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Snow-Covered Sidewalks Have Been Unsolved Fairfax Issue For Years

by Karen Goff February 19, 2014 at 4:20 pm 1,965 11 Comments

A pedestrian avoids the snow by walking near traffic at Sunset Hills and Wiehle Avenue/Credit: Bruce Wright

Fairfax County Supervisors have been looking at how to solve the “who shovels the sidewalks” issue for more than a decade.

There has been much outcry this week from residents in Reston, who find themselves — and their schoolchildren — tromping through unshoveled sidewalks, walking in the street and being blocked by three-foot-high snow piles after last week’s storm dumped more than a foot here.

That has left many residents confused as to who is supposed to shovel what. Reston Association is responsible for Reston property. Homeowners are responsible for the sidewalks in front of their homes on side streets and subdivisions. Schools try and shovel the sidewalks closest to the buildings.

Main roads are Virginia Department of Transportation’s responsibility. But they just plow streets, not sidewalks.

Bruce Wright, a Reston resident and chair of Fairfax Advocates for Better Bicycling (FAAB), did some research and found that the supervisors have discussed this issue five times in the past 14 years, but no real change has come.

The most recent discussion was in 2011, when Braddock Supervisor John Cook  suggested developing an informal program that “encourages and organizes volunteers to assist in the clearing of trails and sidewalks.”

“Supervisor Cook said that trails and sidewalks are key assets and pieces of infrastructure that are used not only for exercise and enjoyment, but also commuting,” meeting minutes of May 24 say. “Unfortunately, due to budgetary constraints, the County is unable to ensure these particular pieces of infrastructure stay clean, clear and accessible. To address this glaring need, the County’s Trails and Sidewalks Committee is asking that volunteer support for cleaning and clearing sidewalk and asphalt trail surfaces be authorized to help maintain public walkways in an acceptable condition. ”

A motion to direct the county executive to develop guidelines for implementing a citizen volunteer trail and sidewalk maintenance program was unanimously passed, but no program was established.

“What’s the solution? Fairfax County needs a snow clearing ordinance, with exceptions for the elderly and others who physically can’t remove snow on public sidewalks and trails adjacent to their property,” Wright writes on the FAAB blog. “Volunteers could be on call to assist. Business owners and residents would have to figure out how to clear snow from their sidewalks. HOA’s could include sidewalk snow removal in their budgets.”

“VDOT should tell their snow plow drivers to try to avoid dumping snow on curb ramps at intersections. VDOT and the county should identify key transportation trails used by cyclists and clear them of snow: the W&OD Trail, the Fairfax County Parkway Trail, and others.”

Does Fairfax County need a snow removal policy to protect walkers? What is the solution? Tell us your thoughts in the comments.

Photo: A man walks in the street on Wiehle Avenue to avoid the snow piles. Credit: Bruce Wright

  • kcowing

    A week after the storm and it is still impossible to cross the Wiehle/Baron Cameron intersection safely and properly due to 5 foot high piles of snow. Long stretches of sidewalk directly next to RA property were never shoveled. Wait ’til the Metro opens up and this happens next Winter – and RA/Fairfax County start pointing fingers again while people have to walk in the streets because sidewalks are impassable.

    • pork

      The metro is ever going to open?

      • rwbill

        there’s a metro?

  • Dexter Scott

    I saw a woman jogging *in the street* on Wiehle the other day during afternoon rush hour. Personally I would never take that risk.

    • kcowing

      Drove on Wiehle and Sunset Hills todya. Nothing has changed. Intersections not plowed, pedestrians in the streets, standing on snow piles waiting for buses, etc. Fairfax County is oblivious – but if one of those people gets hit by a car they will send an ambulance.

    • Ray Boatwright

      Seems like lack of common sense to me. I like to get a jog in when I can, but if I can’t run my normal path, I will find somewhere else safe to run. Running on the road next to a pile of snow leaves no room for escape and pedestrians never win against cars…

  • rwbill

    walking on an elevated mesa of snow was a given when I was growing up. it was just winter. put on some boots and walk. climbing piles of snow was part of the attraction of winter. one local tv station here was actually scrolling the warning in red at the bottom of their screen “stay inside if at all possible!” you apparently can die from breathing air cooler than 32 degrees, or if a snowflake strikes you.

    in northern virginia the overwhelming majority, overwhelming, of snow plow assets are private contractors that often change year to year, and if contractors don’t, their drivers do. they could probably do some things better. experience and training, and scolding, remain resident in vdot’s own drivers but they are actually few of the total number working to clear roads.

    if vdot did not take this approach of contracting out literally thousands of private trucks and relied on its own, more experienced and aware but limited number of operators, the public would be screaming bloody murder, apparently unable to drive on anything but bare asphalt.

    • kcowing

      Dude, who pays the private contractors?

  • Ray Boatwright

    Tried riding my bike to work today without success. I think the sidewalks at major intersections should at least be clear, as well as bike lanes. Not sure why it’s ok to clear just enough to allow cars to get by. Many bus stops are still covered in snow as well. W&OD is hazardous as well. I would think they could run a plow and some salt down at least the major corridors for the W&OD. Would be nice to have some sort of official policy though.

  • Ken Fredgren

    On Wed, I saw people waiting in the street at inaccessible bus stops. Very dangerous. The County is inviting a lawsuit.

  • MM

    WO&D doesn’t belong to VDOT or Fairfax County, why would you think they would clear it? WO&D is open Sunrise to Sunset, why do you think during the winter when it is dark before and after work you can trespass and use it to commute? Oh yea I forgot rules apply to everyone but bike riders!

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