Thursday, February 18, 2010

Why Doesn't Arlington Have a Sidewalk Snow Removal Law?

At last night’s Arlington Young Democrats meeting, there was lots of grumbling about sidewalks that haven’t seen a shovel since Snowpocalypse #2 began two weeks ago. Here’s a typical scene:

We all pay higher rents, property taxes and mortgages to live in Arlington in large part because we love its walkability & enjoy not needing to drive in the snow. While it’s understandable roads need to take priority in snow emergencies to clear routes for ambulances & fire trucks, why are sidewalks near the bottom of the totem pole?

Incredibly, Arlington has no ordinance or law for clearing snow from sidewalks. Instead, the county hopes to guilt trip you into doing it: "It is the civic responsibility of residents and business owners to clear snow from sidewalks/entryways around their property." 

One big question: Then why isn't it Arlington County government's "civic responsibility" to clear around its property? I've heard from people reporting particularly bad sidewalks in front of the Wilson School and around North Quincy Park. (Three years ago, I wrote about how the county never cleared the sidewalk in front of Mosaic Park.) 

Arlington's lack of any policy stands in contrast to Alexandria, which has a law with a mild fine: "Snow and ice must be cleared from all paved sidewalks abutting your property within 24 hours of the end of the snowfall. Failure to clear sidewalks may result in the City having the work done and charging the cost to the property owner, or fining the property owner $50."

It's not like citizens don't want a law. In 2000 and again in 2007 (PDF) the Arlington Civic Federation asked for a sidewalk snow removal zoning ordinance (with an exemption for people who are either physically unable or out of town during the storm). I realize you can't make policy based on one record-breaking winter. But it seems like a good idea in general, especially in a community that prides itself on walkability

Anyone know why Arlington doesn't have a sidewalk snow removal requirement already?

UPDATE: Via Twitter's @JDillman, check out this epic fail on the Custis Trail (be sure to click picture #2).

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