Monday, March 15, 2010

Snow Removal Rule Melts Memories, Makes Meteorologists

The Arlington County Board took action on sidewalk snow removal yesterday, passing a 60-day ordinance until a permanent can be considered this spring:
“With today’s action, Arlington for the first time formally establishes the expectation that sidewalks are to be cleared following snowfall,” said County Board Vice Chairman Christopher Zimmerman, who presented the motion. “This is fully consistent with our commitment to be a walkable, transit-oriented community.”

The emergency ordinance applies to areas zoned for commercial use throughout the County. It requires the owner, occupant or other person in charge of properties in such districts to remove more than two inches of snow from their sidewalks within 24 hours after the snow ceases to fall. The ordinance also applies to commercial rental properties with more than four units and condominiums with more than four units.

Persons more than 65 years old, or who are disabled or otherwise determined to be physically incapable of meeting the requirements are exempt. Violators shall be assessed a civil penalty of $50 for sidewalks less than 200 linear feet long and $100 for sidewalks longer than 200 linear feet.

The Board acted after noting that historic snowfalls this winter resulted in sidewalks in some areas remaining impassable for days or even weeks, making it difficult or even impossible for persons to walk safely to transit, schools or shops.

The emergency ordinance does not apply to residential areas. The vote was 3 to 2.
Major thanks to Chris Zimmerman, Mary Hynes & Walter Tejada for voting to pass the temporary ordinance, and I look forward to the Board passing a permanent law in the months ahead.  

Barbara Favola said the temporary rule wasn't needed because we won't get any significant snow in the next 60 days. But that's a roll of the dice -- for just one recent example, Arlington got about 9" of snow on March 9, 1999. And as a friend commented on my Facebook page, "If it doesn't snow, then this ordinance isn't used. Nothing gained, nothing lost. But if it does snow, then everyone will be really glad they enacted it. Everyone except for lazy business owners, that is."

Business opposition to the ordinance was led by Arlington Chamber of Commerce:
The Chamber also took issue with Zimmerman’s assertion that many owners of commercial property failed to adequately clear their sidewalks of snow and ice.

“The vast majority of Arlington business and commercial property owners performed exceptionally well,” the letter to Fisette said.
It's ridiculous to claim the "vast majority" of commercial property owners cleared their sidewalks. Why do they think citizens are pushing for an ordinance in the first place? Did any Chamber members attempt to walk Wilson Boulevard or Columbia Pike in the wake of this winter's storms? Do they think people were walking in the street just for fun?

One question for you as we look ahead to the permanent ordinance: Should it apply to residential properties? I understand sidewalk snow removal isn't as much of a concern on back streets (some of which may not even have sidewalks to begin with). 

But then again, there are plenty of single-family homes on busy pedestrian streets like Washington Boulevard. Shouldn't they have to clear their sidewalks? Let me know what you think in comments.
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