Monday, February 5, 2018

Why isn’t it possible to shovel sidewalks in this city during the winter?

I have been down this road before, and written about this before. My pet peeve and one of the reasons I hate winter in this city. Normally I don’t mind winter and snow; I like the seasons and would probably miss winter if I moved to a warmer climate where there was no winter. But still I have to ask, why can’t this city take responsibility for clearing the sidewalks of snow during a snowy winter like this one? It’s not like we have this amount of snow all the time. So what’s the problem?

The municipality of Oslo has the responsibility for clearing the main roads (think highways and access roads to highways), and they do a good job of it. But it’s never clear whose responsibility it is to clear the sidewalks, and I see that this gets discussed ad nauseam each winter when there is a lot of snow, like this one. Some sidewalks are cleared, others are not. The reasons for this are never explained. I would think that the owners of co-op apartment complexes, of which there are a myriad of in this city, could arrange for snow removal, and by that, I mean continual snow removal. It doesn’t help to remove it once, throw down some gravel, and that’s the end of it. What happens is that it snows heavily with accumulation, some sidewalk snow gets removed but not all, then the temperatures get warmer and much of the snow turns to slush (at which point I would remove it but that doesn’t happen here), and then it gets colder and the slush turns to uneven ice that is difficult to walk on, even with gravel spread here and there. Old people don’t stand a chance in terms of getting out to shop or to run other errands. There has been a record number of broken arms and legs this year from all of the falls resulting from slipping on the ice, and it’s not just older people who dominate the statistics, it’s younger people as well. So that should tell you something. No one seems to care about what this costs society in terms of lost work days; if you are laid up with a broken leg or cannot use your good arm at work, then you are out on sick leave. To me, it would be more cost-effective to clear the sidewalks, and to make and enforce laws stating clearly who has the responsibility to do so. Fines should be heavy for all those who do not follow the law.

But the ridiculousness does not end here. The Green party in this country has been pushing for bike lanes on all the main roads, and they have gotten their way in this city. While I am a bicyclist and have been since I was a child, I resent the hard-handed approach to the way biking is forced down our throats now. Everyone should bike, year-round, according to the Green party. And here’s the kicker. Like the main roads, the bike lanes are also cleared of snow by the municipality. It’s a priority that they are cleared, while the sidewalks that parallel them are packed with snow and ice. Go figure. Walking is every bit as healthy for you as biking is. But clearing the sidewalks is not a priority, not even the sidewalks that lead to large city hospitals or in front of the entrances to different buildings at the city hospitals. Never mind the patients who are brought in by ambulance; what about the patient's family members who have to navigate these sidewalks on their way to visit? Or wouldn't you think that hospitals, of all places, would respect their employees enough to shovel the sidewalks? Snow removal is also null at the tube stations, where ice accumulates at the edge of the platforms, making it tricky business to board the trains. Ditto for the tram stations. I keep waiting for the news to announce that someone has slipped off the platforms in front of or under the trains. It amazes me that this nonsense about who has responsibility for what goes on year after year, and that nothing gets done about it.

So what do I see since the bike lanes are cleared and not the sidewalks? Pedestrians are walking in the bike lanes, a clear hazard to both pedestrians and bicyclists. Bicyclists are skidding on patches of ice here and there where the bike lanes are a bit icy, despite the bikes being outfitted with studded tires. I watched a female bicyclist last week skid in the bike lane, fall off her bike, and land smack in the middle of the main road. If there had been a bus or car driving on the main road at that time, she would have been immediately run over and crushed. I would have had zero chance to help her. This is idiotic to me. It can be difficult enough to drive a car on the main roads during winter-time; you can always run into a patch of ice or snow that suddenly makes driving difficult. Studded tires for cars are now discouraged (you must pay a fee to the municipality each time you drive a car with studded tires) due to the pollution they cause--dust from churning up the asphalt in addition to the fact that they destroy the asphalt roads. But studded tires for bikes are encouraged. Don't they churn up the asphalt as well? Go figure. I don’t see the point of pushing and prioritizing winter biking, but this is my opinion. I respect that others would want to do it, but as far as I’m concerned, they risk their lives. My major point with this post is that it would be so great to be able to walk outdoors during the winter in a big city without risking falling and breaking an arm, leg or hip. I wonder why prioritizing clearing the sidewalks is too much to ask.