary routes.

  • Watch for pedestrians: During heavy storms, the streets may be in better condition than the sidewalks, so pedestrians will hop over snowbanks and walk wherever they can.

  • Don't crowd the plow: Plow operators ask, What's the point of trying to get ahead of trucks that are making the road behind them safer to use? Also, a plow operator has blind spots, especially behind and to the left.



Metrorail: Metro clears the areas around rail station entrances, but the walk to the entrance may be a struggle. Platform paving tiles can be treacherous beneath ice and snow. Metrorail will shut above-ground service when the snowfall reaches eight inches, so watch for announcements and be prepared to adjust your schedule. There's the possibility that this could happen if portions of the area served by Metrorail get enough snow Wednesday

Metrobus: Metro does not plow around bus stops. Bus routes and schedules become very fickle in snow and ice. Seek out buses that follow snow emergency routes. Don't rely heavily on the NextBus information system. It can't account for detours or traffic incidents.

MetroAccess: Car and van service for riders who are disabled operates in bad weather, but as conditions deteriorate, trips are canceled. People with appointments should seek status updates.



Clearing sidewalks. Rules vary, but most jurisdictions expect property owners to get out within a certain number of hours and clear their sidewalks. They don't expect you to throw the snow in the street. When clearing the driveway, toss the snow to the right. That makes it less likely the plow will push that snow right back across the driveway entrance.

Clearing streets. Much of the clearing work goes to contractors, whose trucks might not bear the emblem of the agency that hired them. The D.C. departments of public works and transportation team up on street clearing in the city. The Virginia Department of Transportation takes care of interstates, main roads and neighborhood streets within its turf. The Maryland State Highway Administration handles the state's numbered roads, while counties and municipalities take care of the rest.

Snow emergency routes. Some jurisdictions require owners to get their vehicles off snow emergency routes after the jurisdiction declares an emergency. This affects many District residents, where the Public Works Department tows vehicles remaining on those routes and imposes stiff fines.



Before leaving home, check conditions by going online to There, under the Ice & Snow logo, you'll find a link to a list of all the county highway department phones. Click on the CHART information center to find more snow emergency information, traffic camera views, weather updates, maps showing average travel speeds on highways and road-closing reports. Go to "Contact Us" and click on the "Service Request" link if you spot a problem. There's also a Winter Storm Hotline at 800-327-3125 for updates on conditions. Maryland also sends out road information on a Twitter feed:!/MDSHA.

The District

Monitor media reports in case a snow emergency is declared or trash and recycling pickups are suspended. To report problems, call the D.C. Service Request Center at 311, or go to the District Department of Transportation Web site at and click on the Service Request Center button in the upper left. There's also a button marked Traffic Alerts. DDOT has a very active Twitter feed, at!/DDOTDC .


To report road hazards or to ask questions about the state roads, call 800-FOR-ROAD (800-367-7623). The 511 traveler-information service provides updates on weather and road conditions. Call 511 from any phone in Virginia, or go to and view traffic cameras, a map of road conditions and a detailed road condition report. The 511 system also has a very active Twitter feed, at!/VaDOT .


Metrorail, Metrobus: Go to Metro's home page at and look at the lower left for the link that will allow you to sign up for e-mail alerts. Service updates are available by calling 202-962-1212. Report a problem by calling 202-637-1328. Check Metro's Twitter feed at!/metroopensdoors .

MetroAccess: Passengers with scheduled rides should call 301-562-5360 for a status update.

Has experience taught you valuable lessons about traveling in the snow? Share your wisdom with other Washingtonians by posting a comment below.

By Robert Thomson  | January 31, 2011; 8:25 PM ET
Categories:  Weather  | Tags:  dr. gridlock  
Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati   Google Buzz   Previous: Flying? Prepare for snow delays.
Next: MARC running; train canceled


usually like your stuf doc but this was normal stuff every normal person should know, emergency kit, don't use cruise control, com'on. why don't they revoke the licenses of most people in DC when it snows. they are clearly unable to grasp driving in the snow. how about some good advice about how to keep morons off the roads.

Posted by: submarinerssn774 | January 31, 2011 9:43 PM | Report abuse

*Metro does not plow around bus stops. Bus routes and schedules become very fickle in snow and ice*

This right here. Why not? This is so silly. But yet the city makes a super big deal about people shoveling sidewalks in front of their homes, sidewalks that are city property. And wonder why same homeowners don't take the city seriously when Metro is allowed to get away with not shoveling the area around bus stops.

Posted by: echenna | February 1, 2011 2:21 PM | Report abuse

i understand residents shud showel their sidewalks but why doesnt city plow streets...once in residential neighborhoods is not enough and plows push heavy snow/ice back up against cars parked...plows have come once thur 6pm and thats it..mont county taxes shud pay for road clean up
and still one week later trees in streets not picked up...i would like to see more effort in clean up by county and local services...

Posted by: wmnatzakanian | February 1, 2011 4:09 PM | Report abuse

Having grown up in the Pennsylvania mountains, lived in the snowbelt areas of northern Ohio and Chicago and going to college on the Canadian border, I know a thing or two about driving on snow and ice. The biggest tip I can give is that momentum is not the key to driving up a hill (nor down, for that matter.)

The key is a slow and consistent speed. Slow and steady wins the race is my mantra. I remember my dad telling me never to go fast enough to have to brake in an ice or snow storm, even at a stop sign or red light, unless absolutely necessary. That may mean slowing down way ahead of time so that you can time the green light.

A consistent speed will get you up and down most hills. It drives me nuts to watch drivers here gun their engines going downhill with the intent to gain speed to get up the other side. More often than not, they careen wrecklessly out of control, skidding and sliding their way to nowhere. A steady pace will help you maintain control - stepping on the gas pedal, or the brake pedal that causes any significant change in speed will likely cause a skid. Weave in a moderated "S" pattern if necessary to keep your speed steady - although not always possible on our busy streets.

Posted by: cas212 | February 2, 2011 8:18 PM | Report abuse

Post a Comment

We encourage users to analyze, comment on and even challenge's articles, blogs, reviews and multimedia features.

User reviews and comments that include profanity or personal attacks or other inappropriate comments or material will be removed from the site. Additionally, entries that are unsigned or contain "signatures" by someone other than the actual author will be removed. Finally, we will take steps to block users who violate any of our posting standards, terms of use or privacy policies or any other policies governing this site. Please review the full rules governing commentaries and discussions.

characters remaining

RSS Feed
Subscribe to The Post

© 2011 The Washington Post Company