Now that the snow has melted (Ok, not everywhere), it is time to review what actions can be taken to make the next storm recovery better. Next time, I think cyclists would benefit from better planning, better communication and better coordination.
1. Have a plan - I'm not sure anyone really does. Once it was obvious that the bicycle transportation network was seriously compromised, some agencies, like Arlington County, did a good job of adapting and getting a hold of the resources needed to clear trails. Other agencies, like NVRPA and NPS - GW Parkway, have policies that they followed and perhaps that's good enough, but for those with a snow plan there should be some consideration of key bike/ped elements of the transportation network. DC's snow plan for snow up to 18 inches, we learn, is
Major roads should be cleared to bare pavement within 36 hours and residential streets within 60 hours.
OK, all we need to do is add "and major trails within 72 hours" or something. I might move the key trail connections into that 60 hour deadline, but I think it should really depend on a "users per day" metric.
The first step is to identify and prioritize what makes up the "key pieces". Here's my guess at identifying and ranking them:
1) MVT from the Crystal City Tunnel to the 14th Street bridge and across it
2) The Wilson Bridge ATL to National Harbor
3) S Capitol Street Bridge ATL
4) The Washington Boulevard Trail from S. Joyce to Memorial Bridge and across it.
5) The Oxon Cove Trail into DC
6) The 11th Street Bridge ATL
7) From the Roslyn end of the MVT to the TR Bridge and across it
8) The Four Mile Run Trail from Shirlington to Glebe
And then you can focus on the entirety of the major bike commuter paths of Custis, CCT, MVT, W&OD, Four Mile Run, etc.. as well as other bike/ped overpasses (like the Shirlington overpass). Getting cyclists back on their bikes, will also help get them out of their cars. And cyclists will bike in the snow despite what some people think ("Bikes [in the snow]? Get serious." Yes, it's just crazy).
Some organizations need to rethink their policies. Not to pick on them, but I have an email with NPS - GW Parkway's policy
By way of background, [the trail] was built as a multi-use trail which included winter use such as cross country skiing. The bridges are all wood construction, only shovels and snow blowers can be used. Unfortunately, our trail crew is now down to one person (we had five at one time). Our lawyers have advised us that if we begin to treat the trail in any location, we will have to treat the entire trail on a daily basis. Clearly, we don't have the workforce to support that kind of effort.
That's a lot of reasons. (1) We leave the snow for XC skiing (2) The bridges can't handle the weight of snow clearing equipment (3) our lawyers said not to if we can't do it regularly (and we don't have the staff for that). More on (3) later, but (1) and (2) are arguments to wait a little or only clear part of the trail, not to clear none of it. A better policy would be "We clear half the trail, but not at bridges where our equipment can't go."
2. Communicate the Plan - I had said that I disagreed with Dr. G about communication being part of the problem, but now I've come around to his thinking. Some of the anxiety and anger comes from the fact that no one knows why trails aren't being cleared or if they're being cleared. Why doesn't NPS put their policy on their website? That would probably cut down on email they have to deal with. And Arlington, which did clear trails, could put up status information. For example:
The Custis Trail is Clear.The Four Mile Run is scheduled for clearing on 2/27
Again, it removes anxiety and treats cyclists as real customers. It also means that cyclists who might have driven because they were unsure about trail status, will now bike as soon as possible. We can argue about what the plan should be, but it's hard to make the case that the plan should be a secret. There could even be one regional website where all of the policy and status information is kept.
3. Ask for help - Even if they could clear it, NPS argues, they haven't got the manpower to maintain it. OK. Do Arlington, Alexandria and DC have that manpower? Could they all work together to keep the trail clear. Maybe NPS can afford some sort of small plow tool, form a "friends of" group and get them to clear it.
Maybe DDOT can't clear the bridges because it has to be done by hand. Why not organize a volunteer event. Ask for cyclists and joggers to come out and shovel the bridges. See if Starbucks will come through with some coffee and have one or two DDOT employee's there to manage it. NPS could do the same for their wooden bridges. Letting trail users help by asking them to volunteer lets them be a champ. Leaving them to wait for the snow to melt makes them a chump. I'd rather be a champ than a chump. It would give DDOT some cover "we asked for volunteers and no one came" and it would make cyclists look good if they do "we don't pay gas taxes, but I don't remember seeing you digging out the Beltway by hand." Ideally they'd find the resources to do it themselves, but this is not an ideal world.
DDOT already had their briefing, and PG County is having theirs tomorrow. I don't know if public comments are allowed, but it never hurts to write to County and District council members.