Snowzilla Turns DC into a Pedestrian Paradise

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Finally, it was here – Snowzilla!

Flakes began falling Friday night. Metro closed. Businesses sent their workers home early as snow began piling up on city streets. By dawn on Saturday, the city was covered in a foot of the white stuff – and it was still snowing, coming down in endless sheets.

The wind howled. The windows of my Logan Circle apartment were covered in ice. I was still going out. I pulled on boots, fleece pants, two jackets, two pairs of gloves and a hat. No way was I going to miss this photo opportunity.

On the street, a wonderful quiet had descended upon the city. Something was missing – cars. The roads were too bad for the beasts, rendering their four wheels useless.

To get anywhere, you had to walk. Since the sidewalks were impassable, everyone took to the streets.

out walking

I walked north, into the blizzard. I am not alone in my insanity. Everywhere, people were out – walking, skiing, even biking. The few cars that were out rolled along slowly and carefully. They were the interlopers. People had reclaimed the streets.

While it’s not unusual to find men in heels on P Street, seeing one during a blizzard is bizarre. He seemed a little underdressed for the conditions but brunch must go on. I’m not sure he had enough layers.

posing for the tourists

Commissary and Stoney’s were open, doing a brisk business to anyone willing to brave the snowy streets. And judging from the noise, there were a lot them.

Stoney's is, of course, open for business #IGDC #dcwx #snowzilla

A block up, I encountered a cheerful woman jogging down 15th St, lightly hopping over mounds of snow. No weather will stop the runners of this city.

snow jogger

The silence of the city was almost total, the only sounds being the crunch of snow underfoot and the sounds of distant people.

I heard the laughter a couple blocks from Meridian Hill, a happy roar coming from the park. People were sledding and even snowboarding down the steps. One offered me the chance to tube down the stairs but, being older and wiser, I declined. Getting injured when the city was paralyzed by snow seemed like a really bad idea.

snowboarding

The blizzard picked up, blowing hard, snow pouring into the park. I walked back home down 16th St, the wind at my back. The day was coming to an end. Visibility had declined to less than a block.

It was an amazing opportunity to get photos of a city transformed by white. This was my favorite photo from the day.

16th St snow scene

We’re looking south on 16th St. On the left is the Church of the Holy City, a Gothic-style church built in 1896.

16th Street is normally a commuter corridor, designed to get Marylanders into the city. If I stood in the middle of the street on an ordinary day, I’d be run over.

Thousands pass this church every day, in noisy cars and busses, without a second glance. The value of a car-free city is the chance to appreciate buildings like the Church of the Holy City. When you’re not keeping your eyes out for cars, you have the opportunity to engage with the environment.

That’s what I like best about blizzards. Snow turns DC into a pedestrian paradise – as it was designed to be. L’Enfant didn’t create DC for automobiles. He planned it for people. The city should be returned to them.

It was all over by Monday.

Many of the sidewalks were still impassable but enough roads had been plowed to prompt the return of the internal combustion beasts. Pedestrians were nosed off the streets by cars.

she's walking in the street because NPS doesn't clear their sidewalks

Mayor Muriel Bowser said we had to get off the pavement – we had to take our chances climbing over snow piles and fording icy streams. Better be nimble, to be a pedestrian in DC. And if you’re old or disabled? You’ll never make it in Muriel Bowser’s DC.

Of course, the DC government didn’t bother to shovel its own sidewalks. Neither did the feds, the worst offender being the National Park Service.

A pocket park owned by NPS near me was not only unshoveled, but snow plows had covered the sidewalk in six feet of snow. I had to walk in the street. As I did so, a car brushed my hip, splattering me in slush. The blizzard times were over. DC had been returned to the drivers.

Author: Joe Flood

Joe Flood is a writer and photographer from Washington, DC. He is the author of the mystery novel Murder on U Street, as well as articles, short stories and screenplays. In his spare time, he likes wandering about the city with a camera.

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