- The Washington Times - Friday, February 11, 2000

Pedestrians of the District unite. It doesn’t matter the shoes, boots or sneakers on your feet: Timberland, Nike, Reebok, Payless. You are all victims, abused by a system that deems the automobile supreme.

Talk has gone on for the last two weeks surrounding unplowed residential streets. There have been self-congratulatory remarks about the gleaming pavement of the main thoroughfares, now dotted with potholes. D.C. Council member Carol Schwartz urged the mayor not to give out tickets to people parked illegally because of the snow. Even uncollected trash and rats have received more attention from the city government, elected officials, lazy bureaucrats and the media than you.

Your rage is justified. Go ahead, throw a fit. I feel your pain.

It’s been three weeks since the first snow storm and not once has anyone really looked out for pedestrians’ interests. Department of Public Works (DPW) Director Vanessa Dale Burns, who casts herself as the “Snow Queen” able to toss the white stuff to the side of the road with one mean look or one of her infamously well-pronounced, spicy sentences, has proclaimed the government savior of motorists mostly commuters who use District streets for quick escapes after their multi-billion dollar heists. But the people who pay the taxes that commuters don’t only received a nod from DPW, producing yet another of the season’s disappointments from Mayor Anthony Williams’ administration. This week, admitting they may have overstated their accomplishments, Ms. Burns and crew have turned their attention to residential streets and trash piled in alleys even before the first dusting.

But what about your needs? What about the places you walk? People have been slipping and sliding all over the place. Old folks hold on to wobbling canes that can’t reach deep enough to meet the concrete. Mothers with carriages plow their way through; others audition for a starring role in a carnival, juggling infants from one arm to another, reaching for poles or anything for balance. And still other residents are the recipients of sprained ankles and slightly fractured egos. The guy in the electric wheelchair at Meridian Place N.W. can’t access the wheelchair-accessible curb. Mountains must be climbed before it is possible to reach a Metro bus stop.

This is pure unadulterated abuse; it borders on criminal. Wait, it is criminal or at least illegal. There is a law that requires that all sidewalks be shoveled eight hours after the end of a snowfall. That means that pedestrians should have been seeing concrete since Thursday afternoon. Failure to follow this edict is supposed to result in fines starting at $35 and upward to $2,000, says DPW spokesperson Linda Grant, who proclaims brochures have been distributed with this information. But like almost everything else, no one enforces the law.

The philosophy in the District is “make ‘em and break ‘em.” Each month, 13 people, known as the D.C. Council, meet at One Judiciary Square to introduce or pass laws and various public policies: No graffiti; this city is magic marker heaven. No posting handbills on public property; the Lion’s Den nightclub has those little yellow fliers all over the trees and some neighborhoods east of the Anacostia River are unofficial billboards for rap artists and other unsavory entertainers. No spitting on sidewalks, no loitering, no littering. Everyone litters. Everyone disrespects pedestrians.

Where is the monarch when you need her?

The National Dental Association cleared the steps in front of its door but neglected the sidewalks where people who aren’t coming to the door via automobile must walk. On Sunday the Unification Church made it easy for its members, but on Monday residents in Adams Morgan were tipping down the sidewalk sans the euphoria of Tiny Tim through the tulips. And who is responsible for shoveling the sidewalks in front of vacant buildings, or on bridges or in the parks, like the one on 16th Street? The National Park Service (NPS). Even the federal government breaks local laws.

Fine them; fine them all especially the NPS for dereliction of its duties. These violators and Ms. Burns, who prays for several days of sun to do what she and her minions didn’t, are disciples of the Marion Barry school of snow removal: “The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away.”

Pedestrians, don’t be ashamed to stand up for your rights. (Okay after you pick yourself up from that monumental slide you just experienced). Next time there is a big snow, and Ms. Burns and her crew don’t fine scofflaws, deputize yourself, write your own tickets. (There is such a thing as a citizen arrest; why can’t there be a citizen ticket writer?) Better still, collect your pedestrian friends and allies. Set up a picket line. Stage a sit-in at the Frank Reeves Municipal Center at 14th and U streets N.W. where Ms. Burns has her office. Fill her halls with snow, let her see how it feels not to be able to raise a foot without the thought of falling on your you know what. You might also ask if she has a home remedy for bruised buns.

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