City Desk

Your Impassable Alley: Snowmaggedon’s Lasting Legacy

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After the first storm of Snowmaggedon, Burleith resident Karen Landes had some problems. A couple of utility lines had fallen in the alley behind her house and found a resting spot on top of her car—so that was Problem No. 1. The alley itself was impassable, constituting Problem No. 2.

One of Landes' neighbors on the community Listserv proposed a solution. If all the residents on the block simply shoveled out the part of the alley behind their own homes, the whole thing would be clear! Eager to do their part, Landes and her husband, Christopher Landes, took to the alley and started working.

They were the only ones. Even the woman who proposed the scheme backed out—her boyfriend had to go to work and couldn't take part.

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Failure notwithstanding, residents abutting the alley between S and T and 35th and 36th Streets NW were right to obsess over their backyard thoroughfare. The two sky-dumps over the past week have turned just about all alleys in the District into gridlocking snowdrifts. And because alleys are alleys—i.e., cramped spaces—they offer virtually no space to accommodate snow removal. If one neighbor shovels out his car, that is, he's likely to slime another neighbor with the detritus.

Pile on the fact that the city ain't helping. According to D.C. Department of Transportation spokesperson John Lisle, crews don't go into the alleys, period.

"If you're in the middle of an alley and if people to the left and right of you aren’t doing anything, you’re going to have to pay somebody," says Shaw ANC commissioner Alex Padro.

Not necessarily. Columbia Heightsers Ruth and Richmond Sparks issued an e-mail summons to their fellow blockites (13th x 11th x Lamont x Park Road NW) to convene the next day for a community shovel-out. (They did some door-knocking as well.) Eighteen people showed up to tackle drifts that were as high as four feet, says Richmond Sparks. They started at 10 a.m. yesterday and finished five hours later, with no break for lunch. "As soon as you sit down, you can’t get up again," says the 54-year-old Sparks.

OK, but where did they put all the snow? Sparks says they piled the excess in the backyards of a couple of residents who were gone, as well as that of the area's advisory neighborhood commissioner.

The joint effort, says Sparks, is "what community is all about." "The best part of it is that we now know we all like wine and everyone cooks," he says.

On Landes' block, such bonding may have to wait till a spring cookout. The residents have settled on hiring the job out to a contractor, at a sweet price. Eight households, says Landes, will chip in just over $30 to cover the $250 cost of bringing in a plow.

Uh-oh. The contractor completed a walk-through of the job this morning. After fixating on the hardened ice and volume of white stuff, said contractor declined the project. A Bobcat, he said, would be needed.

One of Landes' neighbors spotted a Bobcat (known generically as a "skid-steer") working on the street. She asked if Mr. Bobcat could help out in the alley. No dice, he said. We don't do alleys.

Photographs by Darrow Montgomery

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  • B

    If someone has an impassable alley they need to go out back and shovel it. I shoveled my section as did our neighbors. Then the alley was fine. What a big deal about nothing.

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