Snow-Covered Sidewalks Have Been Unsolved Fairfax Issue For Years

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

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