Nearly two weeks after Montgomery County’s biggest snowfall of the year, the issue of how to remove all that snow continues to generate discussion among the Montgomery County Council.
Councilman Hans Riemer is trying to gather support among his colleagues for a proposal to improve the county’s plans for removing snow from sidewalks after winter storms.
“We have a very robust snow plow operation that clears the roads very efficiently, and our superb highway team is always working to improve its performance,” Riemer (D-At Large) of Takoma Park wrote in a letter to other council members. “However, we do not have a sufficient plan or policies in place to meet the challenge of removing snow from sidewalks and pedestrian crossings.”
Riemer’s plan would require the county’s Department of Transportation to create a “Sidewalk Snow Removal Plan” to include the following:
• A map to show who is responsible for clearing show on all sidewalks in the county.
• A communications plan of steps to be implemented for snowstorms.
• An educational campaign to make property owners aware of where they are responsible for clearing sidewalks.
• Plans for county removal of snow from bus stops and Metro stations, near schools, along state highways, and along high-priority pedestrian routes.
• Increased enforcement against property owners who don’t clear their sidewalks.
• Plans to prioritize the clearing of hiking and biking trails after a storm.
Riemer said he wants to look at what it would take in regards to education, enforcement or the county stepping in to get people in problem areas to clear their sidewalks.
County law requires residents and business owners to clear the sidewalks in front of their properties within 24 hours after a storm.
In the letter to his fellow council members, Riemer said that while he recognizes winter storms already create a large expense for the county, making sure sidewalks are clear is also vital to the county’s interests.
“Clearing the roads is a critical mission, but ensuring that all residents have mobility after storm events is the real goal. We should not be satisfied with finishing part of the job,” he wrote.
The Feb. 13 storm dumped anywhere from a foot to more than two feet of snow on communities around the county.
Council President Craig L. Rice (D-Dist. 2) of Germantown faced questions from reporters Monday about the county’s response to the storm.
Rice said he’s not sure there is a problem with the county’s snow removal process, noting that every other jurisdiction in the Washington, D.C. area struggled with snow removal during the storm.
Rice called the storm an “anomaly” and said he’s not sure the county should set its policies based on an event that may only happen every few years.
He said the problems highlighted by the storm may warrant a campaign to educate people on what the laws are for snow removal, and urged county residents to help clear snow from property owned by residents who are elderly or otherwise unable to remove the snow themselves.
Meanwhile, Riemer was one of five council members who signed a letter from Councilman Roger Berliner (D-Dist. 1) of Bethesda to the directors of the county’s parks and transportation departments. The letter asked Mary Bradford, director of the Department of Parks for the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission and Arthur Holmes, director of the county’s Department of Transportation, to prepare an estimate on what it would cost to remove snow and provide winter maintenance on the Capital Crescent Trail that runs from the Washington, D.C., border through Bethesda and into Silver Spring.
“The condition of the Capital Crescent Trail and its lack of maintenance following snow events is an issue of great concern to our residents who rely on our trail infrastructure for commuting purposes,” Berliner wrote.
The letter was also signed by Riemer, Council Vice President George Leventhal (D-At Large) of Takoma Park, Councilman Philip M. Andrews (D-Dist. 3) of Gaithersburg and Coucilwoman Cherri Branson (D-Dist. 5) of Silver Spring.
While the trail is used by many residents for recreation, it also serves as a commuter route for people to get to work, Berliner wrote.
Montgomery touts its efforts to create a network of trails and bike paths, and those need to be maintained as much as possible, he wrote.
“In my opinion, not maintaining the Capital Crescent Trail does not only a great disservice to residents who rely on the trail for commuting purposes, but also to the County’s goal of being a more walkable and bikeable community,” Berliner wrote.