GRANOLAPARK: You must suffer

GRANOLAPARK • BY GILBERT

Dear Readers,

You better get outta bed and shovel your walk or the Takoma Park City Council is gonna WHUP YOUR BUTT!

If it snows overnight, says the proposed new city code, clear your sidewalk by 8:00 a.m.

If it snows during the day, clear it by 9:00 p.m.

If you fail to do this, you could be fined. If you do it again, the fine goes up. You might even get publicly shamed on social media.

For some reason, snow shoveling gets the city council and staff all zero-toleranced-up. Their lower lips protrude and they start spewing threats like an industrial-strength snow-blower spitting corn-snow. They get like that every time the subject of revising snow-removal city code comes up, which it has a half-dozen times this year. The last time was at the Oct. 5 city council meeting.

Dear Reader, not only do you need to get that walk cleared by 8:00 a.m., it better be a regulation 3 feet wide, too.

The good (?) news is that they would reduce the fine from $200 to $25. But, a lot of the council thinks $25 is too little. They want you to feel pain. Most of them think fines should increase for repeat offenses. And repeat offenders should be publicly shamed on social media. We were not sure if that was a serious proposal but it shows you how vindictive the staff and council is about this.

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“Snowmagedon,” Feb. 6, 2010. Photo by Bill Brown.

No excuses for being out of town, either. Councilmember Fred Schultz suggested it might be unfair to fine someone not at home and unable to shovel. If there were a number of storms during a resident’s absence, “you’d end up in debtors prison just because you went away.” he said. He was shouted down by the rest of the council and staff. It was a “let them eat cake” moment. Let them hire a shoveling service, they said. No excuses!

We don’t know what city the council has been living in, but in OUR Takoma Park, a third to a half of all snowfalls melt by the end of the day. In which case shoveling is a waste of effort.

The schools are going to be closed, anyway. They always shut down if Rockville spots a snowflake. If they spot two snowflakes the federal government closes, and the entire region takes a snow day or five. The only people using the sidewalks are kids with sleds looking for snowy slopes, and kids with shovels looking for customers. The city clears its streets better and faster than surrounding jurisdictions – which in comparison look like a Three Stooges movie. So roads and walkways to the border may be clear, but beyond may be impassible. What’s the use of getting up before 8:00 a.m. to shovel the sidewalk if there’s nowhere to go?

This is not snow country – as anyone FROM snow country knows. It’s funny to see the city, which doesn’t even own a real snow plow, tell citizens they have to conform to standards it and other jurisdictions can’t meet themselves.

This is a standard more suited for someplace like Augusta, Maine where snow is taken in stride and life goes on. In Augusta, by the way, the CITY clears 34 miles of sidewalks. Only a few blocks of sidewalk are the residents’ responsibility. And Augusta’s city code does not bother to give those few residents a time limit, or fines.

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City snow plow broken down on Walnut Avenue during Snowmagedon, Feb. 2010. Photo by Bill Brown.

Augusta may have harder winters, but at least they know what to expect. Takoma Park winters are of two minds – north and south. The ground doesn’t freeze, so snow usually melts from the bottom up even in sub-freezing weather. That’s one reason we don’t get much lasting accumulation. Frigid temperatures are often followed by balmy ones. Big snowstorms either dump a northern-style pile of white stuff or a southern-style rain deluge. Or they take a middle course and come down as ice.

We’ve seen many snowfalls followed by a day of melting, followed by a night of freezing. Shoveled sidewalks end up coated by sheets of invisible ice. In those conditions, it is better NOT to shovel because the snow, even when covered by ice, offers a foothold.

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No complaints about unshoveled sidewalks here. March, 2015. Photo by Mary Ellsworth.

But, unless people speak up, the city is not going to allow for such nuances, judgement calls, nature’s variable conditions or life’s complications. The council will pass their zero-tolerance code.

Fortunately for us, city manager Suzanne Ludlow admitted that as out-for-blood as staff and council are, the reality is that the city won’t have the staff to enforce the code for about 2 days following a snow storm.

Which begs the question – why bother with this?

WE suggest the city code allow for nature’s vagaries and life’s realities. Tie the sidewalk shoveling deadline to the time the city finishes it’s own snow removal. Write the code to say sidewalks should be cleared within a certain number of hours (four, six, eight?) after the last city snowplow is parked.

– Gilbert

PS: Relive last winter’s shoveling joys: EXTREME TAKOMA • Snowshovelcam

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About the Author

Gilbert
Gilbert is the pseudonym of a hard-bitten, hard-drinking, long-time Takoma Park resident who maintains the granolapark blog. Gilbert and William L. Brown — Granola Park's mild-mannered chief of staff, researcher, and drink pourer — have never been seen in the same place at the same time.

5 Comments on "GRANOLAPARK: You must suffer"

  1. Patty Barden | October 7, 2015 at 8:29 pm |

    And who’s responsibility is it to shovel the never, ever shoveled portion of New Hampshire Ave sidewalk that abuts the area owned by the city and county? Or the sidewalk that runs in front of the New Hampshire Ave Rec Center? People walk in the highway after every storm there. Will the city fine itself? Or do we just need to post pictures on social media of people dodging cars? (If we do have a storm where the snow lasts more than a few hours, I will be be bringing these areas to the city’s attention.)

  2. Steve Davies | October 19, 2015 at 12:00 am |

    I have a hunch that the city will blame the state, the state will disclaim responsibility and blame the county and the city, the county will plead ignorance, and in the end, nothing will be done.

  3. Carol Oliver | October 20, 2015 at 11:31 am |

    The true shame of this it that in the past they have promoted “telling on your neighbor” so that they can be fined. There is a large population of Takoma Park residents who are elderly, disabled and unable to actually shovel snow. Rather then seeking to help these people the council wishes to fine and humiliate them! Larger snow falls present a bigger problem for most people and can not always be accomplished in the city’s time frame. If someone has a heart attack and is hospitalized or, God forbid dies while shoveling snow? They don’t really care, they just want that fine money. Same crap from the city for year. Tree getting ready to fall on your house? Too bad, you can’t take it down. It’s illegal to divert the normal flow of water onto someone else’s property. Someone is flooding your basement to remove water from their yard ( notice I say yard and not house ) , too bad, we don’t want to make waves. This city council has always been a joke! And I’ve lived here for almost 60 years.

  4. Denise Jones | October 20, 2015 at 9:41 pm |

    I think it is totally appropriate to require folks who own property abutting public sidewalks to get up and shovel them. That’s your responsibility, and you knew it when you bought your house in the city vs. the suburbs or rural MoCo. Yes, the elderly and the ill need some support, that’s what community is about. But I’m tired of walking on a hilly and pitted slick of hardened snow and ice in the winter. And I’m also tired of having to step off sidewalks to avoid scratches from overgrown bushes or hedges, or pollen from your tiger lilies that hang all over the sidewalk. The sidewalks are public, and you should have more consideration for your neighbors who use them. That’s what it means to be community minded: consideration for others.

  5. Steve Davies | October 21, 2015 at 9:15 pm |

    People continue to call for more sidewalks, but the sidewalks are often blocked–by cars or pickup trucks, trash cans, recycling bins, what have you. They’re also frequently covered with branches, leaves, dirt or grass clippings from yardwork. All the discarded and fallen vegetation can become dangerous when wet. It’s the price we pay for our beloved canopy. Of course, while the council’s focus will be on homeowners, many areas will be ignored–long stretches along New Hampshire Avenue, sidewalks next to parks, for example. Oh, and then there’s the salt — piles and piles of salt that will flow into the waterways. A strategy to address all this would be nice. Maybe the candidates can offer some suggestions.

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