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Storm Sewer Grates Project

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Storm Sewer Grates Project

Old 03-06-24, 09:25 PM
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Storm Sewer Grates Project

Hey all! Last fall I launched a project specific to Baltimore (since it's where I live), but was curious as to whether other people are doing something similar...

I'm sure more than a few people here have had the bad luck to get their wheel caught in a storm sewer grate that had bars parallel to the road, and almost certainly somebody here has gotten really unlucky and gone over the handlebars. Having had a couple dangerous, but not injurious encounters with bad grates on the road myself, and knowing that Baltimore had signed an agreement to get rid of them (that it isn't upholding), I launched Sewer Snitch - a site for recording and reporting bad grates.

The home page works as a pretty decent web app for taking a picture on a phone, getting your lat/long, and checking for duplicates. The back end checks to make sure that the submission is within Baltimore, figures out what city council district it's in, and whether or not it's along a bike path. You can view all the ones recorded so far on a map, filter by city council district, and generate spreadsheets of bad grates.

I'm still working to get more people in the area involved, and hope to start bugging the city council and our department of public works about fixing things soon.

Does anyone know about similar projects in their area? I'd love to know!
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Old 03-07-24, 07:01 AM
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I've never had that problem, but I've had some very close calls with those drainage grates. Riding a bike is dangerous there are a lot of things out there that can throw you off the bike in an instant.

My first accident when I first started commuting (not counting the times I hit the front brakes) was when I slightly veered off the road, quickly corrected, but I hit the lip of the road with my front tire and I went flying into the middle of the road with two cars from both directions headed towards me. I should have died that day, but my survival instincts kicked in and I, somehow, was able to get the hell out of the roadway.


Don't get too distracted on one hazard. There are many out there.




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Old 03-07-24, 08:51 AM
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I mean, the goal isn't to be distracted by the problem, the goal is to remove the problem so you can focus on other dangers, but I see your point.
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Old 03-07-24, 09:28 AM
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Yeah, I'm not against the movement, I was just saying be careful out there



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Old 03-07-24, 08:31 PM
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Fashback. It's been over 50 years on this issue.

50+:years ago sewer grates that could swallow a bike wheel were very common. However, I believe this issue was put to bed long ago. Modern grates that may seem hazardous now have crossbars every 10 inches or so. There's even a design standard for this and I can't imagine any project going back to old designs these days.
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Old 03-07-24, 08:41 PM
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Originally Posted by FBinNY
However, I believe this issue was put to bed long ago. Modern grates that may seem hazardous now have crossbars every 10 inches or so.
I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but here in Baltimore we still have a ton of shockingly bad grates. As I said above, I’ve gotten caught by some of them myself and only avoided serious injury by luck. You can see some of the better and worse ones on this page:

https://sewersnitch.com/grate-guide/

Here’s the most embarrassingly bad one in the city:

https://sewersnitch.com/bad-grates/g...2f02822b48bfc/

You can see why I’d be motivated to do something!
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Old 03-07-24, 09:10 PM
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This has all been done, and those are definitely non-conforming to current design standards. However, I don't know whether the rules only apply with new construction. (implementation rules will vary by state).

Search FHWA bicycle safe grate design or something similar. Then photograph the grates noting the location, and send the city attorney a "Notice of hazard" letter, with the photo, details, and abstract of the standards.

The precise language will depend on Maryland's laws, so get help on exactly how to present the issue.

In NYS a letter like this would open the city up to a lawsuit for failing to rectify a known hazard should someone be injured. In NYC there's a law firm that maintains a database of every pothole, bad pavement area, etc. making filing these cases easy.

FWIW, your efforts may not get immediate action, but odds are once any suit is filed, fixing ALL of these will get higher priority.
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Old 03-08-24, 09:21 AM
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Originally Posted by FBinNY
This has all been done, and those are definitely non-conforming to current design standards. However, I don't know whether the rules only apply with new construction. (implementation rules will vary by state).
In fact, these kinds of grates have been illegal since January of 1980, and all road construction projects are required to replace them. In addition, the son of one of my wife's former colleagues at Johns Hopkins University went over the handlebars and suffered a life-altering brain injury because of these grates and the city agreed in a settlement to replace them all - which they have not done. We have a process for reporting these grates (via calling 311 or using a phone app), but it almost never works, as different city agencies pass the buck back and forth.

All of that is how I ended up making the site. 😟

I've heard that a couple of the grates on the site have been replaced, so I need to double check those, but at 212 and counting and less than a third of the city checked, there's an awful lot to be done.
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Old 03-08-24, 09:46 AM
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So we understand each other, I don't disagree with you on the issue. I was just surprised that it was still a problem.

Keep at it, and try using the power of the local press to embarrass those in charge for failing to fix this after 40+ years.

If your local TV station has one of those problem solver teams, reach out to them. One possibly good angle might be that the cost of the one settlement (known of) was probably more than the cost of replacing all those grates.

The problem is that you're dealing with politicians and civil servants who have no personal investment to act. You need to change that.
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Old 03-08-24, 10:18 AM
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FWIW I had a few minutes to kill so I decided to check out the site.

1- your link here doesn't work, so you should edit the post.

2- I'm not sure I'm comfortable with the "had an accident, give info...." link. You might change it to something urging them to seek legal advice, and asking the attorney to check the site. But that's me and it's your site.
3- I checked the map, and clicked on one location at random. The first one just happened to be one of the improved (legal) designs. I did also find some that clearly weren't. However, you might want to edit your list, or categorize the grates better.

4- I don't know if you linked the site to the city, or other databases to "weaponize" it so the city would have a tougher time in future suits. You might contact a litigator to see if/ how this can be done.
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Old 03-08-24, 10:46 AM
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First I have heard of a program like this.

Over in Austin Texas I think they may have already changed over because I dont remember seeing any grates aligned longitudinally to the road. Over in San Antonio its a toss up. Often there gates are missing. After all, they do make good Bar-B-Q grills...
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Old 03-08-24, 03:15 PM
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Originally Posted by FBinNY
So we understand each other, I don't disagree with you on the issue. I was just surprised that it was still a problem.
I never had any doubt that we are on the same side! Just talking at cross purposes a little, mostly because I was a little vague and didn't want to put too much into my initial post about the level of time and research I had already put into the effort. I thank you for you comments and appreciate your feedback sincerely!

Originally Posted by FBinNY
1- your link here doesn't work, so you should edit the post.
I just clicked both links in my post and they both work - if you try to copy the second one's text, it's long enough that the software elides it, but clicking is fine.

Originally Posted by FBinNY
2- I'm not sure I'm comfortable with the "had an accident, give info...." link. You might change it to something urging them to seek legal advice, and asking the attorney to check the site. But that's me and it's your site.
The goal would be to advise people who clicked the link to do that after the fact if they had not done so!

Originally Posted by FBinNY
3- I checked the map, and clicked on one location at random. The first one just happened to be one of the improved (legal) designs. I did also find some that clearly weren't. However, you might want to edit your list, or categorize the grates better.
Some of them are better and worse for the purposes of safety, but the law in Maryland suggests hat they must be either perpendicular to the flow of traffic, have cross-hatching of some sort that prevents any entry, or be one of the approved designs listed by DoT, and sadly, the ones that look okay on the site still aren't on the approved list.

Originally Posted by FBinNY
4- I don't know if you linked the site to the city, or other databases to "weaponize" it so the city would have a tougher time in future suits. You might contact a litigator to see if/ how this can be done.
I'm not sure what you mean - my goal isn't to get a suit going, as previous suits have done almost nothing to change things, even when they have involved enormous payouts. My goal is to promote the site to the point that enough people in Baltimore contact their city council reps and shame Baltimore DPW whose responsibility it is to change the grates into action. They have the mandate and funding already, but the current reporting methods allow them to claim that it is another agency's problem and pretend that the request needs to be resubmitted. A mandate from the city council could almost certainly change things!

The other most egregious ones are several in the dedicated bike/pedestrian lanes that circle one of our reservoirs (Lake Montebello). This one caught me when I got boxed in by another cyclist avoiding a pedestrian and my back wheel came up and I almost went over but luckily had been braking when I hit it.

https://sewersnitch.com/bad-grates/g...c3f6e8d200bdf/
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Old 03-08-24, 03:17 PM
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Originally Posted by zandoval
Over in Austin Texas I think they may have already changed over because I dont remember seeing any grates aligned longitudinally to the road. Over in San Antonio its a toss up. Often there gates are missing. After all, they do make good Bar-B-Q grills...
I mean, getting between a Texan and their grilled and smoked meats is even more dangerous than storm sewer grates! 😀
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Old 03-08-24, 04:05 PM
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To address your points.

I tried the embedded link "sewer snitch" in the body text of your OP. It still doesn't work, and the issue SEEMS to be a duplication of the HTTPS//. This happens because BF automatically adds it in blind links, and would be duplicated if you copied and pasted the address off your screen.

Intent is fine, and it might just be my paranoid self, but I probably wouldn't get to where you remind people to see an atty of their choice. IMO asking for this smells of trolling, and I find it off putting. But like I said, it might just be me. If I'm not the exception, you might prefer to remind folks to seek legal advice, and not speak to anyone until they do.

As for the photo I found, sorry but I didn't note which it was, but it showed what seemed to be a DOT approved slotted grate with cross bars at about 10" or so. Just a minor detail if it's an oddball exception. Meanwhile where folks can link to see samples, you might expand the section and add a note about each.

By weaponizing the site, I'm thinking of the law in NYS which generally grants immunity to cities unless they're aware of a hazard. That's why litigators in NYC, on their own initiative, identify, track, and notify NYC DOT of every pothole, damaged sidewalk, exposed tree root, etc. Their database has location, photos, and proof that the city was notified, and they share it among themselves to aid litigation. If MD law is similar, sending the city Atty automated hazard notifications could be intimidating, because he'd know how much more it could cost to settle future claims. Civic servants don't care, but part of the City Attys job it to warn city management of potential liabilities, so he/she could become an involuntary ally to your cause.
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Old 03-10-24, 01:31 AM
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Link in your first post doesn't work for me either, FYI. Great idea, I hope you're able to leverage it to make a difference!
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