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Shovel Your Walk--Or Else (Or Else What?)

Every year around this time, neighborhood listservs bristle with reminders, warnings and downright admonitions from folks who are miffed that their neighbors have not shoveled the snow from their sidewalks. It's the law, the shovelers righteously remind the recalcitrant.

This is generally followed by a round of grumbling about how the city or the county ought to slap those non-shovelers with a fine or worse.

Now, a D.C. public works official has taken it upon himself to check out exactly what the city's obligations and options are in the case of residents who won't remove the snow and ice from their walks. Bottom line: It is indeed the law that you're supposed to shovel within eight hours of the end of the snowfall. But the city is utterly toothless about enforcing this law. Here are the details from D.C. solid waste inspector Thomas Day, as sent along to the Tenleytown listserv by the District's Ward 3 outreach coordinator, Kristen Barden:

Despite popular belief, DPW does not have the authority to issue tickets
for failure to remove snow from sidewalks. DPW does have the authority
to issue tickets for failure to maintain abutting space, however, snow
is not included in this regulatory provision, only trash, debris and

The DC Official Code 9-601 does require private property owners
to remove snow from the sidewalks abutting their space within 8 hours of
the end of the snowfall. The DC Official Code also states that if the
property owner does not remove the snow, the District will remove the
snow and sue the owner, through the Office of the Corporation Counsel,
for costs of snow removal and a $25 fine.

Although these provisions exist, no regulations have been promulgated to
implement these provisions. This problem has been brought to the
attention of the Deputy Mayor for Operations and his office is actively
seeking a resolution to this issue. Until a resolution has been reached,
DPW will continue to remind private property owners that it is their
duty to remove snow from the sidewalks abutting their property.

DPW cannot issue a ticket, however, we will continue to work with District
businesses to help keep the public space abutting their property clean
and clear. If you have any questions or want to inform the Solid Waste
Education and Enforcement Program (SWEEP) that a business is not
complying with removing snow from the sidewalk, please call our
enforcement office at 202-645-7190 and we will have a SWEEP Inspector
visit the location and discuss the snow removal issue with the business

Please be assured that we will continue to monitor this to ensure
compliance with the District's sanitation regulations.

May I thank residents for their concern and assure that it is the
Department's intention to provide the best possible service to the
citizens of the District of Columbia.

Thomas Day, Supervisory, Solid Waste Inspector
Solid Waste Education and Enforcement Program

Kristen Barden, Ward 3 Outreach Coordinator
Mayor's Office of Community Relations and Services (EOM)

By Marc Fisher |  February 21, 2007; 12:51 PM ET
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According to news reports from Channel's 4 & 5, the young lady killed by the Metro bus this past week stepped out between two cars into the path of the bus. The lady was reported to be avoiding the sidewalk, which was a sheet of ice.

If that was the case, then this young lady would still be alive today if the sidewalk had been cleared of ice and snow.

Just saying ...

Posted by: SoMD | February 21, 2007 1:03 PM

I love Mayor Fenty but that was not the best job of enforcement and clean up. I heard people say one of the reasons people hated Kelly for her lack of know-how during the 96 snow storm

Posted by: Anonymous | February 21, 2007 1:40 PM

Marc, it's not just DC. Check out my latest blog post. Arlington sent out an email telling us what bad people we were if we didn't shovel our walks -- yet the county doesn't feel compelled to shovel or even treat in front of several pieces of county property in my neighborhood.

Posted by: | February 21, 2007 3:05 PM

"It is indeed the law that you're supposed to shovel within eight hours of the end of the snowfall"

Technically, you cannot "shovel" ice. Therefore, how can you enforce this law? Also, it was not "snowfall". You're not too bright, Fisher.

Posted by: Anonymous | February 21, 2007 7:11 PM

I know plenty of people who cleared their own walk within hours of the storm's passing. I cleared the fronts of 4 houses. It really wasn't that hard to do, at least if you didn't wait 3 or 4 days before starting.

I'm all for the city issuing warnings and writing tickets on this. But they'll need to be sure to clear the sidewalks in front of their own property before they do that...

Posted by: Mark | February 21, 2007 8:56 PM

It is indeed the type of law that you don't think about until it happens. I remember that it was Councilman David Clark who sponsored that bill before the council, but died before it was completed with the promulgation of the law........nobody took it up after Mr Clark. I see the work of DPW's SWEEP inspectors and they are the best the city has, they are truely interactive with communities in the District.

Posted by: Tom | February 22, 2007 6:46 AM

Whatever happened to the notion of doing something just because it is the right thing to do? Without having to be ticketed, or fined into it? This is not a huge task here.

Posted by: Stick | February 22, 2007 8:06 AM

Greg says: It takes a big person to attack the author anonymously.



PS... Rock on, Fish.

Posted by: Greg | February 22, 2007 8:51 AM

I can't fault those who didn't "shovel" the ice we got last week. Unless, you got to it within several hours of it falling, it turned into impenetrable concrete ice that a pick axe couldn't handle. There isn't much of an excuse for not clearing away basic snow however. And remember, please help your neighbors (even if they're jerks).

Posted by: mart | February 22, 2007 9:15 AM

The DC government was among the worst offenders. They failed to shovel many sidewalks, esp. around parks and those little triangles of green space where two streets meet (usually one is a diagonal).

Posted by: Dan | February 22, 2007 9:30 AM

Haven't been in DC since 2004 (I'm sure things haven't changed much), but when I trudged from the Metro to Fannie Mae back then; most businesses on Wisconsin NW had shovelled.
The main offender for snow covered sidewalks was a Church down from the Metro exit that forced their Parishioners and the Public to walk thru the muck on their street and entrance sidewalks.

I guess the profit motive is an important factor in being a good citizen.

Posted by: RT | February 22, 2007 9:42 AM

What about the sidewalks that aren't in front of an office building or private residence. Who is responsible for those areas? The sidewalks between K Street and the service road were absolutely horrible.

Posted by: BDK | February 22, 2007 9:54 AM

What about the sidewalks that aren't in front of an office building or private residence. Who is responsible for those areas? The sidewalks between K Street and the service road were absolutely horrible.

Posted by: BDK | February 22, 2007 9:55 AM

What world are some of you living in? Yes, it was ice. It was ICE, not stone. A friend of mine had thick ice on her front steps but all you had to do was get a shovel under it and PUSH. Not that hard. Also, throwing down some salt does a great job of breaking up the ice. Although I love the people who just threw salt and left it that way. As if a few small holes bored through the ice were enough to make the sidewalk safe. Ugh.

Posted by: Christine | February 22, 2007 10:01 AM

NYC joins DC. By the looks of things around here last week I'm sure our city's 311 number, (a non-emergency citywide information, complaint, etc. number), was flooded, or should I say ice-jammed, with complaints about poor snow/ice removal after the storm.

Posted by: JM | February 22, 2007 10:03 AM

To people who don't shovel their walks I ask you to imagine yourself an elderly woman whose only means of getting around the city is by walking, with a cane. Imagine you've been in your Georgetown house for nearly a week since the storm and finally, on Monday, you decide to venture out for a few groceries and maybe a little lunch. You make it down Q Street on cleared walks for a few blocks but have to stop when you encounter a half a block of icy/snowy/sloshy brick. It may as well have been a mountain. You stand there on the walk trying to catch your breathe before turning to make the journey back up the hill and home, with no groceries, no lunch, no companionship.

My husband and I met such a woman Monday in
Georgetown. She said she felt silly for even attempting to venture out. She'd hoped the walks would be cleared. Her path to the local busstop hadn't even been cleared. We offered to help her return to her house but she demurred, happy to be out of the house however briefly, enjoying the sunshine on her face.

Think about her the next snowstorm.

Posted by: Kim | February 22, 2007 10:14 AM

OK, what we have is a catch 22.

DPW can't issue tickets. They can, on the other hand, clear the sidewalk, bill the owner and add a $25.00 fine.

Here's the problem, as I see it: It would take a serious investment in personnel and equipment (which would be used how many times per year?). It would also take follow up to collect the fees and fines. Additionally, DC being DC you could almost bet on someone taking the city to court over the fees / fines.

If you were in the administration, would you step into that mess, that may well only inconvenience people for 1/2 dozen days every couple of years?

Posted by: mikes | February 22, 2007 10:30 AM

A few years ago, Doug Duncan made light of MoCo's sidewalk shovelling rules, and more or less said that the county was not going to waste its time enforcing them. With no real enforcement, we could not walk anywhere, which meant that we, and many others, took to driving. At the same time, Duncan complains about the number of cars on the road hindering snow removal. Aye carumba, that MoCo re-elected this man so many times will be its everlasting disgrace!

Not shovelling sidewlaks is plain lazy and an affront to the elderly, people without cars--which includes many poor people--children, people with children. I was pleased to see that my neighbors made a point of not picking up the their dogs' poop from the yards of the people that did not shovel.

Regarding how difficult it was to shovel the ice, I was out of town during the storm last week, and my 65 year-old mother-in-law did most shovelling herself with my 4 year-old son. And we live on a corner lot, with twice the amount of sidewalk.

How so many able-bodied people could have so little dignity makes me sad . . .

Posted by: bkp | February 22, 2007 10:30 AM

I am a property owner (relatively new) and am curious about how the law relates to tenant/owner. It appears that the law is written so that the owner has to clear it, but in a city that is so rent heavy, I wonder if any of the liability also falls on renters?

Posted by: Maureen | February 22, 2007 10:49 AM

I always shovel the snow in fron of my house. I use to shovel in front of my neighbors house, but after a while they begin to assume that I would do it all the time, so I stopped. I don't belive DC should give fines until they clean the streets and sidewalks that belong to them.

Posted by: Brian | February 22, 2007 10:54 AM

When I lived in Philadelphia, the city instituted a program that used volunteers to clear streets. This was for plowing the actual streets after snowfall, since the city didn't have the resources to get to all the little side streets. Basically, anyone who had a truck with a plow attachment could sign up, work for half a day, and receive two tickets (good seats) to the Phillies game of their choice. My next door neighbor was always the first guy out when the snow came down, working on the poorer neighborhoods with smaller streets, so folks could get out. And then he spent his summer evenings at the Vet, watching the Phillies get pummeled.

This would be a worthwhile program in DC, I think. Not so much plowing the streets (I live on a teensy street, and they got to us pretty quick) but for shoveling public walks. Teenagers could get in on it, and get something out of it.

As for people living on residential streets, there's just no excuse for not shoveling your walk. On my street, it's the renters who are the worst. You'd think since they have 12 people living in one four-bedroom house, there'd be plenty of manpower, but no, they're the most consistent offenders.

Posted by: WDC | February 22, 2007 10:58 AM

With zero government enforcement power, I think the neighborhood blogs and listservs can at least do everyone a service by both informing, reminding, serving as an exchange for people needing help, and lastly use the power of shame to get people to clean up their snow and ice. The Postal Service would also do well to remind customers that carriers will not deliver if the snow and ice are not cleared and then make good on holding the mail.

This year, DC really hasn't done a good job of clearing snow and ice and I place the blame for that right on "Mayor-In-Over-His-Head". He's all talk and all about Adrian with very little real action.
I work in Penn Quarter and I've seen how bad the clearing was at the intersection of PA and 7th. Ice, snow, all hard to navigate were piled on all corners the night the two women were killed and right up until it melted yesterday. While Metrobus certainly has a lot to answer for in those deaths, so does Adrian Fenty who didn't get the streets cleared. If you ask me those women were also delayed in crossing the street because of the poor conditions and so their blood is also on Fenty's hands. Some lawyer also needs to go after Fenty, Tanghlerini, and the DDOT on behalf of those women's estates. That would start the city on the path to keeping the streets in better shape.

Posted by: Not a Fisher fan | February 22, 2007 11:14 AM

I do shovel my sideway. I even shoveled the back alley for myself and a few neighbors, so that our cars could pass through, and the trash truck could pass through. But for three weeks now, they came and they went, not picking up our trash and recycleables. What's up with that?

Posted by: CapHill | February 22, 2007 11:17 AM

Please stop blaming the crappy sidewalk clearing on Fenty (as several posters have done). This has long been the case in this city. People are a)lazy and b)self-centered. Also, while the clearing of this recent ice storm didn't live up to some people's standards, trust me, it was not that bad and should in no way, shape or form be an indication of how the new Mayor will do his job. I think all these people complaining about Fenty's ability to clean up after this storm voted for Linda Cropp in the first place.

Posted by: Adams Morgan | February 22, 2007 11:41 AM

In a world that is not perfect (such as DC), if an elderly person feels unsafe to go out for groceries, they can call Peapod by Giant once or twice.

Posted by: Solution | February 22, 2007 11:50 AM

The responsibility s/b with the owner of the property.

The lease can always make it condition of the lease, but I don't think the liability should change.

If you're going to make money on your property, this is just one of the responsibilities you have.

Posted by: Renters | February 22, 2007 11:50 AM

I wants me a snow shoveling Roomba!

Posted by: Tomcat | February 22, 2007 11:53 AM

"Snow shoveling Roomba"

That sounds like something that Marion Barry would fall for. Maybe the Gasifier could be redesigned to melt ice.....

Posted by: Einstein | February 22, 2007 12:01 PM

What about not knowing that the home is owned by an elderly couple who are fragile and simply can not get out and shop up the blocks of ice around their home.

Do you still ticket the innocent?

The money and effort to patrol and ticket each and every home could be put into mini-diggers, which the government already have for construction jobs and having them assigned to neighborhoods to clear side walks. Our tax dollars at work in a positive way.

Everybody's happy!

Posted by: Frankey | February 22, 2007 12:07 PM


Your wish has been granted (sort of). One of the news stations ran a piece a few nights ago about a tinkerer who had taken an old golf cart and turned it into a remote control golf cart. Not quite a roomba, but a neat idea. What surprised me was that this guy was just tinkering and didn't seem to have any plans to market it.

Posted by: mikes | February 22, 2007 12:08 PM

oops, should read: remote control snow plow.

Posted by: mikes | February 22, 2007 12:11 PM

Frankey, I agree that most elderly are not able to shovel snow and chip ice, but as home owners, they are still responsible for clearing their sidewalks. It's a shame that times have changed so much that neighborhood kids don't want to shovel driveways and sidewalks for a few bucks. There should be some number that the lower-income elderly could call to have someone come clear their sidewalks.

Posted by: MoCo | February 22, 2007 12:24 PM

"I heard people say one of the reasons people hated Kelly for her lack of know-how during the 96 snow storm" -- It's not quite fair to blame Mayor Kelly for the inadequate response to the snowstorm of January 1996, since Marion Barry was mayor at the time.

Posted by: thehersch | February 22, 2007 12:29 PM

"Technically, you cannot "shovel" ice. Therefore, how can you enforce this law?"

I have no tolerance for lazy idiots that will find any loophole so they can shirk responsibility. The spirit of the law is that you should clear your sidewalk to make it passable when there is winter precipitation so that people can get by without injuring themselves, whether that be snow, ice, sleet, or it rains frozen popcicles. And if you can't shovel it then use salt, hot water, a garden hoe, or whatever else it takes to clear a path. If you have neighbors that are elderly and incapable of clearing their walk then (gasp!) do it for them! The reason you should do it is because it is the right thing to do, not because there is a law that says you should.

Posted by: Anonymous | February 22, 2007 12:42 PM

Out in the Social Darwinian wilds of Fairfax (which has no snow removal ordinance), I still struggle to walk to the Dunn Loring Metro, more than a week after the snow/sleet storm. It would be much less difficult to deal with the snow and sleet that fell on the walks, but most of what ended up on the walks didn't fall there. It was moved out of the way of cars, and put in the way of pedestrians - by VDOT mainly, but also by some homeowners, and by Fairfax County Public Schools.

Posted by: WW | February 22, 2007 12:51 PM

It would appear that the city has missed the point of the law. What it says is that if the owner does not do it w/in 8 hrs, "it shall be the duty of the Mayor of the District of Columbia . . . to cause the snow and ice in front of such building or lot of land to be removed." In other words, after 8 hrs, the law shifts the responsibility to the District. The real question is why is the District ignoring its obligation?

Posted by: JP | February 22, 2007 12:52 PM

The ice that fell was an unusual situation - it was about twice as heavy as regular snow, and so harder to move, and as people have observed, if you didn't get to it before the freeze on Wednesday night, it was almost impossible to get rid of with the usual tools. However, I think people must have got in the habit of assuming snow will just melt in a day or two so they needn't bother. It was difficult to get around my neighborhood even as late as yesterday - a full week.

There are always empty houses, people who weren't home, people who can't shovel for whatever reason. The only people I truly resent are those who clear the walkway from their door to the sidewalk, but then don't shovel the public sidewalk at all. Can you get any more selfish? :P

Posted by: human | February 22, 2007 1:59 PM

WW, I had the same experience with our road plowing crews. I cleared my sidewalk only to have the road crew push/throw a pile of slush and ice over a foot high onto my sidewalk. I will make no attempt to remove it.

Posted by: FredMD | February 22, 2007 2:00 PM

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