During last weekend's snowstorm and its aftermath, I observed road-clearing operations in three jurisdictions: Manassas, Falls Church and Montgomery County.
In Manassas, the privately owned street where I was staying had been cleared almost to the pavement by Tuesday night by a contractor. Public roads were just wet.
In Falls Church, by Tuesday night the main roads had been cleared and the neighborhood streets had been plowed two lanes wide.
But that night in Montgomery County, although major roads were partially cleared, piled snow blocked some lanes and intersections. The snow emergency routes had been plowed once, haphazardly.
My street, normally a busy commuter cut-through, had not been plowed. I parked in the middle of the street to dig out my driveway. A neighbor said a road grader had made one pass four hours earlier.
My neighbors and I shoveled our driveways and sidewalks, and the streets were passable, one lane only, by Wednesday afternoon.
Then on Wednesday night, the county road grader made another pass on my street and blocked every cleared driveway with about two feet of ice and snow. The street was still one lane wide and still covered with snow and ice. I and many of my neighbors dug out again, grumbling over our wasted efforts, and the county's. Then, around 11 p.m., the road grader came through again, widening the street to 11/2 lanes and again dumping two feet of ice and snow at the end of each walk and driveway. That was about all the county "help" my aching back could stand.
I've learned my lesson: Wait until moments before you have to leave, then clear your driveway. Otherwise, it's a waste of time.
D.C. practices in clearing sidewalks of snow are an interesting commentary on how we live. Hotels, apartment houses, office buildings, almost all shops and many residences comply with the unenforced (and probably unenforcable) D.C. law.
But many embassies don't bother. Some, such as Egypt and the Philippines, do a fine job. Others, such as Greece and Bosnia, clear their driveways but ignore their sidewalks. Others, such as Kenya, do nothing.
Then there's Cameroon, which cleared half of its sidewalk and left the other half untouched. I slipped on uncleared ice in front of the Argentine Military Liaison Office on Connecticut Avenue. I didn't get hurt, so don't cry for me, Argentina!
The worst offender is the D.C. government. Sidewalks adjacent to public spaces seem never to be cleared. The problem is exacerbated by the ludicrously inefficient city plows, which create snow mountains at every intersection while closing off cross streets. They seem to be particularly fond of making the ramps for the handicapped inaccessible.
SAMUEL A. STERN
I came to Washington from Kalamazoo, Mich. We don't just plow more there; we plow smarter.
When heavy snow is forecast, the roads are salted before the first flakes fall. This helps keep snow from accumulating on roads. Yes, we hate the crunch under our feet and the dirty cars, but look around Washington to see the alternative.
And in Michigan we don't wait for six inches to fall before starting to plow. We start at the first sign of accumulation on the roads and then keep those salt-spreaders going.
ROBERT J. KOGAN
The Feb. 20 editorial discussing the perplexing etiquette of walking along snowy sidewalks missed the point. Say all you want about inexperienced drivers and overwhelmed snow removal trucks, the capital's real problem is the refusal of many property owners to shovel their sidewalks. This is inexcusable.
Borrow a shovel. Hire a neighborhood kid. Whatever it takes, get it done.
These past several days, all I could think as my sedan surfed through snow-covered parking lots while I searched for the elusive space was "parking lot Darwinism." Clearly, in this case, the SUV was the survivor.
My parking trials were thrown into perspective, however, when I noticed that in almost every lot I entered in Fairfax City, the snow was piled at the ends of the rows -- in the handicapped spaces. It will take a while for these mountains to disappear. Merchants and the city need to address this situation immediately and ensure that it doesn't happen again.