In D.C., not shoveling your sidewalk after a storm is now a finable offense.
This post has been updated.
If the weather forecasters are to be believed, lots of snow is one its way to the region for the upcoming weekend. All that snow will eventually have to be shoveled, and for the first time in decades D.C. will start fining residents who don't clear their sidewalks.
The beefed up enforcement is courtesy of a bill passed by the D.C. Council in late 2014. The bill scrapped a snow-shoveling law that had been in place since 1922 but was largely impossible to enforce.
Under that law, residents and businesses were required to clear snow within eight daylight hours after the end of a storm. If they failed to do so, the city would do it for them, and sue for the costs incurred. Needless to say, no such lawsuits were ever filed. As a consequence, every winter brought a flurry of complaints that D.C. sidewalks remained a patchwork of snow and ice long after storms moved on.
Still, it took the Council years of debate to settle on a new, more effective means of enforcing a snow-shoveling law.
The new law is simple: Within that eight-hour window, property owners and businesses still have to clear their sidewalks to a width of 36 inches. But if they don't, a number of D.C. agencies are empowered to fine residents $25 and businesses $150 per offense.
Senior citizens and residents with disabilities can apply for an exemption to the requirements and fines. According to the D.C. Department of Public Works, as of Tuesday 1,214 such exemptions were requested.
City officials are taking further steps to help the elderly and disabled.
"We also have let seniors know about the Mayor’s Resident Snow Team. This team will assist seniors and people with disabilities clear sidewalks and front walkways. Residents who are 60 and over or a person living with a disability can sign up through 311," says Garret King with the D.C. Office of Aging.
According to city officials, 2,000 people have signed up for the snow team through Serve D.C., the city's volunteerism agency. Mayor Muriel Bowser will be handing out snow shovels to some of them at an event on Wednesday morning. Her office also says the city is prepared for whatever comes this weekend:
The District’s Snow Team has been preparing since the summer to be ready when the first snow event arrives. There are 14 new 6-wheel dump trucks to salt and plow major streets and six new Ford 550s to salt and plow smaller residential streets. Additional equipment is on standby just in case a substantial snowfall is forecast, and the salt domes are filled to capacity, with more than 39,000 tons of salt. The public will be notified of the deployment plan for expected snow as information is available.
Snow may be pretty, but remember: it has to be cleared. And if you're in D.C., there's now $25 — or $150, if you're a business — riding on it. Of course, there's plenty of land in D.C. controlled by various government agencies and countries. Who'd responsible for clearing those sidewalks? It's, well, complicated.
Update, Jan. 21: It looks like D.C. residents might be spared fines this time around. Why? Because, according to NBC 4's Tom Sherwood, the city hasn't printed up the formal notices of infraction for residents and businesses that don't clear their sidewalks: