The Indignity of Walking: Snow Removal

As you may have noticed from spending more than 5 minutes reading this blog, I love bikes. And as mentioned in the introduction to this blog, I even love cars. But I hate walking! I know, I know: it’s the cheapest way to get around, it doesn’t take any special equipment, (almost) anyone can do it, and as a “carfree” person, I should embrace all means of non-car transportation. Still, when one bikes as much as I do and then one has to cover the same distance by foot, one can’t help but think, “Damn, walking is so fucking slow!” [aside: sure, you may think that driving is faster than biking, but in an urban setting for distances up to 3 - 5 miles, when parking is taken into consideration, driving a car is rarely significantly faster than biking]. Unfortunately, every once in a while, I am forced to walk to work due to road conditions. While the coldest weather that Rhode Island can dish out is no match to my Edmonton-hardened cycling chops, I hate slushy, icy streets. There may have been ice in Edmonton, but the roads were flat, and most of my commute was on back roads. Here, my ride to work is straight down a big hill, with grades approaching 10%. Therefore, if there is fresh snow or ice on the roads, I hoof it to work. Thus my 7 minute downhill coast to work is turned into a 25 minute slog through the snow.

A blizzard warning was issued for Rhode Island for all of Sunday, and most of today. On my walk to work, it looked like the streets were pretty well cleared, however I saw a much smaller volume of cars on the road. Part of this is attributable to the fact that in the week between Christmas and New Year’s, all of the schools are closed and many people take time off anyway. However, the DOT encouraged people to stay off the roads unless necessary and that seemed to have a major effect. In fact, many of my co-workers decided to stay home rather than brave the road conditions, and I can’t say that I blame them. I’m certainly glad I didn’t have to dig out a car. So, while I didn’t have to dig out a car, I did have to deal with all of the un-shoveled sidewalks. I did most of this “dealing-with” by just walking in the street (by the way, when one walks in the street, one should walk against traffic, i.e. on the left-hand side of the road, I’m not sure why this idea seems foreign to so many Rhode Islanders). I didn’t get to take many pictures of the un-shoveled sidewalks on my commute. Jef Nickerson, over at Greater City: Providence, did a great job of taking pictures of the storm and some of the businesses that did a good job of shoveling and those that failed. He also goes into the sidewalk-shoveling city ordinance that was updated in February 2010, so I won’t repeat that information here.

As a bike commuter, I am deprived of the joys of listening to the radio during my commute to and from work, and this is one are where walking has the advantage. Listening to the radio is truly the only thing I enjoy about walking to work. I’ll be honest with you, the real reason I didn’t take any pictures of poorly-shoveled sidewalks is because I was using my iPhone to listen to the radio and didn’t want to miss All Things Considered. However, there was one egregious example on my way home that forced me to remove my earbud (I only wear one earbud at a time so I can hear traffic and so I can look like the modern-day equivalent of a jaunty aristocrat wearing a monocle).

In case you can’t tell what’s going on here: the driveway is meticulously shoveled in order to make a path from the garage to the street. The resident even bothered to cut through the mountain of snow created by the plow. However, the sidewalk has been left in its natural, un-shoveled condition. What can a humble pedestrian do in the face of his fellow-citizens’ lack of respect for civic duty? One of my favorite little cities, Lawrence Kansas, not only issues citations, but the local paper publicly shames the offenders! I seriously doubt that the Providence Police or the newly-empowered DPW will start issuing citations to property owners, and I don’t see this getting much coverage aside from cranky bloggers like me (and GC:PVD). I’m considering creating an official-looking citation and sticking it on the doors of offending homeowners. Something bright orange and difficult to remove. If only there was a house-sized equivalent to the boot.

6 responses to “The Indignity of Walking: Snow Removal

  1. Here in NYC, they slap you with $120 fines for not clearing the sidewalk almost as soon as the snow stops falling.

    • The law here is a complicated formula of 8 hours after the snow, not including any time where it is dark. But it doesn’t matter because no one enforces the law anyhow. They increased the maximum fine from $300 to $500, but again, it doesn’t matter because the law is never enforced!

  2. I feel exactly the same way about walking. Ugh.

  3. Cars seem to yield to nobody these days, and give little room when passing. Did you get passed closely by any cars?

    If so you might want to carry a shovel: shovel handle across the front of your body, “blade” end out into traffic. This will make you more visible, and give people on a narrow road something more than just you to make room/slow down for…

    • Luckily, there were no close passes for me. For part of my walk, I had a stick in my hands and I stuck it out a little bit as a warning to approaching motorists. I’d then bring it back in front of me when I saw a car pulling more towards the middle of the street to give me more room. To accompany this strategy of “the stick” I also used a figurative “carrot.” In this case, smiling and giving a casual wave to motorists who gave me plenty of room as they passed.

      I took the Raleigh to work today. It was a little hairy at times, but still more pleasant than walking.

  4. Pingback: weather is not climate | Car-Free in PVD

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