It has been four days since most parts of the D.C. area received significant snow, but the sidewalks on the Bloor Viaduct in northeast D.C. were coated with a layer of ice Tuesday afternoon as the brutal winter storm bore down on the area.
The once prime sidewalk access area right outside the abandoned House of Blues building became a slippery, hazardous slide, making it much more difficult to find a safe spot to walk.
D.C. Board of Public Works members voted unanimously this week to approve new standards of sidewalks, which would require the city to take action to remove ice, ice accumulations and snow when it is measurable and heavy snow falls.
The D.C. Metro Authority also released a new set of sidewalk policies on Thursday, called “Refresh, Refresh, Refresh,” which impose tougher conditions on contractors and subcontractors who remove snow and ice from Metrobus and Metroaccessible facility property. The new guidelines require contractors to remove snow that reaches the top of the sidewalk in a pro-active manner and to vacate sidewalks where they are not required to do so.
Although the board approved the standards at its Feb. 27 meeting, any change to the standards must be approved by the city’s Public Services Department. That process was delayed at least a week when the agency learned of an error in the standards draft. A spokesperson for the Public Services Department told The Washington Post that the snow on the sidewalk on the Bloor Viaduct is not technically a snow emergency. That designation goes to heavy, two-foot slush accumulation, said the spokesperson, adding that the area closest to the westbound sidewalk on the Bloor Viaduct has some of the highest accumulation recorded in the District, but is covered by ice.
Jeffrey Dumas, the chief of staff to D.C. Council member David Grosso, released a statement Wednesday saying the city should have removed the snow more quickly, but suggested that the board of public works’ process for snow removal may have made the situation worse.
“City officials should take swift action to clear ice from the streets and sidewalks that clearly need to be cleared,” Dumas said. “But they may also want to consult the meter maids, who have issued numerous citations of this type for inoperable sidewalks. It appears from Commissioner O’Connor’s testimony that the rulemaking process may have added additional delays in the process.”
O’Connor told the council that about $1 million in fines had been issued for inoperable sidewalks, but that more were being issued to contractors and landlords.
“That problem just kept growing and getting bigger and bigger and bigger,” he said.
Speaking after the board’s unanimous vote Monday, Executive Director Gregory Foley said the board was updating standards after decades of complaints. “What we’re dealing with is a very difficult problem,” he said. “How do we enforce these standards?”
While there is a process to write a code that replaces the rules for every single city neighborhood, the Department of Public Works has largely left the enforcement to district officials, who ask city agencies to take action if ice accumulations reach an unacceptable level. When contacted Wednesday, a spokesperson for D.C. Public Works said the agency is still reviewing the new standards.
Holly Cornelius, the master owner and chief executive of the property that houses the Bloor Viaduct, told The Washington Post she was not involved in the day-to-day cleaning of the sidewalk, or the development of the new standards. She said the icy condition is due to elements that are not her fault, such as the ground beneath the viaduct.
“The top sheet of ice has to be removed, and sometimes when you are letting in wind, it acts as a conduit,” she said. “It can cause very dangerous conditions.”
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