Property owners in DC, as in most other cities, are legally required to clear sidewalks adjacent to their property.

Most jurisdictions can’t issue more than a small fine and rarely do, however, and legal liability is questionable. But icy sidewalks are a problem.

Greater Greater Wife, who as I’ve noted before is recovering from knee injuries, has lost much of her mobility because many sidewalks are too difficult to walk on. She’s had to start taking taxis instead of the Metro.

Some homeowners are out of town and some can’t shovel because of age or disability, but at the very least, the larger apartment buildings have no excuse. Most did a great job; some of the clearest sidewalks were outside big buildings, like the Cairo. But just to its east, the building at the northwest corner of 16th and Q hadn’t shoveled. They have a very long façade on Q Street, leaving a huge expanse of sidewalk unshoveled. That made reaching the gym at the JCC very tricky for her.


They did seem to have the energy to clear their circular driveway nicely, however. Reg Bazile shared a picture of Paul’s Liquor Store on Wisconsin Avenue in Friendship Heights, which also managed to clear their driveway but not their sidewalk.

For an individual house, there’s a clear onus on the homeowner to shovel; I couldn’t hope someone else was going to do our sidewalk. But for big buildings, especially rental buildings, the management company might not be interested in spending money to clear sidewalks and benefit from a little nudge.

Reader JohnMatthew had a similar problem. Yesterday, his 80 bus to the Kennedy Center stopped at 20th and Virginia. But he and some less mobile riders couldn’t get there. He wrote, “There wasn’t a plowed sidewalk within one block, so I, and two others with walkers, walked on a narrow (halfway plowed) street to the sidewalk. Ultimately, I couldn’t get to work, because not enough sidewalks were plowed.”

What do you think we should do? Should jurisdictions get more active about fining property owners, starting with the bigger buildings and businesses? Commenters debated throughout the day on yesterday’s Breakfast Links about whether cities should require residents to clear sidewalks, or should tax people and handle it as a municipal service, like road plowing.

David Alpert is the founder of Greater Greater Washington and its board president. 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.