Staff Editorial: City’s new snow management techniques show promise

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Crews clear snow from MacArthur Boulevard NW. (Brady Holt/The Current/January 2014)

We’re now a couple of winters removed from a heavy snowfall, making it easy to forget the lasting impact a major storm can have on the District. But with colder weather not far away, we were glad to see the District government deploy its snow equipment during a dry run on Friday — a reassurance that crews will be prepared for messy weather.

Most intriguing was the news that the DC Snow Team has created a new “Non-Motorized Trails Section,” which will plug a significant gap in the District’s snow-clearing efforts. According to a news release, 10 new golf-cart-like vehicles will target bicycle lanes, curb ramps at intersections, bridge deck sidewalks and bus shelters. These areas have often been overlooked in the past, yet maintaining the public’s access to them is tremendously valuable. Not only does the District encourage car-free lifestyles in general, but residents are particularly reliant on other transportation modes — in particular walking, but also public transportation and perhaps even cycling — in the immediate wake of a snow event.

The new equipment will help complement the rules that residents and businesses must clear the sidewalks in front of their properties, providing access for pedestrians and bicyclists. Traditional snowplows are too bulky to address small areas, and all too often push snow from the street into massive piles that block access to sidewalks or bus shelters.

We’re not optimistic that a little “club car” with a plow on the front can successfully tackle such an impediment, but the District’s new approach can prove useful in some cases. And by adding the specialized “Non-Motorized Trails Section” unit of the snow team, officials are sending a clear signal that they recognize the value of multimodal transportation options in the wake of a snowstorm.

Of course, the real test will be after a major snowfall — whether that’s this winter or next. We look forward to seeing the District’s careful plans in action, as well as the appropriate follow-up to identify and implement further improvements in the years to come.