Reporting on pedestrian life in the D.C. area

Thundersnow response: To what degree were the problems man-made?

February 7, 2011 - 12:26 PM
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D.C. councilmember Tommy Wells just chaired a hearing on the Jan. 26 snow-and-ice storm that crippled Washington and stranded hundreds of commuters in the freezing cold. Wells called on a number of D.C. officials to testify, emphasizing how disturbed he was that a storm like that could effectively debilitate the city.

"It's unnerving," he said. "It's unnerving that our whole city could be shut down like this. We know bad things can happen downtown.... There may be a time when we need to evacuate."

Among officials from the Department of Transportation (DDOT), the Department of Public Works (DPW), and Metro there was general agreement that interagency communication wasn't great, and that a lot of stranded drivers didn't know what was happening or when help would arrive.

"We're lucky it didn't get colder," Wells said. "We're lucky we didn’t lose anybody. If it was colder we probably could have." 

Among a few of the blunders: DDOT and DPW never called on the D.C. police to take control of downtown intersections. As the snow and slush piled up and cars got stuck, there were tie-ups all over town. Also, city officials realized that overgrown trees aren't just a problem for Pepco. A lot of the deadlock on the roads was due to large downed limbs that probably should have been taken care of before the winter.

Wells' assessment was that the dialogue between agencies was too weak for a storm of this order.

"My presumption is that some of what occurred was avoidable," he said.

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