Uncleared sidewalks are a serious problem in urban areas, but snow makes suburban areas even more impassable on foot. Unless you happen to live near Richard Hoye, who has an actual motorized vehicle to plow sidewalks himself where nobody else will do it.


Photos by Richard Hoye.



Suburban arterial streets can be dangerous to walk on even on clear, dry days, but there’s really no consensus about how to clear them for pedestrians after a storm.

Fairfax County closed schools for 3 days partly because students who walk to school couldn’t do so safely.

Evan Montgomery-Recht, who lives in Montgomery County, wrote in to the county to ask,

Who is responsible for snow removal on sidewalks along public land or where there is not a clear homeowner or HOA responsible ... I’m specifically referring to Tuckerman Lane, Old Georgetown (including over the 270 spur) and Rockville Pike where there are sidewalks that are actively utilized even in cold weather.  Including those who walk to the Grosvenor Metro Station.

I ask as both last year and this year there has been no clearing of the sidewalks. ... Part of the reason I ask because when I lived in MA the towns and counties were responsible for clearing when there was not a clear owner (and yes they would clear them, actually pretty impressive when you realized that all the sidewalks were walkable within 24 hours even when there were many inches of snow.)


Timothy Serrano of the Montgomery DOT’s Division of Highway Services replied:

Regrettably, The Department of Transportation is not able to clear sidewalks.  We have neither the equipment nor the workforce resources that effort would require.  We do rely on residents to be good neighbors and to follow the requirements of the County Code that requires residents and commercial entities to clear the public sidewalks adjacent to their properties.


Hoye, who also knew the county wouldn’t do it, decided to take a part of the matter into his own hands, and bought this vehicle, known as “mini-skid steer,” to clear part of Old Georgetown Road, where he lives:


Hoye writes,

I bought this slightly used mini-skid steer about a year ago to accomplish a range of tasks.  A primary goal was to be able to clear snow from the public sidewalk along Old Georgetown Road from downtown Bethesda to the NIH/Suburban Hospital campuses. I live along that section.  My side of 5 Lane Old Georgetown Road has the sidewalk next to the curb. 

My mini-skid steer equipped with plow or hydraulic rotary broom is perfect for sidewalks. I’m able to keep up with the snow plows that push the snow back up on a just cleared sidewalk and ram the snow into piles blocking the ADA ramps at street corners.

The machine and accessories has set me back well over $25,000.  Hard to justify until you see people walking in the dark, icy street on this major pedestrian route.  I got more encouragement a few years ago from our Director of Transportation, who said to one of the County Executive’s appointees to to the Pedestrian and Traffic Safety Committee, “I don’t do sidewalks.”


The DOT should do sidewalks. Since it doesn’t, it’s good for people who walk on Old Georgetown that Hoye does do them.

David Alpert is Founder and President of Greater Greater Washington and Executive Director of DC Surface Transit. He worked as a Product Manager for Google for six years and has lived in the Boston, San Francisco, and New York metro areas in addition to Washington, DC. He lives with his wife and two children in Dupont Circle. Unless otherwise noted, opinions here are his and not the official views of GGWash or DCST.