The streets are clear, the schools are open. But guess what, all you flinty former Chicagoans and tough-skinned others? D.C.’s still whining about the weather. This time it’s about the ice. On the Listservs, on the forums, in the streets, on the phone, folks want to know what’s up with clearing it. Spots where the sun doesn’t hit are still frozen over in a thick layer or, worse, black ice. Pat Collinsdefinitive report on Obama dissing D.C. did offer excellent advice (take baby steps, wear proper shoes). But still. D.C. needs someone to blame. How about the Dept. of Public Works?

Nice try, but DPW spokesperson Nancee Lyons reassures me as she has been reassuring several other D.C. residents who’ve been bitching about uncleared sidewalks that sidewalks are not her department’s problem. Homeowners and business owners are responsible for not only shoveling, but deicing sidewalks as well. The Capital Weather Gang addressed this issue in a recent post, recommending calcium chloride over rock salt (sodium chloride). Further: “Calcium chloride costs more, but lasts longer—-it can be used in smaller amounts than rock salt. Also, it does not contain cyanide, an anti-caking chemical that can harm aquatic life.” There’s a helpful pdf on the post, too, for additional breakdowns about what does what as far as killing fish in the Chesapeake Watershed.

All that’s well and fine. But what about the gray areas? I’m referring here to the sidewalks not in front of people’s homes or businesses on, say, bridges. Bridge walkways are major routes for people hustling to the Metro to get to work or to the store to grab the essentials when D.C. has a whiff of snow: toilet paper and milk. Who’s responsible for clearing the walkways of, say, the Ellington, the Taft, and the Klingle Road bridges? Lyons says she’s looking into it, but thinks these would come under the purview of the Dept. of Transportaiton. DDOT spokesperson Karyn LeBlanc is looking into it, too, but was not sure when I called. “I think I know the answer, but let me check and call you back,” she says.

In the meantime, Lyons has a few words for people complaining to DPW about things DPW isn’t required to do and/or asking DPW to write up their lazy neighbors. “Government should limit what they tell people to do,” she says. “If we gave out fines for every little thing, we’d get more complaints about that than we do for not giving out fines.”

Yes, it’s a D.C. regulation of some type that residents are to clear their walkways within eight days of a snow or ice storm, but there’s no one out enforcing that. For good reasons.

In Lyons’ day (insert uphill-both-ways story here) people shoveled for their neighbors or neighbor kids went around earning a couple of nickles. “People had a better relationship with their neighbors,” she says. “Maybe this is a byproduct of living in an urban area….I grew up in the suburbs.”

Flickr photo by Ryan Stanton.

Special thanks to Amanda Hess, JD, and IMGoph for finding this lost blogpost, such as it is, for someone who still doesn’t get it.