Updated: Nov. 18, 2016 at 10:40 a.m.
This post was written by reporter Chase Smith.
In an effort to provide better walkability during snow emergencies like January 2016’s “snowzilla,” D.C. Council members met at the John A. Wilson building to hear testimony for proposed amendments to current snow and ice removal legislation.
The District spent $55.3 million in response to the January blizzard, or eight years worth of snow removal budgets in response to the emergency. This new legislation would authorize Mayor Muriel Bowser to enter into an agreement with the Business Improvement Districts and Main Streets programs for snow and ice removal from sidewalks, curb cuts and crosswalks in their district or program area during a snow emergency.
Ward 6 Council Member Charles Allen, who proposed the amendment, said representatives from BIDs and Main Streets programs worked to clear snow and ice for the businesses and residents in their areas voluntarily. The D.C. organizations help improve conditions for people working in D.C. businesses and using District streets.
However, the BIDs and Main Street programs were not compensated for extra hours of snow and ice removal and instead millions were paid to contractors with little to none of it going to sidewalk shoveling.
Allen said he would like to see this conversation about pedestrian accessibility to be moved along because he has seen many people walking and not driving in the first few days of a snow emergency.
“I would love to be able to say out of that 55 million, five percent went to making sure we had clear pedestrian paths,” Allen said. “I would wager not even five percent, I would be surprised if even one percent, went to that pedestrian experience for clean and safe sidewalks.”
Representatives from the Main Streets programs in D.C. and BIDs testified in approval of the proposed amendment at the hearing.
Charlie Whitaker, the CEO of Career Path D.C., said the new amendment would allow his team to purchase more ice melt in snow emergencies, because last year’s blizzard saw them exhaust their whole years supply of ice melt in two hours.
“I love to see kids go to school on time every day,” Whitaker said. “If we could remove snow at a faster rate and more efficiently, we can keep our government open, our kids can get to school on time and we won’t have to worry so much about our seniors slipping and falling.”
Kyle Todd, Executive Director of Rhode Island Ave. Main Streets program, said his team rose to the occasion and removed “tons” of snow during the blizzard in January.
“However, when it came time to pay them overtime, well, that’s why we’re here today,” he said.
He added they could have removed the snow very quickly with the appropriate equipment and that it should be purchased in advance so his team can have proper training before the next big winter storm hits.
Natalie Avery, the executive director of the D.C. BID Council, said the current situation of D.C. prioritizing road clearing instead of sidewalk clearing should be changed.
Avery expressed frustration with street plows that push snow back onto already cleared sidewalks, which “erases hours of work.”
Ana Harvey, the director of the Department of Small and Local Business Development, testified in support of the proposed legislation on behalf of Bowser.
Harvey said the January snowstorm taught the city that they need to be ready for unexpected snow emergencies while also thoughtful of budgetary considerations.
“This bill explores a potential solution by allowing the Mayor to enter into agreements with BIDs or Main Street programs for snow and ice removal and improving efficiency by utilizing existing government resources,” she said.
This post was updated to reflect the following correction:
The Hatchet incorrectly reported the Ward 6 Council member as John Allen. His name is Charles Allen. We regret this error.