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Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space

"A community’s physical form, rather than its land uses, is its most intrinsic and enduring characteristic." [Katz, EPA] This blog focuses on place and placemaking and all that makes it work--historic preservation, urban design, transportation, asset-based community development, arts & cultural development, commercial district revitalization, tourism & destination development, and quality of life advocacy--along with doses of civic engagement and good governance watchdogging.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Testimony on the Winter Sidewalk Safety Amendment Act of 2011

Marina in the snow
(Note that the section on the legislation missing the mark, overstates the case. It's true that the legislation doesn't address all the issues, but DC City Councilmembers are using the legislation to push the Executive branch of both the DC Government and the Federal Government to address the issue.)

B19-0016: The Winter Sidewalk Safety Amendment Act of 2011
DC City Council
Committee on Public Works and Transportation
February 9th, 2011

Testimony by Richard Layman

Thank you Councilmember Wells, Councilmember Cheh and other members from the Committee for the opportunity to speak today on B19-0016, the “Winter Sidewalk Safety Amendment Act of 2011.” I am Richard Layman of the Citizens Planning Coalition. In the context of sustainable transportation, CPC believes that it is important for the City of Washington to develop a more wide-ranging “maintenance of way” agenda to address mobility concerns of all users of the city’s streets and sidewalks, especially during winter weather, especially concerning the removal of snow and ice.

Because DC is a walking and transit city—after all most trips start by walking, DC residents conduct 51% of their trips to work by walking, transit, and bicycling, depending on the neighborhood a preponderance of non-work trips are also conducted by these modes as well, and more than 30% of DC households do not own cars—therefore, the city must have and execute plans which ensure the mobility of people and transit (and to the extent that it is possible, bicyclists) when it snows.

It isn't enough to be satisfied with successful clearing of snow from streets, when operational systems for removing snow from sidewalks and transit shelters are not present, and for the failure to ensure transit service by prioritizing snow removal from streets used by buses, so that transit service can still be provided on the routes that normally serve the city's residents, workers, and visitors. We also note that DDOT has changed procedure for snow removal from streets, to prevent snow piles from blocking crosswalks.

Pass B19-0016: The Winter Sidewalk Safety Amendment Act of 2011

Of course CPC supports Bill B19-0016 and urges its passage. We suggest that Parking Enforcement Officers can be tasked with the responsibility for the issuance of tickets for failure to clear sidewalks. Additionally, Council should recommend that a campaign be initiated (doorhangers, etc.) promoting the idea of “safe routes to school” and “safe routes to transit” to more broadly communicate the importance of proper snow removal to public safety, community building, and strong and safe neighborhoods.

Furthermore, we suggest two additional amendments. (1) Sections §9-601 and §9-602 of the original code should be amended to shift from DC Government to adjacent property owners, the responsibility for the removal of snow and ice from curb ramps (for corner properties) and from the crosswalks of alley ways (for properties abutting alleys). (2) Section §9-602 should also be amended to specify responsibility for ensuring the removal of snow and ice from transit stops and routes.

These amendments are recommended because curb ramps and alley crossings often remain gaps in otherwise cleared sidewalk networks and because snow removal along transit routes and stops should be prioritized.

But B19-0016 misses the opportunity to address other key issues

In addition, in terms of a more expansive perspective on maintenance of way, we would like to point out that your review of the relevant sections of the DC Code (42 Stat. 846; D.C. 28 Code §9-601 et seq.) concerning the removal of snow and ice from properties in the District of Columbia remains incomplete.

It is not an overstatement to assert that DC Government and the Federal Government fail miserably with regard to their responsibilities under DC Code (42 Stat. 846; D.C. 28 Code §9-601 et seq.) . Citizens and visitors are frequently put at risk by the failure during winter of the DC Government and the Federal Government to properly maintain sidewalks and facilities adjacent to their respectively owned and/or leased properties.

In preparing this testimony, imagine my surprise when reading the relevant section of the DC Code to discover that Section §9-602 requires DC Government to remove snow and ice from properties it owns and that §9-603 imposes the same responsibility on the Federal Government, and in particular the National Park Service.

Under DC law, DC Government has legal responsibilities for snow and ice removal from sidewalks

The relevant text in §9-602 reads as follows:

It shall be the duty of the Mayor of the District of Columbia within the first 8 hours of daylight after the ceasing to fall of any snow or sleet, or after the accumulation of ice on the paved sidewalks within the fire limits of the District of Columbia, in front of or adjacent to all public buildings, public squares, reservations, and open spaces in the said District owned or held by lease by said District, to cause such snow and ice to be removed; and also to cause the same to be removed from all crosswalks of improved streets and places of intersection of alleys with paved sidewalks, and also from all paved sidewalks or crosswalks used as public thoroughfares through all public squares, reservations, or open spaces within the fire limits of said District owned or held by lease by the District of Columbia; …

The failure of DC Government generally and government agencies specifically to adhere to §9-602 is particularly acute for sidewalk abutting schools and property controlled by DC Public Schools, and for parks and reservations controlled by the Department of Parks and Recreation and/or the Department of Transportation.

Under DC law, the Federal Government has legal responsibilities for snow and ice removal from sidewalks

The relevant text in §9-603 reads as follows:

It shall be the duty of the Director of National Park Service within the first 8 hours of daylight after the ceasing to fall of any snow or sleet, or after the accumulation of ice upon the paved sidewalks within the fire limits of the District of Columbia, to remove or cause to be removed from such sidewalks as are in front of or adjacent to all buildings owned or leased by the United States, except the Capitol buildings and grounds and the Library of Congress building, and from all paved sidewalks or crosswalks used as public thoroughfares in front of, around, or through all public squares, reservations, or open spaces within the fire limits of the District of Columbia, owned or leased by the United States; …

Snow removal from NPS facilities outside of the National Mall is definitely a hit or miss proposition, in particular the plaza in front of Union Station (why Union Station doesn’t develop a memorandum of understanding with the NPS to address this is beyond my understanding given that the “new” revitalized Union Station “reopened” in 1988).

DC Council must call on the Executive Branch of DC Government to execute its duties concerning snow and ice removal from sidewalks

CPC suggests to the Committee that you look to the City of Minneapolis for guidance. Both the Minneapolis Pedestrian Master Plan and the Minneapolis Bicycle Master Plan include text, discussion, and policy guidance with regard to snow removal. [Note that I attached pages 63-66 of the Minneapolis Bicycle Master Plan to the testimony. These pages detail the recommendations in their plan concerning snow removal.]

CPC recommends when the DC Pedestrian and Bicycle Master Plans are revised, that sections relevant to snow removal policies and recommendations be added. Text on the concept of maintenance of way in a walking and transit city should also be added to other relevant transportation plans produced by DDOT and other agencies, including the Transportation Element of the Comprehensive Land Use Plan. This is relevant to Council because ultimately, all of these plans are passed into law by Council through the public hearing process and legislation.

Operational plans must be devised and performance audited, to ensure that the citizens, residents, and visitors are properly served and protected by DC Government and its agencies when it comes to the removal of snow and ice and the maintenance of way of sidewalks and facilities abutting public buildings, public squares, reservations, and open spaces under the control of the local government.

DC Council must call on the Executive Branch of the Federal Government to execute its duties concerning snow and ice removal from sidewalks

The Council Chairman sits on the National Capital Planning Commission, which is the planning body overseeing land use and transportation planning responsibilities of the Executive Branch of the Federal Government in the District of Columbia.

Council should encourage the National Capital Planning Commission to revise the Transportation Element of the Federal Elements of the District of Columbia concerning federal responsibilities for maintenance of way of sidewalks and other facilities in the context of a walking and transit city, comparable to how the City of Minneapolis addresses this issue in their planning processes.

Operational plans must be devised and performance audited, to ensure that the citizens, residents, and visitors are properly served and protected by the Federal Government and its agencies when it comes to the removal of snow and ice and the maintenance of way of sidewalks and facilities abutting public buildings, public squares, reservations, and open spaces under the control of the federal government.

Conclusion

CPC hopes that the process concerning the passage of B19-0016 will provide the opportunity to Council to address these additional matters that we have brought to your attention. We support B19-0016, with the suggested amendments that we have offered.

Thank you for the opportunity to speak to you today on this vitally important matter.

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