Snow storm resources

Following is information I hope is helpful as you prepare for the storm.

Plowing
Montgomery County Department of Transportation (MCDOT) has already begun with a pre-treatment of County roads (a salt and water mix) before the snowfall. Pre-treatment lowers the freezing point on the surface so that snow will drain without freezing or sticking. Plowing will begin once three inches of snow or more have accumulated. MCDOT will prioritize emergency and primary roads and then move on to residential streets.

In response to comments from the community during last year’s storm, this year the county is launching a brand new approach to snow plow tracking, which is simpler and hopefully much more useful and reliable for our residents.

Winter Storm Information Portal

Many if not most of the biggest roads in the County are state highways. These are the numbered roads. Pretreatment and snow removal on those roads is conducted by the State Highway Administration (SHA). You can view their winter fact sheet here and/or contact them directly here. Requests or complaints about state highways that our county DOT receives are forwarded to SHA for action. The state makes its own decisions about pre-treatment and removal.

Sidewalk Snow Removal
Three years ago when the County experienced a significant storm, we saw or heard reports of pedestrians walking in the street on major roads, mothers pushing strollers over sidewalks that had not been cleared, seniors and individuals with mobility challenges unable to enter a street crossing because it was blocked by snow, and even motorized wheelchairs moving in traffic lanes on state highways (in this case, University Blvd) because sidewalks were impassable. This is why clearing sidewalks of snow is so important. Residents must clear their sidewalks from snow within 24 hours after a snow event. Please consider whether your neighbors are able to clear sidewalk snow, and if not, how you might be able to help them find a solution. For more information on this issue, visit the County’s sidewalk snow website, http://www.montgomerycountymd.gov/safesidewalks/.

Two years ago I authored legislation, which the Council supported, to require the county to create a Sidewalk Snow Removal Plan. As a result, I find that the County is doing a much better job clearing snow from sidewalks where the County (or Parks) is the responsible party as well as helping clear snow from sidewalks where there may be a public safety concern. Urban districts are also doing a dramatically better job clearing snow, allowing businesses and residents to get back to usual more quickly.

Above all, I see residents pulling together to meet this challenge much better than in the past — thank you for doing your part.

Power Outages
According to Pepco, this storm may bring power outages. If you experience an outage, it is very important to report the outage to Pepco. Here is a website to use, http://www.pepco.com/pages/connectwithus/outages/outagemaps.aspx. Here is how to prepare for a power outage, http://www.ready.gov/power-outage.

County Parks Open for Sledding
Two years ago, friends asked me if they were allowed to sled on County golf course property. I inquired with the Parks Department and Casey Anderson, Chairman of the MNCPPC. I learned that there is no policy against sledding. In subsequent discussions at the Council I requested that Parks actively encourage this recreational activity by mapping great sledding hills and getting the word out. So I am delighted to share the Park’s Department newest release: Best Hills for Sledding in Montgomery County Parks!

Be Prepared
For more information, visit Montgomery County’s newly built Winter Storm Information Portal

Sign up for alerts on this snow storm as well as other important by information by visiting Alert Montgomery.

If you need assistance from the County at any time, call 311 or visit the 311 webpage.

Please do NOT reply to this email, but rather contact me by emailing Councilmember.Riemer@montgomerycountymd.gov with any questions or concerns you may have. My team and I will be “on-call” to assist you.

Update: New Sidewalk Snow Legislation Passes County Council

With snow in the near forecast, I am pleased to announce that the County Council passed my sidewalk snow legislation (Bill 46-16) that established a commercial-class fine for failure to remove sidewalk snow. I would like to thank Council President Roger Berliner for co-sponsoring this legislation, my colleagues on the Council for their support, and members of the community for their strong advocacy.

This legislation will enable the County to levy a fine on commercial property owners up to $250 for the first offense of not clearing snow and up to $500 for subsequent offenses. While a $50 fine seems adequate for residential properties, it has very little, if any, deterrent effect on commercial property owners. The fine needs to be larger to enable code enforcers to more effectively deal with the problem actors, which are few but have a larger impact.

Please see my full comments on the bill in the video below:

Overall, I am pleased with our progress on sidewalk snow removal, which I addressed in legislation in 2014.

  • MCDOT inventoried all of the County sidewalks and identified which ones the County is responsible for clearing. This information is organized in a GIS layer which I expect (and have requested) will be released soon.
  • In all other cases, the property owner is responsible, as per the original legislation passed by Councilmember Phil Andrews in 2001.
  • In 2015 MCDOT cleared over 50 miles of sidewalks focusing on high traffic pedestrian areas and bus stops.
  • This year MCDOT will be responsible for clearing over 320 miles of sidewalks.
  • Urban districts have significantly improved their response with better and more equipment and staff time devoted to removal.
  • In my experience, private property owners are acting with more care and diligence for sidewalk snow removal. County education efforts have made a big impact.

There is, however, more work to do, particularly when it comes to enforcement. Ensuring that the County responds to property owners who do not respond to county education efforts or personal appeals to clear their sidewalks in a timely manner is an area where I think we still have work to do. This legislation will help.

Public hearing on new sidewalk snow legislation

Please consider testifying on behalf of legislation that I have introduced, co-sponsored by Councilmember Berliner, to promote sidewalk snow removal.

The bill, 46-16, would establish a commercial-class fine for sidewalk snow removal. This fine would enable the County to levy a fine on commercial property owners up to $500 for not clearing snow (the $500 is a maximum, not a requirement).

While a $50 fine seems adequate for residential properties, it has very little, if any, deterrent effect on commercial property owners. The fine needs to be larger to enable code enforcers to more effectively deal with the problem actors, which are few but have a larger impact.

The Council is holding a public hearing on this bill at 1:30pm on Tuesday, November 29. Please testify. You can sign up online here (look for Bill 46-16).

I am pleased with our progress on sidewalk snow removal, which I addressed in legislation in 2014.

  • MCDOT inventoried all of the County sidewalks and identified which ones the County is responsible for clearing. This information is organized in a GIS layer which I expect (and have requested) will be released soon.
  • In all other cases, the property owner is responsible, as per the original legislation passed by Phil Andrews.
  • In 2015 MCDOT cleared over 50 miles of sidewalks focusing on high traffic pedestrian areas and bus stops.
  • This year MCDOT plans to clear over 320 miles of sidewalk.
  • Urban districts have significantly improved their response with better and more equipment and staff time devoted to removal.
  • In my experience, private property owners are acting with more care and diligence for sidewalk snow removal. County education efforts have made a big impact.

There is, however, more work to do, particularly when it comes to enforcement. Ensuring that the county responds to property owners who do not clear their sidewalks in a timely manner is an area where I think we still have work to do. This legislation will help.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Storm preparation

Following is information I hope is helpful as you prepare for the storm.

Road Plowing
Montgomery County Department of Transportation (MCDOT) will begin with a “pre-treatment” of County roads (a salt and water mix) before the snowfall. Plowing will begin once three inches of snow or more have accumulated. MCDOT will prioritize emergency and primary roads and then move on to residential streets. There is a map on the County website that allows you to follow along the County’s progress in real time, which can be accessed here: http://www7.montgomerycountymd.gov/snowmap/. You can search for a specific address or street. You may also find useful information in the County’s FAQ about snow removal here: http://www.montgomerycountymd.gov/DOT-highway/snow/snowplow.html

Many if not most of the biggest roads in the County are state highways. These are the numbered roads. Pre-treatment and snow removal on those roads is conducted by the State Highway Administration (SHA). You can view their winter fact sheet here and/or contact them directly here. Requests or complaints about state highways that our county DOT receives are forwarded to SHA for action. The state makes its own decisions about pretreatment and removal; as we saw on Wednesday night of this week, there have been times when the County acts to pre-treat the roads but the state does not.

Sidewalk Snow Removal
Two years ago when the County last experienced a storm of this magnitude, we saw or heard reports of pedestrians walking in the street on major roads, mothers pushing strollers over sidewalks that had not been cleared, seniors and individuals with mobility challenges unable to enter a street crossing because it was blocked by snow, and even motorized wheelchairs moving in traffic lanes on state highways (in this case, University Blvd) because sidewalks were impassable. This is why clearing sidewalks of snow is so important. Residents must clear their sidewalks from snow within 24 hours after a snow event. Please consider whether your neighbors are able to clear sidewalk snow, and if not, how you might be able to help them find a solution. For more information on this issue, visit the County’s sidewalk snow website, http://www.montgomerycountymd.gov/safesidewalks/.

Last year I authored legislation, which the Council supported, to require the county to create a Sidewalk Snow Removal Plan. We are waiting for the presentation of this plan to the County Council. In the mean time, my observation is that residents are pulling together to meet this challenge much better than in the past, as are businesses and the government. But we have more to do. Please let me know your experiences so that I can be better informed as we continue developing the Plan.

Power Outages
According to Pepco, this storm may bring power outages. If you experience an outage, it is very important to report the outage to Pepco. Here is a website to use, http://www.pepco.com/pages/connectwithus/outages/outagemaps.aspx. Here is how to prepare for a power outage, http://www.ready.gov/power-outage,

County Parks Open for Sledding
Last year, friends asked me if they were allowed to sled on County golf course property. I inquired with the Parks Department and Casey Anderson, Chairman of the MNCPPC. I learned that there is no policy against sledding. In subsequent discussions at the Council I requested that Parks actively encourage this recreational activity by mapping great sledding hills and getting the word out. So I am delighted to share the Park’s Department newest release: Best Hills for Sledding in Montgomery County Parks!

Be Prepared
For more information, visit Montgomery County’s emergency management office website, http://www.montgomerycountymd.gov/mcg/emergency/stayinformed.html

Sign up for alerts on this snow storm as well as other important by information by visiting Alert Montgomery.

If you need assistance from the County at any time, call 311.

Please contact me by emailing Councilmember.Riemer@montgomerycountymd.gov with any questions or concerns you may have. My team and I will be “on call” during this weekend to assist you.

Winter is coming

The Montgomery County Council enacted my bill that aims to better prepare the County for future snow seasons by creating a Sidewalk Snow Removal Plan. I first introduced the bill last April, with support from Councilmember Nancy Navarro, after a particularly long and snowy winter that led to some sidewalks remaining buried in snow for long stretches at a time.

Below are the remarks I made at the Council session.
——

Last winter, a resident named Bill Smith sent me a photograph of a long stretch of sidewalk that was covered with ice, inside a central business district, several days after one of the ice storms that hit the county. Mr. Smith has a visual impairment and does not drive. He needed to use this sidewalk in order to get to the store. As we can all appreciate, walking over ice is very dangerous, and falls are common. By not ensuring that the adjacent property owner, a church, had cleared the sidewalk, Mr. Smith felt that the county was failing to meet the vital needs of its residents. It was hard to disagree, especially since we have a law on the books requiring property owners to clear adjacent sidewalks within 24 hours of a storm, an important law championed by Councilmember Phil Andrews.

I believe we can do better. Not only can we do better, but with the operational excellence of our DOT, I think we have an opportunity to lead the nation.

The goal of this bill is to make our county more walkable, in every season. This bill promotes public safety and mobility as well as resiliency—by making it safer for people to walk where they need to go, including to our transit corridors, after major storm events — which increasingly seem like the new normal for our region.

The Sidewalk Snow Removal Plan is intended to improve how the County Government fulfills the vision of our law requiring snow removal.

Fundamentally, it requires the county to create a plan for sidewalk snow removal.

By requiring a plan, the bill will establish an iterative process for improving how the county handles sidewalk snow removal, where resources can be prioritized effectively and according to lessons learned.

The Plan ensures flexibility in implementation for the executive branch, because that is necessary for an operational issue such as sidewalk snow removal.

For this coming winter, PIO, DHCA and urban districts can improve their operations, while DOT creates the plan itself and implements the highest priority provisions of the plan according to available resources.

The executive branch can begin immediately with provisions of the law that call for communications plans and public education campaigns, including a website that helps residents engage on this issue.

The county can also begin to build the digital map of sidewalks in the County, which will be used in the future to improve the plan. This map is expected to take about three months to create, according to DOT, and will have many useful applications all year round.

The Sidewalk Snow Removal Plan will be published on the County website, and will provide details about how we handle access for priority areas including:

  1. Bus-stops and metro stations
  2. Near schools
  3. Along state highways (in discussion with DOT, DOT recommends beginning with primary and secondary arterials, which is preferable and includes most state highways)
  4. Along the highest priority pedestrian routes
  5. In urban districts
  6. on Hiker-biker trails

Due to resource limitations, the plan will not result in the removal of all snow from all public property in every location every time it snows. Instead, the plan is intended to help the county rationalize where it does spend money, and budget appropriately — through the Council budget process — for sidewalk snow removal.

We can do better, if we plan to do better. I thank Councilmember Navarro for co-sponsoring this legislation, and Councilmembers Berliner and Floreen for supporting it at committee.