Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Arlington Could Do Better On Snow With A Couple Simple Measures

Yesterday, the Curmudgeon traipsed past the dirty mounds of ice and snow remnants to the Arlington County government complex to hear the Acting County Manager present a preliminary outline of the fiscal 2011 budget.

At the end of that presentation, the County Board and Manager spent a little time patting themselves on the back for a job well done in dealing with last week's twin blizzards.

Compared to other local jurisdictions, Arlington did, in fact, do pretty well. But it could do better if the County Board would adopt a couple of ordinances that apply in most communities that regularly deal with snow (as we do, despite pretenses to the contrary).

The first is a requirement, subject to fine, that property owners clear the public sidewalks abutting their property. While most Arlingtonians do this anyway, out of civic duty and common courtesy, a significant minority don't. The result is quite dangerous for pedestrians, and can slow the re-opening of schools.

For example, we noticed today a church on Arlington Ridge Rd. that had managed to clear its driveway and parking area, but not the sidewalks adjacent to its property, which happen to lead to Oak Ridge Elementary School and Gunston Middle School. In fact, whoever cleared the church's property dumped quite a bit of snow onto the sidewalk, which otherwise was clear for a couple blocks around.

Likewise, we encountered a couple sidewalks in Clarendon, abutting businesses, that were still not cleared (one was around a used car dealership, which, of course, had cleared its sales lot).

There's no excuse for letting these folks shirk their obligations. If you talk to a County Board member about the issue, they'll usually cite some bafflegab about old people who aren't able to shovel their walks. That's lame--old people can hire someone to do the job, or get a neighbor to do it for them (as happens on our street). Thousands of communities in the northeastern U.S. require property owners to clear their walks within 24 hours of a storm--somehow the old people have managed to survive (or is that why they move to Florida?).

The second measure that would help would be to designate certain streets as snow emergency streets, subject to parking restrictions when a snow emergency is declared. This would allow rapid clearance of parking lanes on those roads during the routine plowing that occurs while a storm is dumping snow on us.

Instead, the County had to go back, probably at a large cost in overtime, and clear those parking lanes well after the fact. The logical roads for these restrictions are Wilson Blvd., Clarendon Blvd., Washington Blvd., Columbia Pike and perhaps a few others.

Instead of enacting these logical--and time tested--measures, the County Board acts each year like snow is so unusual here that we don't need them. Now, with the recent storms still fresh in everyone's minds, would be a fine time to act.

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