Thursday, February 21, 2013

Slipping and sliding away

Each year in Oslo, come winter, the same problems crop up. There are snowstorms, sometimes there is a fair amount of accumulation, and then the snow plows come out to clean the streets and to spread salt to keep the streets free of ice and snow. The end result is that cars and buses usually have no problem getting around the city streets during the winter. It’s a seldom occurrence that the streets are so icy or snowy that cars and buses have problems maneuvering their way along them. Not so with the sidewalks. Sidewalks are another matter; it’s as though sidewalks in Oslo belong to another universe. And in that universe, chaos and uncertainty reign. No one knows for sure which sidewalks will be cleared and which won’t. The street Ullevålsveien, for example, has completely clear sidewalks, making it a simple matter to visit the different stores and cafes on that street, whereas most of the sidewalks in Grünerløkka (one of the areas of the city quite near where we live) are a disaster. They are in fact disasters waiting to happen, in the form of broken bones of some sort. They are so slippery and dangerous to walk on that most people choose to walk in the streets instead. That way there is no risk of falling. Ditto for the area where we live; icy sidewalks with some gravel thrown down to help you get a grip, but it doesn’t help if they haven’t been shoveled first. I have begun to walk in the streets myself, after having fallen once already. Luckily I did not end up with any broken bones or sprained wrists. In the morning on the way to the bus stop near where we live, I join the many others who are walking in the streets rather than on the sidewalks. It strikes me as rather silly to see all these people in the streets, but who am I to judge? We all just want to be safe and to get where we’re going on time. Walking on the icy sidewalks makes me feel as though I’m eighty years old; having to walk slowly, inch by inch, looking ahead to determine whether the patch of white ground ahead of you is ice or not, and then following the path of no ice until it becomes ice again. And so on. I feel sorry for elderly people in this city; I wonder if many of them even dare to venture out, even if they are in general good health. One fall, and they’re out of commission for quite a while.

The randomness of sidewalk shoveling strikes me as rather absurd in a country where winter can extend from mid-October until early April. The newspapers have written about it the problem, droves of people complain about it, but every year, nothing changes. I don’t get it. The last newspaper article I read about this problem discussed whose responsibility it was to shovel the sidewalks; in some cases it’s the city’s responsibility, in other cases, the owners of the buildings. I can personally attest to the fact that most apartment building owners seem to do little or nothing to keep the sidewalks in front of their buildings clear; perhaps they figure that these are city sidewalks so the city should take care of them. The city fines the owners for not clearing the sidewalks, and so it goes. In the meantime, people are slipping and sliding on their way to wherever they’re going.

Shop and restaurant owners in the downtown area of the city complain that they are losing business to the large shopping malls that ring the city. There may be multiple reasons for this, but one thing is clear to me. If shop or restaurant owners in the downtown area don’t care enough to get out and shovel a path to their doors, if they can’t clear snow from the sidewalks in front of their stores, don’t expect my business. I don’t want to hear your complaints that malls are taking all your business. I like to shop in the downtown area of Oslo, but I can tell you that the icy sidewalks discourage me from doing so during the winter. But again, this is a random affair. Some shop owners do shovel snow, others don’t. Why is that? Why do some shop owners care more about their customers than others? I think they all need to get on the same page—prioritize your customers. We potential customers don’t care whose responsibility it is to shovel the sidewalks, so stop arguing about it. Just get out there and do it, like the Nike commercial says.  

5 comments:

  1. My daughter just arrived in Oslo and she could not believe the state of the sidewalks. She is a skier and rock climber and she is having a tough time getting around. Despite being warned that wearing grippers on her shoes is looked upon as "a thing that Grannies do" she will continue to wear them in an attempt to save life and limb.

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    1. It is always the individual who has to solve the problem. It shouldn't be necessary to remind store owners and co-op residences to shovel their sidewalks. It shouldn't be a problem, but it is. I agree with your daughter, wear the grippers. I haven't always done that, but have started to do so now. Part of the reason I haven't worn them more often is that I'm stubborn; I keep hoping people will step up to the plate and shovel to make it easier for others.

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  2. I'll be visiting Oslo in a couple of weeks and although my trip is not during the winter months about which you write, I've also read the sidewalks in Norway are mostly sandy and therefore challenging to navigate with a wheeled suitcase. Is this accurate? I would appreciate any insider info you can share.

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    1. No, the sidewalks are not sandy generally. You won't have a problem with navigating a wheeled suitcase. Enjoy your trip! I think you will like Oslo very much. It's a pretty city.

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    2. Thank you so much! I had only read that in one article so it seemed odd that it wasn't mentioned anywhere else. I'm looking forward to visiting Oslo and other parts of Norway. All the best to you!

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