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Updates: D.C. commuters back to work after blizzard

January 27, 2016

People walk along the Capitol Reflecting Pool on Capitol Hill on Tuesday in Washington. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

Authorities warned Washington area residents Wednesday that the morning commute — whether by subway, bus or car — was going to be long and tough as more offices and schools reopen after a snowstorm for the record books.

Capital Weather Gang | Public transportation | Photos | School closures

  • Angela Fritz
  • ·

We’ve had three days of melting, but there’s still a lot of snow on some of our roads and many areas are wet with runoff. Now temperatures will drop below 32 degrees this evening, which means slushy, untreated roads and sidewalks run the risk of refreezing after sunset.

Temperatures drop below freezing immediately after sunset in our colder north and west areas, and by 7 p.m. downtown. Extra caution should be taken on the evening commute. Temperatures will continue to drop into the teens and low 20s overnight, so the Thursday morning commute will also be affected.

We’re not expecting widespread treacherous travel — many of the busiest roads have been well-treated with chemicals and afternoon winds have helped to dry things out a bit. But some areas may still see problems.

See the full story.

  • Lori Aratani
  • ·

CZvS_-zWIAA88oMYes, folks, it’s come to this — we’ve got so much snow to clear that even Florida is pitching in to help.

As part of the Emergency Management Assistance Compact (EMAC), Florida’s Division of Emergency Management is sending 15 dump trucks and 31 state employees to help with D.C.’s cleanup.

But the folks in the Sunshine State are clever. Not wanting to pass up on a marketing opportunity, those trucks will be wrapped with a friendly message that bears the image of a hitchhiking snowman holding a sign that proclaims: “Florida bound.”

Read the full story.

  • Tim Richardson
  • ·
Traffic creeps along Pennsylvania Avenue and 26th Street in Northwest Washington on Wednesday, Jan. 27. Metro said its buses were running 45 minutes late. (Luz Lazo/The Washington Post)

Traffic creeps along Pennsylvania Avenue and 26th Street in Northwest Washington on Wednesday. (Luz Lazo/The Washington Post)

Metrorail will continue to operate on a modified schedule Thursday, with trains running every eight minutes on each line. Bus service will be upgraded with all routes in service, but snow detours remain in effect.

  • Luz Lazo
  • ·

Capital Bikeshare bikes, snowbound. (Evelyn Hockstein/For The Washington Post)

Capital Bikeshare is now offering limited service at some stations in the District, Arlington and Alexandria.  Officials with the D.C. Department of Transportation said service resumed at 3:30 p.m. Wednesday. However, users should be aware that not all the stations are available, and riders are urged to check the station map and the Spotcycle App for a list of active stations.

And now, it’s time to dig out the bike lanes

The bike system in Montgomery County is expected to remain closed through Thursday, while Capital Bikeshare staffers continue to clear snow from the stations. Bike stations will open on a rolling basis, officials said.

Bikeshare shuttered as staffers focus on digging out

During the period of limited service, Capital Bikeshare will not rebalance its stations. Instead, it will focus on getting all the stations back to service. Also, riders won’t be able to return a bike at a docking station that has not been cleared for service.

  • Luz Lazo
  • ·

Montgomery County Public School buses, buried in the snow in Bethesda. ( Katherine Frey/The Washington Post)

Dear residents, it’s time to shovel your sidewalk.

That’s the message from Montgomery County Executive Isaiah Leggett: For those who have already cleared their walks, I say ‘Thank you.’ For those who haven’t, now is the time.

Because of the severity of the snow — more than two feet of snow in parts of the county — Montgomery County has been flexible with any enforcement of the law, which requires residents to clean-up within 24 hours of the end of the storm.  But Leggett said the county will be accepting complaints about snow-covered sidewalks starting 10 a.m. Thursday.

And then they may lower the boom.

“Four days after the storm, our streets are passable and being improved,” Leggett said in a statement. “This is important so that schoolchildren are not walking in the street, so that seniors can get where they need to go, and so that all pedestrians and commuters using Ride On and Metro can get around safely.”

  • Dana Hedgpeth
  • ·
The view at the end of a cul-de-sac on Meadowland Terrace in Montgomery County's Olney neighborhood. Neighbors say a county plow has not come through as of Wednesday afternoon. They said they used shovels to make one lane out onto the road. (Courtesy of Steve Schecter)

The view at the end of a cul-de-sac on Meadowland Terrace in Montgomery County’s Olney neighborhood. Neighbors say a county plow has not come through as of Wednesday afternoon. They said they used shovels to make one lane out onto the road. (Steve Schecter)

Steve Schecter, who is an information technology specialist for the federal government and lives in Olney in Montgomery County, said he isn’t too pleased with the county’s performance in plowing streets.

He and about 10 other neighbors who live at the end of a cul-de-sac on Meadowland Terrace have spent between seven and eight hours over the past few days digging the street out from what they said is 30 inches of snow.

They said at one point the county’s snow map shows that their part of the street had been plowed at least once by a county plow, but they said in fact it has not been. And they’ve got the pictures to prove it.

What’s been dug out is enough to allow one car to pass through, Schecter said. And it has been done by hand with shovels – no county plows involved, he said.

To be sure, he said someone did appear to hire a private snow plow that came down part of the street Monday night, but he said the entire street still hasn’t seen a county plow.

“I’m extremely frustrated,” Schecter said. “It’s ridiculous.”

“There’s no reason why we should be shoveling the street,” he said. “There’s no reason why the county should not have been ahead of the snow.

“I understand this is a record snowfall for this area, but if they knew they weren’t going to have enough people and enough equipment they should have started contracting out ahead of the storm.”

County officials have said they are working as fast as possible to get side and residential streets plowed, and crews are working long shifts. County Executive Ike Leggett had pledged that all county neighborhood roads would receive a snow plow pass by 7 a.m. Wednesday. However, County officials maintain that curl-de-sac’s are private property similar to driveways and should be taken care of by people or Homeowners’ Associations (HOA’s).

Schecter said he has lived on the street for four years and many of his neighbors who have lived there for longer said the street is well known for not getting plowed as fast as others. Why? Lots of theories but nothing concrete as to why that is.

It has been a lot of back and forth for Schecter.

On Tuesday afternoon, he said a neighbor called the 311 line to say the street hadn’t been plowed. At that time, the county’s map showed that it had been started. Then Leggett made the 7 a.m. Wednesday promise.

But Wednesday at 5:30 a.m. when Schecter got up it still had not been plowed. He called the 311 line at 8 a.m. and at 8:30 a.m. Meanwhile, the map showed the road had been “complete” meaning it was plowed.

Not the case, Schecter said, as he showed pictures of his street piled with snow on Wednesday.

The operator for the county said the information would be passed on to a depot. And when he asked about an estimated time of arrival she said if not today then no later than Thursday.

“I said there is no way the residents will wait until tomorrow,” he said. Already they had shoveled a portion of the street for one car to get through and many planned to go out again Wednesday afternoon and shovel more.

On Wednesday, Patrick Lacefield, a spokesman for the county, said the street had been plowed.

“We checked the trucks and the trucks had made a pass there, that street, they made a pass there before 7 a.m.,” Lacefield said.

Schecter disagreed. He said “that’s not the case.” He said he had just come in from shoveling around 2 p.m. and there’s still no sighting of a county plow.

Schecter said he thinks the discrepancy is because the trucks are likely at the end of the block and may see that part of the street was done by a private plow but they’re not coming all the way down to see that the cul-de-sac has not been done.

“They’re not taking their truck all the way down to where the circle ends,” Schecter said. “Just drive down there and look. It’s not done.”

For Schecter, Washington — and the county’s reaction — is different from where he has lived.

“I’m from Chicago,” Schecter said. “We elect mayors out of office if they don’t clear the snow in a timely fashion.”

  • Michael Laris
  • ·

After seeing no government-dispatched plow for days, Diane Thomas and her neighbors on Allanwood Drive area decided to free themselves.

The retired insurance worker, 65, joined a plumber, a school worker, a legal administrator and a rotating crew of more than a dozen other neighbors, who spent most of Tuesday shoveling so they’d be unbound by Wednesday’s commute.

It was good for neighborhood bonding but bad for her view of the way her local government, Montgomery County, functions.

“If we could have trusted them and believed that by 7 a.m. the road would have been clear, we wouldn’t have done that,” Thomas said of the heavy labor in their Norwood Park-area community.

Neighbors shoveling Allanwood Drive in Montgomery County. (Courtesy of Diane Thomas)

Neighbors shoveling Allanwood Drive in Montgomery County. (Diane Thomas)

She cleared the street in front of three houses, and others took other sections of the block. Neighbors repeatedly sent in requests for county plowing, but they didn’t receive a response, she said.

“You’re going, ‘I don’t know if they’re coming our not. We don’t know if we’re forgotten,'” she said.

It was not a theoretical concern. One neighbor on an adjoining street reachable only through Allanwood Drive needed to get home because she ran out of medicine. Another was flying back in from a trip and didn’t know whether she’d be able to reach her home.

Thomas said she understands that, given the rarity of such snow dumps, it wouldn’t make sense to keep a vast fleet of county-run plows on hand. Still, she said she had never been stranded so long before. “Oh heck no. I’ve lived in Buffalo, I’ve lived in Denver, I’ve lived in Chicago,” she said.

Thomas also believed the “plow status” for her street, listed on a county website Wednesday as “1st Pass Compete,” was wrong, since the neighbors were the ones who did the work. But even if a plow came through overnight with no one noticing, she said, the county still fell short.

“Why aren’t you communicating better?” she asked. “Whenever you have a crisis of any sort it’s critical that you communicate clearly with the public, and that’s where the county is failing miserably.”

A Montgomery spokesman, Patrick Lacefield, said “we did do a first pass before this morning” on Allanwood Drive and another is scheduled for later Wednesday.

Jonathan “Stoney” Johnstone, who lives in Montgomery’s Argyle Village neighborhood, said his neighborhood was forgotten.

“It’s kind of a makeshift, one-way road, and it was done by us,” he said. Some neighbors said a few people used two snowblowers to clear off part of the street.

“I’m not happy … I’m paying like $4,500 a year in real estate taxes,” said Johnstone, a keyboardist and bassist in a Who tribute band called Going Mobile. He called the county’s plowing efforts “totally unacceptable.”

“This community seems to have just dropped off the radar of Montgomery County. This is not he first time this has happened,” he said.

Lacefield said two things happened in Johnstone’s neighborhood.

First, “we had a truck there to plow, which broke down,” and had to be pulled out. Second, snow cleared by neighbors or their contractor was piled up. “They cleared a bunch of the stuff and it was in the middle of the road, and it’s not just a plowing job at this point. It’s also a hauling job,” requiring a Bobcat and truck, Lacefield said. Workers were headed there Wednesday afternoon, he added.

Lacefield said the county had performed well trying to make the streets at least passable.

“We did pretty good at meting the 7 a.m. goal,” Lacefield said. But, he added, with 5,200-lane miles to cover, some oversights were inevitable. “We’re taking down addresses and sending out plows immediately to mop those up.”

Lacefield also said the criticism that the county did not confirm plow-arrival times to residents beforehand was misplaced.

“If people want information back that a plow will be there by 9 p.m., they’re not going to get that. If that’s the expectation, nobody got that,” Lacefield said. “We’ve got our 218 routes and drivers working 24/7. They’re going to get there as fast as they can.”

  • Lori Aratani
  • ·

Adults and children traverse piles of snow and slush puddles in Columbia Heights on Tuesday. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Good news for residents who live in Columbia Heights — they’ve have an additional day to take advantage of a special $1 day parking deal at the DC USA shopping center.

Borderstan reports that the deal, which began Friday was set to end Wednesday evening when the city lifts the snow emergency. But D.C. Council member Brianne Nedeau (D-Ward 1) wrote in an email to residents that they can park for the $1 a day rate through 11 p.m. Thursday.

As Borderstan noted, during the snow emergency residents weren’t able to leave their cars parked on a good portion of the roads in the Northwest Washington neighborhood, including Georgia Avenue, 16th Street, U Street and sections of Park Road, Kenyon Street, Irving Street, Columbia Road, Harvard Street, Florida Avenue and Ninth Street. If they did, they risked being towed and fined.

Under the agreement, residents could take their parking ticket to the shopping center’s parking office to have their name and license plate recorded by the attendant. When they left the garage, they had to present the same ticket.

  • Dana Hedgpeth
  • ·

Plenty of Metro riders have debated whether Metro should have — or should not have — stayed open in the weekend’s blizzard. Here’s a look back at what the agency did in 1996.

Early that January, the region was sacked by what was called “the biggest snowstorm in at least a decade,” when two feet of snow was piled onto the area. The government shut down as did the schools and the Smithsonian museums.

Metro kept running, but it had “repeated difficulties with trains and buses, as well as breakdowns of escalators and elevators,” said a Washington Post story from Jan. 8, 1996. And the agency shut down some above-ground stations because of blowing snow.

[Metro crash capped run of mishaps]

There were at least three deaths that were linked to that January storm, the article said. And one involved a Metro train operator who was killed when a train rammed a park train.

The top of one story on Jan. 9, 1996, read —

Some Metro employees suggested yesterday that the death of a 48-year-old Metro train operator Saturday could have been prevented if the train had been traveling at a slower speed into the Shady Grove station before it crashed into a parked train.

  • Luz Lazo
  • ·
A Capital Bikeshare station after the blizzard. (Luz Lazo/The Washington Post)

A Capital Bikeshare station after the blizzard. (Luz Lazo/ The Washington Post)

Much of the region’s bike infrastructure is still buried in snow four days after Snowzilla hit the Washington area. Many of the region’s 350-plus Capital Bikeshare stations are being dig out, and piles of snow are blocking bike lanes. So if you bike regularly, advocates and transportation officials are warning it could be several days before the infrastructure is back to normal.

“Don’t count on the bike facilities being clear,” said Daniel Hoagland, programs director at the Washington Area Bicyclist Association. “If you are going to bike, you have to make a choice between open roadways or sidewalks. It’s chaotic.”

If you are planning to go out for a bike ride this week— not that many people are — keep in mind the conditions of the road and sidewalks. Many pedestrian walkways aren’t clear and others are so narrow because of the mounds of snow that they can’t handle both pedestrians and bicyclists.

In an email to the bike community on Monday, the city’s bike coordinator said it could be a few days before all the protected lanes are clear.

“Clearing bicycle facilities in the blizzard proved to be a challenge due to the conditions and the amount of snow,” the officials, Jim Sebastian, explained. On Saturday there was too much snow for the equipment to move in the narrower bike lanes, he said. But crews did manage to clear much of the Metropolitan Branch Trail and the Pennsylvania Avenue cycle track, he said.

To read more of the story go here.

  • Lori Aratani
  • ·
A front-loader dumps snow at the intersection of Pennsylvania and New York avenues in Northwest Washington on Monday. (Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images)

A front-loader dumps snow at the intersection of Pennsylvania and New York avenues in Northwest Washington on Monday. (Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images)

We’re beginning to get some sense of how costly #Snowzilla will be for the D.C. region.

The Post’s Aaron Davis reports that D.C. has already blown through its $6.2 million budget for snow removal for this season. So far it’s spent $12 million on efforts to dig the city out from the impact of Snowzilla. We don’t yet know how much other jurisdictions have spent, but we can tell you what they budgeted: Officials budgeted $70.7 million for snow removal in Northern Virginia alone.

Another analysis looked at the economic impact of the storm measured in lost worker productivity as well as restaurant and retail sales. The analysis by Moody’s analytics estimates that the Washington metropolitan area lost $570 million due to the storm through Monday, about a quarter of the total economic activity for the three-day stretch that started Saturday. Moody’s analysis did not take into account any damage to infrastructure. Overall, the company said estimated Winter Storm Jonas will cost the area economy $2 billion to $3.5 billion.

While still minor compared to the impact of Hurricane Sandy, which devastated the Jersey shore communities and caused millions in damage to New York’s transit system, Snowzilla’s tab is still worth noting, said Adam Kamins, the senior economist who co-authored the report on this past weekend’s blizzard.

slack-imgs

  • Lynh Bui
  • ·
Still images taken from surveillance cameras show a suspect wanted in several robberies during the height of the D.C. snowstorm. (Courtesy of Prince George's County Police)

Still images taken from surveillance cameras show a suspect wanted in several robberies during the height of the D.C. snowstorm. (Courtesy of Prince George’s County Police)

While many people were hunkered down at home during last weekend’s historic snowstorm, one person, according to police, was busy in the streets.

Prince George’s County police said one man — dubbed the “#SnowSuspect” — has been linked to at least five robberies from Friday through Sunday, as two feet of snow blanketed the region.

Images that police say is of the robber show a man in a brown mask, blue hoodie and snow coming up to his knees. The man may have hit three convenience stores in about an hour, police said.

In each case, the man displayed a handgun and demanded money from a cashier or clerk, said Officer Tyler Hunter, a Prince George’s police spokesman.

“We’re asking for assistance in identifying him,” Hunter said. “He took advantage of the community during the blizzard.”

Hunter said the following robberies have been linked to the same suspect. The first robbery was a restaurant and the other four were all 7-Eleven convenience stores, Hunter said.

  •  Jan. 22, 8:43 p.m. —  10820 East Rhode Island Ave., Beltsville.
  • Jan. 23, 11:59 p.m. —  4410 Powder Mill Rd., Beltsville.
  • Jan. 24, 3:58 a.m. —  11422 Cherry Hill Rd., Beltsville.
  • Jan. 24, 4:37 a.m.  —  5048 Garrett Ave., Beltsville.
  • Jan. 24, 5:03 a.m. —  8150 Baltimore Ave., College Park.

No one was hurt during any of the robberies, Hunter said.

Police are asking anyone with information about any of these cases to call 301-772-4905 or, to remain anonymous, 1-866-411-TIPS. A cash reward is available for information leading to an arrest.

  • Tim Richardson
  • ·

Fairfax County Public Schools will be closed Thursday and Friday, the school district announced Wednesday afternoon. See the full list of closures.

  • Faiz Siddiqui
  • ·

Notice the crowds on Metro’s Red Line Wednesday morning? They were huge — but Metro says there were fewer people using the system than on a typical Wednesday.

The agency said in a tweet that its ridership was about 90 percent of last Wednesday’s. Closings and delayed arrivals for federal workers slashed about 28,000 trips from the system, as compared to last Wednesday, when 264,000 trips were taken.

So why the crowding then?

Fewer trains.

To get the Silver Line up and running, the agency imposed eight-minute intervals on all its trains. For the crowded Blue Line, this meant trains would arrive even more frequently than the normal 12 minutes during the morning rush. For all the other lines, the reduction in service meant more crowded platforms.

On the Red Line, where trains are to arrive every at least every six minutes during the typical morning rush, there were at least two fewer trains per hour Wednesday.

A Twitter user pointed out that because there was a 75 percent reduction of service, with 90 percent of Metro’s usual ridership, the crowd levels were 120 percent of the norm for the morning rush.

That’s right. For every 10 people you count while squished on a Red Line train next week, imagine two more breathing heavily in your personal space. That’s what it was like to ride Wednesday.

  • Lori Aratani
  • ·

If life gives you lemons, make lemonade. If nature drops two feet or more of snow on your yard — make snow art.

Here are some of the creations that folks have made with the remnants of #Snowzilla.

The dinosaur theme also proved popular:

And then there’s this:

A spin on the snowman:

Something a little more traditional:

  • Michael Laris
  • ·

snow-response-reporting-system-1024x410If you’ve been obsessively clicking on the District’s plow-tracker website to find out what’s been plowed, you’ve probably been wasting your time.

After being queried about reports of  inconsistencies, the city acknowledged its “Snow Response Reporting System” does not accurately reflect the city’s snow response.

The city simultaneously managed to understate and overstate the work that’s been done, according to site data and interviews.

Read the full story.

  • Tim Richardson
  • ·

Prince William County Public Schools will cancel classes Thursday and Friday, joining Loudoun County Public Schools in closing for the rest of the week.

See the full list of closures.

  • Lori Aratani
  • ·

Slowly but surely, the D.C. region is freeing itself from the clutches of #snowzilla.

Here are a few examples to inspire you if you are still trying to dig out:

Meanwhile, Capital Bikeshare, which was forced to shut down operations because many of its stations were buried in snow is making steady progress.

With its entire fleet covered in snow, car-sharing service car2go enlisted its customers to help out: The company offered 60 minutes of free drive time for every car a customer dug out. Much progress has been made.

  • Justin Jouvenal
  • ·

A sledding adventure turned into a helicopter ride for a 10-year-old boy in Fairfax County on Monday.

The youth was airlifted to a hospital after suffering serious injuries while sledding down the 130-foot dam on Lake Mercer, county fire officials said. Rescue crews found the boy at the bottom of the dam suffering from several unspecified injuries that required splinting and packaging.

The crews used a rope system to raise the boy to the top of the dam, where the helicopter landed to fly the boy to INOVA Fairfax Hospital. The youth was treated and released, officials said.

  • Faiz Siddiqui
  • ·

At Metro’s Gallery Place, large crowds formed at times during the morning rush hour. At times, the cars were so packed that some passengers were bypassed by multiple multiple trains before they could get on board.

There was an earlier issue with a train that had brake problems on the line and that created some delays at Dupont Circle and Glenmont stops.

“Stand clear or we will have to offload the train,” the operator urged at one point, trying to close the doors. A passenger had squeezed on board and his backpack appeared to be tripping the sensors, to the dismay of fellow riders.

Linda Caulfield, 58, of College Park, decided to wait for another Shady Grove-bound train when saw how tightly riders were packed in the first one. Caulfield has issues with crowding, she said, making a commute like Wednesday’s extremely difficult.

“I think they just do what they want,” she said of Metro. “They’re not running as many trains as usual. ’”

Jesse Ormsby, 32, of College Park, said the crowding want surprising, but he had tempered expectations.

“The usual par for the course I guess,” he said, standing in a dense crowd on the platform.

The crowds were so dense that Bernice Butler, 31, of Bloomingdale, had to wait for multiple trains on both the Red and Green Lines.

And that was after a half-mile walk to Shaw-Howard University Metro station because her bus, the G8, wasn’t running. The moderate snow plan does not include that route, but Metro said in a tweet Wednesday morning it was running special morning and afternoon school trips.

“There’s always something,” Butler said. “I think it says a lot about our resources.”

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