If You Parked Behind Your House via an Alley, Well, You’re Probably Screwed

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One of many similar emails I’ve received:

“I live off H St NE and this is my back yard… The alley is too small for a plow and it’s about 25-30 yards each way of knee deep and higher snow! Snowzilla strikes again!”

Ed. Note: In February of last year DDOT and DPW reminded residents “that as a policy the District does not plow alleys”.

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62 Comment

  • Why would you pull your car all the way into the yard instead of just parking right at the back so you’d have less to shovel out.

  • Correct. We park off an alley that is itself off of a dead-end side street (Richardson Place) that isn’t plowed. We’re not driving anywhere anytime soon, but at least we don’t have to put up any lawn chairs.

    • Are dead end streets not plowed by DC? We live off a “Place” street that is a cul de sac so I guess technically dead end. It’s a public street though so I assumed it was plowed by the city. It’s been salted so far but not plowed. I submitted a 311 request but haven’t heard back.

      • I just think it’s a low priority. They salted the hell out of it on Friday night, but haven’t plowed it. Our main street (4th NW) has been plowed just once, so I don’t think DC is too concerned with a side street that has seven or eight homes.

      • I was parked on a street like this during Snowmageddon in 2010. It was a short dead end with cars parked on it, but no residences facing it. The snow was cleared by a Bobcat over a week after the storm.

  • What does that mean for houses whose garbage is collected via the alleyways behind the house? We live on the unit block of V Street NW, and we’ve had no plowing on V street, and of course none in the alleys. Garbage cans are full, and it looks frankly impossible that the garbage truck could get access to our house any time in the next week.

    • During Snowmaggedon in 2010 I think it was at least 2 weeks after the snowy week, if not 3, before our trash got picked up. Overflowing trash cans etc. Bad. I seriously doubt they’ll get any pickups done this week.

  • And rightfully so. Most cars can barely fit into the alleys in DC, let alone trucks with plows. Some things just have to be handled by organizing and pitching in with your neighbors.

  • houseintherear

    Even if you live in an alley (carriage house or apartment with rear entrance), they won’t plow. Our alley street is supposed to be on the plowing and street sweeping schedule but they have never plowed or swept in the 6 years we’ve been a named street.

  • An alley runs the length of our property and is the only way we can access our parking pad behind our house. The alley only accesses our house as the only other property on the block is a church and its parking lots. Needless to say we had a long dig out this weekend. But we did it. We shoveled the entire thing and were able to drive our little Prius out this morning for work. A Sunday of digging out our alley was well worth it when we saw how plowed in our across the street neighbors were. They had all dug out on Sunday and got re-plowed in on Monday night.

  • Or as in my alley… your neighbor decides to clear a path for him to move his car by piling all of the snow behind your gate making it EXTRA impossible for you to ever leave again.

    • What did he say when you mentioned it to him? I would have had to say something

    • I feel as though that snow would have mysteriously ended up piled right back in front of his area. (Rage shoveling is a thing I experienced today, by the way.)

  • What happens to alley garbage collection? I’m seeing stuck garbage trucks in my alley’s future.

    • Garbage collection is at the discretion of the workers and if they can safely make it through the entire alley. Even if it is cleared of snow but potentially has icy conditions they can opt to skip alleys to avoid getting stuck as you mention.

  • In the same boat. My husband and I and a neighbor just took about an hour and were able to get about half of the alley way done in that time. We’re hoping all of the other neighbors who use the alley will see our hard work and take some initiative and continue our work while we take a break, but if not, we’ll go do some more later. Thankfully, we’ve had three straight days of good melting conditions, so it’s still relatively easy to move.

  • You know it’s possible to actually drive when you don’t see the pavement, right?

    • Yes, but not through 20 inches of snow.

      • Yes it is, you may just get stuck a couple times. And today there isn’t 20″ of snow, it has compacted and melted. Give it a shot and report back how it goes. I bet it takes you less than an hour to free your car. Just get back before temps go down below freezing!

    • There’s always one. You must be so much fun at parties.

    • Maybe if you have chains or snow tires.
      But a low clearance car – like a Prius or a Civic – can easily get it’s undercarriage stuck on a 12″ snowbank in the middle of the road. I wouldn’t drive a sedan on a snowed in side street or alley just yet. A high clearance truck or SUV with chains should be fine.

  • Raise a glass to all those homeowners who pile their snow in front of someone else’s garage door…then dump the contents on their heads.

    • I’m genuinely curious, what should alley parkers do with the snow when their neighbors don’t help clear it? We have single-handedly shoveled four houses from ours to the street with no help. Three more to go so we can get our car out. Not one neighbor has helped even though one walked through to put his snow blower in the garage after blowing out the sidewalk in front of his house. What do you suggest we do with the snow other than going door to door and asking for help?

      • alissaaa

        I’m wondering the same thing. I started digging out my alley space today and my neighbors in my alley haven’t made any move to clear their spaces or the alley behind their spaces. The alley across from us dug out their entire alley and piled the snow in the middle of Swann Street (this is at Swann between 18th and 19th). Swann hasn’t been plowed and is completely impassible, and now even worse due to all of the snow.

        I am probably going to try to keep digging my space out in the hopes of getting my car back in there (it’s at DCUSA right now) but where am I supposed to put all of the snow? Also, I really wish my neighbors would help, but they seem to have no desire to at all.

      • I think you should knock on that fool of a neighbor’s door and beg him to put that snowblower to good use. There’s no harm in asking him for help. I’m very fortunate in that I have *some* space in my back parking area to pile it if the neighbors don’t help/won’t coordinate. That being said, my plan right now is to knock on doors again and try to coordinate a place to shovel it all. If they won’t help me, and it’s the eleventh hour (I’m moving on Saturday—great timing, right?) I’ll shovel enough to get my car out and just try to minimize the impact on the alley as much as I can. If I were you, I would just do my best to 1) not pile it in front of someone else’s garage, and 2) keep in mind the space cars need to swing out and move down the alley.

        • ah

          +1 to this – “would you lend me your snow blower so I can clear the alley for all of us?” If the answer is no, you know where to put the snow.

      • Some neighbors may not need to use their cars that badly and would be OK waiting for it to melt.

        • Or some may not have a car at all and think maybe if you want to have a car in the city, you have to accept the associated costs.

          • Oh, come on, now. We’ve acknowledged the “associated costs,” and we’re working on ways to mitigate them. As I said, it never hurts to ask for someone’s snowblower, their shovel, or their two arms if you need help. If someone doesn’t have a car or doesn’t want to move, they’re free to say no. We’re all clearly relying on good will at this point, and nobody is forcing anyone to take on an existential burden. (That being said, if someone has a functioning snowblower and refuses to help their neighbors, they deserve dog poop in their trash can.)

      • I tried to go out and help my neighbor clear the alley, but in his efforts to clear his portion, he had piled so much snow behind my spot that I couldn’t even get to him. And at this point what he had piled behind my house was super heavy slush. Any shoveling I do will directly screw one of my other neighbors now.

      • I move it into my backyard. I have a 6-foot high pile from clearing my portion of the alley.

        • Interesting to hear everyone’s thoughts! Update: The alley is clear! I approached several neighbors, some flat out said no. Seriously! A few neighbors came out and pitched in. One guy was upset we put the snow on his trash cans and wasn’t into helping although we had dug out his space. One neighbor was upset we’d moved a foot of snow in front of his garage but four people got it moved to his yard in less than 10 minutes. Most people were appreciative and we made some new friends.
          I understand the costs associated with having a car in the city. I use my car for work so I don’t have an option to be carless. I also choose to send my kid to private school (topic for another day) so I have to drive her there. At least 30 cars park in our alley and only six of us were out there. We all choose to live in a community and helping out neighbors is part of living in a community, imho.

      • Let it melt in place? It was almost 50 degrees out today, the mountain you’ve created will take longer to melt than if you did nothing.

  • jim_ed

    Considering this means our trash and recycling won’t be picked up for at least another week or two, shout out to former Mayor Gray for giving us those extra big recycling cans so it won’t be piling up in my backyard.

  • Talk to your neighbors and try to get everyone to shovel out the section behind their house. Teamwork! Doesn’t it behoove even those who don’t drive to have a clear alley, for trash pickup? We spent 2 hours doing this the other day, in a very large alley. And we paid someone asking for work to do the last hour. But now we can get out of our alley. Not everyone helped, it would have been a lot easier if they did.

    Of course, once we cleared the alley and our parking pad (right off the alley) we were able to get out. It looks like you parked WAYYYYYY back there in your yard. Haha, oops.

  • People who live bordering New Hampshire/Upshur/5th St NW: For the love of god, clear the section of the alley behind your house. We’re going to have mountains and mountains of trash piling up and it will not be pretty.

  • In Mt.P the neighbors on the list serve got everyone to chip in like $20 and they paid someone with their own plow to do two of the main alleys. I had shoveled mine well before that, but I would have been stuck (before the alley plow) as the city plow shoved a five feet snowbank at the dead end blocking the exit. Either way, I’m taking the bus for a week or so.

  • Initially I thought I was pretty screwed having parked in my space behind the house, but judging by the animosity in the “reserving parking thread,” I think I made the right decision. It took hours to dig out, but I now can get out and will have a parking space that won’t get my car keyed.

  • Neighbors on 5th St & New Hampshire Ave NW, between Upshur and Taylor: please do your part to dig out the alley behind your house! Think of how long it will take for the garbage trucks come by and we don’t want mountains of trash building up!

  • I have no intention of digging mine out. I expect it will be free to drive by the weekend if the temps keep like they are.

    • Warm temps and not one unplowed inch of the snow has moved in either the street or alley. Unless we’re getting 60+ consistently, I doubt it’ll be good by the weekend.

    • I had a neighbor try to guilt me into helping and even tried to do some weird power trip about him living in the neighborhood longer until he found out that I actually lived there longer. If he just came and asked me to help him like an adult does, I may have helped but the weird passive-aggressive tact he tried to take made me just go back inside.

  • Just spent 2 and half hours showelling my alley. About 4 townhouses in length. It is not too bad of you have the will to do it. Better than spending hundreds on uber for the next week.

  • It is a great way to meet your neighbors, everyone get a shovel & dig it out yourselves. It is hard enough for the garbage & recycle trucks to get through. Our alley is clear now, with everyones help.

    • +1
      Our block organized to dig out our actual street and part of an alley. People just came out and joined in (or baked muffins and cookies or served beverages for the shovelers). Took most of Sunday. Now more of us know each other! (And we know which neighbors are worthy of our ire b/c they sat inside all day (except to complain about where we were piling the snow or come clean off only their car) and didn’t pitch in one bit.)

  • I think some just like to complain. I live in Trinidad and there were people tweeting saying how NO streets in Trinidad has be plowed etc and the same ole “Trinidad” is left behind once again. Yet I know for a fact they plowed several streets including mine beginning as early as Saturday evening.

  • What about the end of the alley? I live on 17th and our alley (which is very wide and would easily be plow-able) has about 5 feet of snow packed at the end of the alley from the plows that went down 17th. If we were to shovel it, not sure what the city would suggest that we do with that snow?

  • I started shoveling the alley, hubby came out and finished one tire track length, neighbor saw us, came out and did the other half, another neighbor came out and did the section down to the other street. Get out your shovels and snowblowers and put your back into it! DC does NOT plow the alleys. Unless you like the smell of rotting trash and the sound of your neighbors car skidding into your fence.

  • I was actually shocked at how easy it was to get a dozen of my neighbors who share my alley to throw in $25 bucks and hire a crew to shovel out our alley.

    There was a group of Hispanic guys (10 of them) walking around offering to shove for money. We collected $300 bucks ($30/ea) and got them all for an hour. In one hour, the 10 of them shoveled out our entire alley, end to end (full block).

    Not everyone in the alley participated, but thats to be expected. I just had the guys pile some snow behind their parking areas!

  • I just sent out an email on our 2 block listserve, suggesting we do the same. $20-30.00 a pop with 10 houses paying (to carry the slacker freeloaders) should easily do it. But I just looked out the window and my next-door neighbor Jennifer has freaking shoveled ten miles! I went out earlier today with grand intentions but gave up after less than a foot.

    Seriously – there are lots of guys out looking for shoveling work. Get together with a few neighbors, pitch in and pay for shoveling!

    • SouthwestDC

      Go Jennifer!
      I don’t care personally if the alley is shoveled or not, but if someone was collecting money for it I’d chip in. It’s not like this happens every day.

  • A bunch of the newer people in our alley dug out their cars and created these huge piles of snow that will take longer to melt than if they had just left it alone. Now no one is going anywhere anytime soon and no garbage pickup this month.

  • Ridiculous. But to be fair, DC can barely handle plowing the streets. How could they possibly handle an alley? Feel like whether it’s law enforcement, public works (potholes!) or weather events… DC excels at being below average.

  • I guess I’m kind of screwed. My car is new & I just didn’t want it in the street & was afraid I’d scratch it if it were covered with snow & I had to clean it, so I parked in my alley garage. Of course, the alley is impassible & I can’t get out. I’m hoping the snow will melt enough so I can drive out tomorrow. I’m just living with cabin fever. At least my job has been cancelled for these days. Next time I’ll remember that they don’t plow alleys. No excuse, as I’m a native Washingtonian.

  • I have no car and do not use the alley behind my house. i do have trash picked up there but would have no problem using the multitude of cans my house has to store it until the city can get back there. that said, There are neighbors who access that alley to get their cars in and out and if one of them asked my help to shovel I would absolutely pitch in.

  • I got out of my alley by driving my SUV hard & fast over the snow. Glad I did, as no one was shoveling or plowing, me included. But I made a path that others followed out.

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