Reporting on pedestrian life in the D.C. area

How Mayor Gray and Metro plan to survive the next Snowpocalypse

December 15, 2011 - 03:26 PM
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Frozen D.C. (Photo: Jay Westcott)

Winter is coming, D.C., and although we haven't experienced any true snow, we can bet some will arrive before long. Our capital is no stranger to the occasional Snowpocalypse, whether in recent years or even a half century back. My WJLA colleague John Metcalfe tells us there's a chance we'll be seeing snow as soon as this Friday.

Mayor Vince Gray released the city's snow plans, and one thing's for sure — the D.C. government does not want to get caught off guard this year. The city has created an entire web domain devoted to the chilly blight and deployed 45 plows on Dec. 7 at the rumor of a half-inch falling. I've reviewed some of the city's advice for the key reason that snow will impact D.C. transportation, whether you're a driver, pedestrian, or bicyclist. Snow piles up, and no one can get anywhere. Whole commutes are ruined and delayed for hours. Planning for winter involves some special travel precautions that you'll want to start thinking about now. Drivers, you have car maintenance to worry about. And is your car stocked with the proper winter supplies like booster cables and a first aid kit? The city's cute slogan is "plan today, plow tomorrow."

I'm glad to read the District plans to clear bike and pedestrian trails like Met Branch this year. Here's some of the District's pedestrian, driver, and cyclist tips regarding speed, how to approach ice, reminders, and so on. Much of the advice is common sense, and it never hurts to glance over the list to make sure you won't find yourself caught in a transportation nightmare before Christmas. Bicyclists, you may want to consult Daniel Hoagland's 2010 two-part series on winter bike riding over at the Washington Area Bicyclist Assocation's blog to make sure you're prepared.

Metro, too, has planned for the weather, with different levels of service set to kick in depending on the level of snowfall. Don't worry about too many WMATA changes with one to two inches of snow. But once two to four inches fall, expect 15 minute waits between buses and small delays when waiting for trains. Once those flakes add up to four to eight inches, the bus delays rise to 30 minutes and Metrorail riders can expect 15 minutes of delay. It's at this level WMATA will get serious on the tracks: "Trains with snow plows and ice scrapers attached will operate between trains carrying passengers," according to the transit agency's plan states. Any storm that yields more than eight inches, watch out. At that point, WMATA's bus service drops to "limited" operations and the trains will only run underground.

And here's the list of emergency snow routes. Make sure you don't rest your vehicle there during an emergency — there's a $250 fine as well as any towing costs.

Our mayor suggests we assemble into neighborhood shoveling teams to be prepared for any potential snowstorms in the weeks and months to come. Here are the official government thoughts on how best to create one:

• Before the first snowfall, talk with your neighbors. Find out who can help and who needs help, who has a shovel and who needs one. Exchange contact information: name, phone number(s), email, Twitter, Facebook.
• Keep a list of those who can help and make a call every now and then to those who said they couldn’t. They might change their mind.
• Identify a team leader and determine a location to meet to begin clearing sidewalks.
• Neighborhood teams with members that are social media savvy may want to develop a Twitter feed and post updates on social media forums.
• Gather snow shoveling resources (shovels, salt, sand) as soon as possible.
• Identify a safe and legal location to pile snow.
• Avoid overexertion when shoveling snow. Overexertion can bring on a heart attack—a major cause of death during the winter.
• Let your neighbors know if you will be out of town, so they can clear your sidewalk in your absence.
• Make it fun. Build snow people. Host a post-shoveling party.
• DPW solid waste enforcement personnel drive plows during snow storms, so they are not available to enforce sidewalk clearing violations. Please take care of your sidewalk and help your neighbors with theirs.

You hear that, D.C.? "Build snow people." Government orders.

Check out of the rest of the government's good suggestions and information here at

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