This was commented on quite a bit yesterday in the comments of this post, but I wanted to write about anyway. Cyclists have been concerned about ice on the Capital Crescent Trail following the blizzard.
Brian Woodward, Southern Region Division Chief for the Montgomery County Department of Parks, said removing ice and snow on all 75 miles of paved county trails is "not practical." Re-freezing overnight would make the task a daily chore, and the department can't focus solely on the Capital Crescent Trail because "we can't treat one section of trail differently than we treat another."
Huh? So, if you can't plow all the trails then you can't plow some? That seems odd. Because they do it with roads. Some are Snow Emergency Routes which have unique parking restrictions and get extra attention. Granted, that is in part to ensure that emergency vehicles can reach people, but even after that there is usually a ranking system for streets. Additionally, they already treat the CCT differently as it is the only trail that bike commuters are legally allowed to use after dark. The fact that they have recognized it as an important commuter route is perfect justification to plow the 5.5 miles of trail in Montgomery County (or even the 2.7 miles of paved trail) but leave the others alone.
No one is asking to plow the Blue Mash Trail or the Long Branch Trail and even if they were, you can say no. It's called prioritizing. Governments do it all the time. It's why Dick Cheney got shuttled to an underground bunker 9/11 and I wasn't. If you have some money to clear some trails, and you can't prioritize them, work with the MCBAG (if they still meet; their last agenda online was from 2005) or other bike commuter stakeholders and identify the trails that are a priority. This isn't like locking doors where either you lock them all or it's pointless, it's like losing weight where even getting from 300 to 250 makes things better.
Though the department hasn't determined how much it would cost to plow the trails, he said the recent snowfall is already taking a toll on the department's budget by necessitating workers to work overtime to keep parkways clear of snow.
"We have no idea how much it will cost, but are nonetheless certain that the CCT has a lower benefit to cost ratio than every single street we plow."
Woodward urged trail users to take care in winter months, particularly with the recent cold weather that's preventing ice from melting. Those who use the trail do so at their own risk, he said.
The department hasn't received any reports from trail users about injuries on the trail because of ice this year, he said, though they have received at least one complaint about the conditions, Woodward said. The department has placed a notice of caution on its Web site about winter trail conditions, advising residents that they are unable to shovel, treat, or clear trails within the county park system.
"If you start clearing snow on trails, you give the perception it's going to be a safe and clear passage, and you set yourself up for failure," Woodward said. "I think the best think to do is to let people know they are using it at their own risk."
No the best thing to do is to actually clear the trail. It isn't like this has never been done before. Clearing a trail is technically the same as clearing a road (except you need a smaller vehicle to do it). And lots of other cities manage to do it.
I will once again point out that Arlington, MA plowed the 3.5 miles of the Minuteman Bikeway in its town for the price of $2700 for one year. And I've heard that Massachusetts gets more snow than Bethesda.
I guess one lesson, that Richard Layman hit on, is that when new trails are being proposed/designed, that's a good time to start asking about snow removal.
Photo by Dan Gross/The Gazette