- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 26, 2003

Walking to school or even to the corner bus stop has become a hazardous undertaking in the wake of the Presidents Day weekend snowstorm.
Sidewalks, especially on the District's side streets and everywhere in the metropolitan suburbs, are still covered by 1 to 3 feet of snow from 10 days ago, and there doesn't appear to be much impetus to get them cleared.
"It's iceberg time in many places where kids are trying to navigate," said Brian Porter, spokesman for Montgomery County Public Schools. "Everybody's trying to make the best of a pretty dismal set of circumstances, made worse by the forecast of more snow this week."
Transportation officials said it is the responsibility of homeowners and business owners to clear walks adjacent to their property. If a pedestrian falls and is hurt on a snowy or icy sidewalk, whoever owns the adjacent property may be liable, a Montgomery County spokeswoman said.
School officials also said they are not responsible for making sure students have clear sidewalks, except for when they walk onto school grounds.
"The only property we're responsible for is Board of Education property," said Prince George's County Public Schools spokeswoman Athena Ware. "Lots of parents have called us about snow on the sidewalks, but the areas around schools are all clear."
In the District, parent volunteers have brought their shovels to schools around the city to help maintenance crews clean walks.
Alexandria schools spokeswoman Barbara Hunter said sidewalks in that city are passable: "I assume they are clear. The children have been getting to school with no problems."
In places where local governments own the land, those walks will not see the light of day until the snow melts, said John DiGiovanni, support services chief for Montgomery County.
"We just don't have the resources to do it," Mr. DiGiovanni said. Although there is a $50 fine in Montgomery County for those who do not clear their walks, the county doesn't have the resources or the desire to enforce that law either. County officials last week temporarily suspended a new law that requires residents to clear sidewalks within 24 hours of a snowfall.
Mr. DiGiovanni said most county workers who helped with the snow-removal effort last week worked about 140 hours stopping only to get an average of about fours hours of sleep each night.
"Our people are exhausted," he said. "Mostly we're concentrating on regrouping and getting ready for the next storm. We've got a lot of equipment that's damaged and down that we're trying to get fixed."
That means that for those who walk anywhere, they must choose to either walk on the road, inches away from zooming traffic, or trudge through drifts of blackened, hardened snow.
Adrian San Martin, 13, a seventh-grader at Rocky Martin Junior High in Chantilly, walked gingerly on a path through snow along Stringfellow Road. He was sick with a cough, and had already fallen three times while trying to make his way around.
He realized that his milelong walk home from school was not going to get easier anytime soon.
"They'll probably just wait until it melts," said Adrian, who was forced to walk out on the busy road when the sidewalk was blocked by a 3-foot drift of snow that had been plowed off the road.
Pedestrians in the suburbs said walking next to traffic is an unsettling experience.
"When you're walking on the road and all the cars are sliding all over the place, it's like you're risking life and limb," said Nandhini Natarajan, 39, a Rockville resident who works at Georgetown University. Miss Natarajan stood at the corner of Massachusetts Avenue and 20th Street NW, waiting to catch a shuttle to work.
She said that in the District, where sidewalks on main roads are generally clear, the remaining snow is generally just an aggravation. But in the suburbs, the situation is downright dangerous.
Elius Comez, 22, of Beltsville made repeated efforts to get to a bus stop on Powder Mill Road in the morning. Mr. Comez, who is deaf, was trying to get to work, but at one point stopped and turned around, intending to go home, when the oncoming traffic became too daunting.
He tried again, however, walking slowly along the curb while cars, as well as heavy trucks sped by less than 2 feet away. When he made it to the bus stop, there was only enough room for Mr. Comez to stand on the edge of the curb, his toes sticking out into the street.
Snow is in the forecast for tonight as well as tomorrow and Friday, which would further complicate travel for pedestrians.
"This is not even fun stuff to play in anymore. … it's dirty and full of grime and grit," said Mr. Porter. "It is not the winter wonderland we had earlier this year."
Vaishali Honawar contributed to this report.


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