Staff Snapshots from D.C.'s 'Snoverkill'

Editor's note: Reading this month's photo essay on Syracuse's snow plows stings just a little for Governing's D.C. staffers, who ...
by | February 9, 2010

Editor's note: Reading this month's photo essay on Syracuse's snow plows stings just a little for Governing's D.C. staffers, who are bracing for (sigh) another few inches of snow today. D.C. usually does not have snowy winters, so this season is a huge anomaly for us. (Readers of the Washington Post's Capitol Weather Gang blog had dubbed this upcoming storm: "Snoverkill.") This week, STBS asked staffers to share their snow-stories and how local government has helped them weather the storm.

Getting to Work in the Snow

posted by Josh Goodman

One of the things that I absolutely love about living in a major metropolitan area is public transportation. My daily commute from Arlington, Virginia to Governing's office in downtown Washington consists of a bus ride and then a subway ride. The trip can take as little as half-an-hour or up to an hour (or more) depending on my timing and the mood of the Metro system. Despite that, I can't imagine driving a car to work every day in a congested city like Washington. I spend my commute reading and writing, not cursing and honking.

So, you can see why it pains me to tell you this: Public transportation has been a complete mess (or virtually non-existent) during our recent spate of snowstorms.

While subway service has been very limited (especially at outdoor stations), the buses are the biggest problem. When it starts snowing, it seems as though all of the bus drivers go rogue. Snow emergency routes aren't well delineated. So far as I can tell, (on the routes I use) the drivers have been using their own judgment as to where they can go and where they can't. That leaves riders with tough choices: Do I get on a bus that will take me vaguely near to where I live? Or should I hold out hope for a braver driver who is willing take me right to my doorstep?

Luckily, I haven't had to make any of those tough choices this week. Yesterday, Northern Virginia bus service pretty much didn't exist. Metro announced last night that today it would only be operating four routes in all of Northern Virginia, none of which were near me. I decided to work from home today. As it turned out, the transit system badly under-promised. Metro currently is operating on 48 Virginia routes, including some near me. Maybe, I should have tried to go to the office. Maybe not. Who knows what service would have been like this afternoon.

Metro deserves credit for making big strides in communicating to bus riders. I use their "Next Bus" bus-tracking service by phone obsessively, to the extent that people look at me funny for yelling into my phone all the time. Their "Next Bus" online interface also is really helpful. Still, in the snow, communications clearly break down. In part, that may be inevitable, with road conditions changing quickly and unpredictably. But, I think they could do a better job letting me know where I can go and when. All of the uncertainly, almost makes me wish for the control that comes with driving yourself to work. Almost. (Photo by samirluther/flickr)

Do you have a good story involving how local or state government had helped you in times of adverse weather? Share it with us! Submit your story to ttrenkner@governing.com and we may feature it on 13th Floor. Story Behind the Story appears every Tuesday.

Josh Goodman
Josh Goodman  |  Former Staff Writer
mailbox@governing.com  | 

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