Dana writes in
After the snow storm last Tuesday (17 February), bicycle commuters using the 14th Street Bridge thought they knew two things. Based on past experience, the bridge would be cleared and the Mount Vernon Trail would be untouched. For my Wednesday commute it turned out the conventional wisdom was only half right – the Mount Vernon Trail was covered in snow but, while the traffic lanes on the upstream span of the 14th Street Bridge had been completely cleared, the bike and pedestrian lane remained covered in snow. At the DC end of the span, the ramp from East Basin Drive (in front of the Jefferson) to the actual bridge had been fully cleared, apparently by the National Park Service.
After walking my bike across the bridge, I logged into the District of Columbia’s 311 system to record a service ticket for snow removal. That process was a bit problematic in that the on line system insisted on a street address and the 14th Street Bridge doesn’t have one.
My ticket, recorded at 10:28 am on Wednesday read “Remove snow from the bike/ped lane on the upstream span of the 14th Street Bridge. Roadways were clear but bike/ped lanes were untouched.” The ticket was recorded as having been completed at 3:02 pm the same day. My evening commute across the bridge revealed the lanes had not been touched.
On Thursday morning, I called the 311 system and logged a second request. I asked the 311 operator to contact me if there were any questions. At about 10:15 am on Thursday, the 311 operator called me and conferenced in a District of Columbia Department of Transportation employee. We discussed the location that needed snow removal and I thought success would be achieved. Trail condition reports for the evening commute suggested that my optimism was premature as the snow and ice remained in the bike and pedestrian lane untouched.
On Thursday evening, I logged my second on-line request, reading “Previous service ticket 15-00036086 was for the ped/bike lane on the southbound span of the 14th Bridge over the Potomac. The snow has not been removed from the ped/bike lane although the service ticket was shown as completed. Access to the ped/bike lane is from East Basin Drive in front of the Jefferson Memorial. If you think this has been completed, please contact me.”
That ticket was closed on Sunday (22 Feb) morning with the explanation that the ped/bike lane on the 14th Street Bridge was “Private Property - Close SR” and I was advised to contact the “Federal (sic) Park Service” by the 311 system.
While I can understand the District establishing snow removal priorities, I find the process of actually logging a service request so cumbersome it might discourage the public engagement the system was intended to enhance. It is baffling that the District’s service request process seems to make identifying and requesting municipal services by the public less effective.
To improve the process, the District needs to allow individuals identifying service requests to either point on a map or describe the location. To rely on a pull down without some ability to provide other location information is a recipe for failure. The 311 system should also provide some ability to challenge the conclusion of the system operators without the need to log a new service request.
The reality is that the District government, agencies, as well as members of the public all would benefit from a system that actually allows users to successfully log service requests.
I use the app, and have had mixed results, but one nice feature over the website, which Dana used, is the ability to pick the spot on a map.
Nonetheless, I've had mixed results. Requesting bike parking installation (which does not have it's own category - should I use "Bicycle Issues" or "Parking"?) is an act of faith, a little like throwing a message in a bottle and hoping it gets found. Potholes have more success, though I battled with 311 over one particular pothole last summer. They kept reporting it fixed and I kept hitting it. It's not as user friendly as it could be, and clearly wasn't designed for dealing with bike issues like trails and sidepaths.
In addition, pushing responsibility off to the citizen to contact NPS is a low-service move. The DC government is there to serve citizens, and dealing with the federal government is one way that they - being the professionals can do that. Certainly someone at DDOT has a better chance of contacting the right person at NPS than Joe Citizen does. In addition, I'd be surprised if clearing snow off the 14th Street Bridge is really NPS' responsibility.
I've not used the Arlington report a problem tools, so I can't speak to how much better or worse those are.
In an ideal world, there would be but one regional toolset that would lead to the proper agency (DDOT, DPW, NPS, Arlington DOT, AOC, VDOT, etc...) being tasked, but that is admittedly a big lift. CaBi and WMATA are really exceptional in that regard.