Saturday, March 7, 2015

The unrelenting winter of our discontent

I'm taking a bit of a diversion this weekend from the arts and tackling a problem that is for many of us the bane of our existence in Niagara this winter...Winter.  It seems to have gone on forever, although in reality it was just one month that did a lot of us in.

I recall a reasonably mild Christmas this year, and in fact driving the car over to the wash bays to wash it on Boxing Day the temperatures were so mild.  January did get cold, but we didn't really get a lot of snow and we had a fair amount of sunshine, so that helped get us through those long, cold winter days.  And the proverbial January thaw never really materialized.

It wasn't until February rolled around that things took a turn for the worse and most of us decided we had had enough of winter this year, thank you very much.  Something like 30+ cold weather alerts, a major snowstorm along with several lesser snowfalls, and bitterly cold temperatures for the entire month.

Dealing with the public on a daily basis, I found people became rather, well, surly might be the best way to describe it, as the month of February wore on.  Thank goodness it is a short month!  That's about all the good we can find in the month that was.

Once March arrived, there was at least a modicum of hope; the days are getting longer and Daylight Savings Time arrives overnight tonight, in fact.  The sun, now higher in the sky than in January and a little bit stronger because of it, is starting to melt the mountains of snow that surround us.  Oh we'll have snow on the ground for a while yet, but at least we can see the light at the end of the tunnel.

Traditionally we still get snow in March and I venture a guess this year will be no different.  But snow in April?  It has happened in recent memory, so be prepared.  That being said, I always take it upon myself to not shovel snow after Easter no matter what, since it will generally quickly melt at that point anyway.

But that brings us to the crux of the problem I want to address here this evening.  I know we are into March and the snow is starting to melt just a little bit, but as I discovered on my late-afternoon walk today, many people have either forgotten or chosen to ignore clearing the snow on their sidewalks.

I counted several households on my 20-minute walk having made what appears to be no attempt to clear the snow on sidewalks whatsoever.  While they are still negotiable, it is not as easy as on bare concrete, which is what you as a responsible homeowner are expected to provide.

Years ago we had a gentleman living on our street who simply refused to clear his corner lot sidewalks of snow for the duration of the winter, and eventually the city came by with a warning to clear his snow within 24 hours or they would do it for him and add it to his property tax bill.  That is the protocol, as I understand it, in a situation like this.

Problem was, the bylaw officer after issuing that notice to the offending homeowner, then proceeded to drop notices in mailboxes all along our street that we also had 24 hours to clear our sidewalks as well.  This did not sit well with a lot of us, since we were all being diligent clearing the snow quickly and to the best of our ability given the frozen conditions.

The issue was with the bare concrete - or rather, the absence of it.  Most of us, myself included at the time, cleared as much as we could, but if the layer of snow and ice could not be totally cleared down to the concrete, we felt we could live with it.  Once the notice came, however, all that changed.

I still remember being out there that evening after work with my ice chipper and shovel, braving the cold to clear the rest of the frozen stuff on the sidewalk before the next day when the officer was expected to return and inspect the sidewalks.  I had more than a few unkind things to say about the person at the time as I recall.

Since then, I have taken it upon myself - as have others on our street - to clear the snow right down to the concrete as quickly as possible after a snowstorm.  Even the guy who caused the city visit in the first place has been doing his part to clear his sidewalk as well.

I can't count the number of bags of salt I have gone through the past few winters, but I know the four giant bags of ice melter I had prior to this season is now down to barely half of one bag now with several more weeks of winter expected.  I shudder to think what might happen should I run out before the snow gives out this season.

But I will not get caught again, so I remain diligent in the clearing of snow as quickly as possible after a so-called "snow event."

So what of the others?  I would rather not rat them out to city hall, although I am sorely tempted to do so after the dismal shape I saw the sidewalks in after my walk this evening.  Surely they have the ability and drive to make the sidewalks safer for everyone, right?  One would hope so.

I recall the late Canadian author and cartoonist Ben Wicks, whom I had the pleasure of meeting and interviewing on several occasions years ago, who voiced the now classic television commercial extolling Toronto residents in his uniquely British accent to "Be nice, clear your ice."

Ben had the right idea.  I hope others will pay heed to that wise suggestion and get rid of that snowy slop on our sidewalks so it is safer for walking very soon.

Surely that isn't too much to ask at this point in it?

Have a good weekend!

March 7th, 2015.

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