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Snowy Sidewalks: What’s The Solution For Students?

by Karen Goff February 18, 2014 at 2:30 pm 8 Comments

Snowed-in sidewalk on Ridge Heights Road. Students who walk to school must go through it or in the street.

Last week’s snow is slowly melting in Reston, but not fast enough for sidewalks to be fully clear as students walk to school.

FCPS was in session Monday (and in session with a two-hour delay Tuesday), and dozens of students could be seen making the walk to school such as South Lakes High School, Terraset Elementary and Langston Hughes Middle School, through the snow on unshoveled sidewalks as well as in the street.

All three of those schools are located along Ridge Heights Road, where there are high snowbanks and cars parked along the road, making for a narrow passage. Sidewalks are shoveled in stops and starts. For instance, they are cleared right in front of Hughes and South Lakes, likely shoveled by the school staff, but more than a foot of snow blocks the path in the immediate areas leading to the schools.

The problem seems to be the same at most Reston schools. One Lake Anne Elementary parent calls the situation in front of that school “a nightmare.”

“Our principal was out today, you can tell he was very concerned,” said Shaughessy Pierce, the mother of a second grader. “It is genuinely not safe. There are kids walking from the neighborhoods and the Kiss-and-Ride space is not big enough, so people often park their cars and walk kids in. And it seems none of the Fairway [Apartments] sidewalks were plowed. It is a mess.”

The walking routes are a bit of a hot potato around here. In Reston, Reston Association is responsible for clearing paths. Homeowners Associations are responsible for clearing snow from their neighborhood sidewalks. Most neighborhood associations also pay private contractors to

The problem is, main roads in Reston are neither RA nor homeowners association property. Technically, they are Virginia Department of Transportation streets. And VDOT sticks to clearing roads for vehicles, not sidewalks for walkers.

Says RA:

Reston Association attempts to remove snow from pathways and sidewalks owned by RA within a reasonable time after a snowfall.  Please note that sidewalks and pathways not on RA property, including many found along Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) roads and rights-of-way, are not the responsibility of RA to maintain. Public streets and public rights-of-way are VDOT’s responsibility, but it is RA’s understanding that neither VDOT nor Fairfax County remove snow from public sidewalks.

Please contact VDOT directly for information related to their standards of maintenance and snow removal or to report roads that have been missed (Highway Helpline at 1-800-367-7623).

Private streets not on RA property, such as those located within condominium associations, cluster associations and/or apartment complexes, are generally the responsibility of the applicable owner, condominium association or cluster association. Residents of those facilities should contact their association or property management company.

RA encourages all owners who may have public sidewalks adjacent to their properties to clear these for the safe passage of pedestrians, including school children, persons with disabilities and the elderly.

Meanwhile, FCPS is asking that homeowners pitch in to make the walk to school safer.

“While not legally obligated, residents and businesses are asked to help keep walkways safe for the community – we need your help!,” FCPS said on its Facebook page. “When possible, please clear snow off the sidewalks in front of or next to your property so that pedestrians may walk more safely.”

Does this concern you? Take our poll and offer a solution in the comments.


  • Agnes Nutter

    I don’t know what the solution is, but the problem is ridiculous and it’s dangerous not just for students, but for drivers and public transportation commuters as well (i.e., just about everyone). I’m not impressed by RA’s “not our problem” response.

  • Todd Bayliss

    I must say that I was really surprised during a run around Lake Thoreau yesterday that so many sidewalks were not shoveled. I’d always thought homeowners had a legal responsibility to clear them (I believe that’s the case in other areas), but I’m learning that that isn’t the case in Fairfax County. In my townhouse cluster, we have a contract to clear the parking lot and roadways, but homeowners took responsibility for clearing the sidewalks in front of their houses. Granted, some corner-situated single family homes would have a lot of sidewalk to clear, but I don’t see the clearing of snow to be any different than the raking of leaves once you’ve ascended to ownership of a SFH. Frankly, if the RA (or Fairfax County) needs to ask that homeowners keep their sidewalks clear, it probably makes sense to put some laws in place which require them to do so. I’d hate to see my association dues increase because my neighbors are too lazy to do a little shoveling. And if shoveling isn’t your thing, pay a high school kid to do it for you. I made some nice money in PA going door-to-door as a teenager by shoveling driveways and sidewalks for those who couldn’t (or didn’t want to). It’s laughable to think to people in this area would do the right thing on their own, so it’s time to put some rules in place.

  • Bea Young

    I understand that it is not RA property but these sideways are still part of our community. If RA can have paths cleared within hours of a big snow storm, surely we can clear the sidewalks around school property to make it safer for the kids. If neighbors can “pitch in” as FCPS asks, RA can too. After all, didn’t most of us help our neighbors dig out of the storm last week?

    • kcowing

      Who owns most of the land on the lower part of Wiehle Ave?

  • kcowing

    It is currently impossible to walk down Wiehle Avenue from Baron Cameron to the Toll Road. If you try you end up in snow that is several feet deep and have to climb over 5 foot high piles at intersections. None of the sidewalks have been shoveled. RA says it is not their problem. VDOT says it is not their problem. Fairfax County says it is not their problem. Fairfax schools say it is not their problem. If you want to walk you have to walk in the streets – with traffic whizzing by inches away. What happens next winter when Metro is open and the traffic on Wiehle dramatically increases? People will apparently have to walk down Wiehle in the street to the Metro station or catch a bus – while standing in the street.

  • krank

    On the northeast corner of Glade and Reston Pkwy you can’t even reach the buttons to signal the crosswalk because the plowed snow is just too high. It’s not safe.

  • Billy Smith

    How could RA possibly take on clearing all the sidewalks?! Obviously the property owners- be they condos, apartment, clusters or whatever should do their part.

  • NotaGG3

    Don’t understand why the parents don’t get out there and clear the walks for their children’s journey to the school bus. Am beginning to believe that quite a few US parents are indifferent to their children’s safety and wellbeing. The preponderance of gas guzzlers and inattention to greenhouse gas problems are another indicator of this sad state of affairs.


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