Transportation

Let's Start Shoveling Our Own Streets

By Jason Leach
Published March 12, 2008

Today's Spectator carried an interesting letter to the editor in opposition - on environmental grounds - to Councilor Brian McHattie's call for the city to clear all sidewalks in Ward 1:

Increased "walkability" may or may not result in more cars being left at home. What is certain is that shovels are more environmentally friendly than snowplows.

McHattie stated (quite accurately from my perspective as a Ward 1 pedestrian) that clearing all sidewalk would allow people to walk around the neighbourhood more easily.

There are certainly a large number of seniors and residents who don't own a car in Ward 1 and other downtown area wards.

Today's letter suggests that shovels are a more environmentally friendly method of removing snow than snowplows. Fair enough.

I assume this writer will be happy to let her neighbours know that they are now responsible to shovel their street after every snowfall.

After all, if shovels are good enough for one mode of transportation and environmentally superior, they should be good enough for all.

Jason Leach was born and raised in the Hammer and currently lives downtown with his wife and children. You can follow him on twitter.

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By Frank (registered) | Posted March 12, 2008 at 14:15:49

Jason... what are you saying??? haha! I am of the conviction that if you own a house that has a sidewalk that's not shovelled you should be liable for a fine as well as any damages resulting from injuries to persons using the unshovelled walkway. Too often I see people who are to lazy to even shovel their driveway and just plowed down it with their car. When you own property with a boulevard you mow it and so you should shovel your sidewalk. As far as elderly people and others who are unable to do the duty, there's a program here in Hamilton called Snow Angels. Check it out...

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By Frank (registered) | Posted March 12, 2008 at 14:27:18

Jason... what are you saying??? haha! I am of the conviction that if you own a house that has a sidewalk that's not shovelled you should be liable for a fine as well as any damages resulting from injuries to persons using the unshovelled walkway. Too often I see people who are to lazy to even shovel their driveway and just plowed down it with their car. When you own property with a boulevard you mow it and so you should shovel your sidewalk. As far as elderly people and others who are unable to do the duty, there's a program here in Hamilton called Snow Angels. Check it out...

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By Frank (registered) | Posted March 12, 2008 at 14:29:23

One more thing...I'm sick of people shovelling their snow onto the road. What's up with bylaw that they can't enforce something like that? It's quite dangerous especially if the street is already narrowed because of snow piles on either side...

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By ventrems (registered) | Posted March 12, 2008 at 15:26:06

not everyone is lazy. some people are physically unable to shovel (snow angels is news to me). some people might be out of town when it snows. some people might have a midterm to get to the morning it snows. far too many people are unreasonable ("it's just going to melt anyway!"). the rest are lazy... haha.

a snow clearing service would ensure that all the sidewalks are clear. yes, this would increase greenhouse gas emmissions, but i think sidewalk safety trumps that issue. we could also just increase bylaw enforcement.

an important consideration is the salting of streets/sidewalks, which is very important (thems sidewalks are slippery after thems been cleared). salt is very damaging to the environment and there are more harmless ways of accomplishing the same thing. more $$ of course... typical.

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By Joe H (anonymous) | Posted March 12, 2008 at 16:08:50

On top of this, what about the fact that tons of people use snowblowers instead of a shovel? Our street is 8 houses long, and we have 2 people who own snowblowers and have done our entire sidewalk before I'm close to being out the door. A snowplow on a bobcat would finish the entire sidewalk before one individual with a snowblower has finished a single house. Which is more environmentally friendly? Like every environmental issue, there's never a black and white, just a gray and a gray...

I totally agree on the salt comment above - we have stopped using salt on our sidewalk, and hope everyone moves this direction.

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By Frank (registered) | Posted March 13, 2008 at 08:52:12

What I'm curious about is why in Hamilton do we use all salt? I don't see any sand on the roads. Back in Beamsville where I grew up, as soon as it snows they put down sand. Salt I believe only works at temperatures above -3 degrees C but sand gives traction anytime... why can't we use it?

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By MediaWatch (anonymous) | Posted March 13, 2008 at 12:19:00

I have a sidewalk. What about those who don't. Why should they have to pay? McHattie has never met a tax hike he didn't like!

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By jason (registered) | Posted March 13, 2008 at 13:55:08

hmmm, thats a good point MediaWatch. I bet all the folks in the city who don't own cars would be very interested to hear your idea. Imagine the money they could save by skipping out on the "roads" portion of our tax bill?

All sarcasim aside...taxes and society work hand in hand. Folks who neever have kids still pay into the school system. Folks who never use a hospital still pay taxes to support health care. People who never use transit help provide the service for others. Those who don't own cars pay taxes to provide nice roads and highways for those who drive. etc.....
As George Costanza once bellowed in an airport - "WE'RE LIVING IN A SOCIETY!"

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By markwhittle (registered) - website | Posted March 13, 2008 at 14:25:30

After reading councillor Brian McHattie's musings on snow removal I'm left with the distinct impression Mr. McHattie has become detached from reality.

We homeowners are facing an unprecedented tax increase of 7.5% and an accumulated debt exceeding $600 million dollars and counting.

In light of those hard realities perhaps councillor McHattie should start concentrating on making the hard financial decisions like cutting costs and reducing the city's 9,000 strong workforce in the face of Hamilton's declining economy before floating anymore schemes like shovelling sidewalks for his constituents to lazy or incapable of doing the job themselves, then sticking them with the usurious costs on their tax bills.

On the street where I live we help residents who can't clear their own snow if they are to old and frail to do it themselves.

That's what good neighbours do.

As to the rest who fail to clear their snow off sidewalks Hamilton should enforce the By-laws, remove the snow and bill the offenders accordingly.

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By statius (registered) | Posted March 13, 2008 at 19:11:53

You're quite a ways off here.

Firstly, Hamilton's economy is not "declining" but rather growing at a rate slightly above the national average. Do read the paper before you accuse others of being "detached from reality".

Secondly, the suggestion that the elderly and infirm should rely on the kindness of strangers (on the basis of the ridiculous platitude "That's what good neighbours do") is stupid beyond words. Most neighbourhoods are not like yours. In most neighbourhoods the elderly and infirm are left to fend for themselves. They have neither the monetary resources to hire others nor the physical ability to clear their walks - and you're suggesting that we strictly enforce punitive by-laws against these people?

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By MediaWatch (anonymous) | Posted March 14, 2008 at 10:08:20

For once I must disagree with the learned Mr. Statius. It isn't just a question of looking after the infirm. We do that already through many health and related programs. The issue is about imposing a level taxation for a problem that doesn't in the main exist. Sure all would like the ultimate in service and perhaps sidewalk snow clearing might be appropriate. The question is can we afford it. Snow is a seasonal inconvenience. Sidewalks are for the most part cleared. Let's deal with the exception, rather than making rules for all that don't apply.

AS for Jason's road hating rants. Jason, even those who don't have cars need roads. Where do buses travel? Where do ambulances travel? Where do trucks who stock grocery stores travel? How about school buses? Your analogy is woefully limited, as usual.

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted March 14, 2008 at 11:35:19

When I first heard about McHattie's proposal, I didn't like it. I take pride in shoveling early and often (having kids who love to play outside helps in this regard), and I feel in my gut that people ought to take responsibility for their sidewalks.

However, as I've thought about it more, discussed it with people who don't own cars and/or have physical disabilities that make it difficult to walk over piled snow and ice, and encountered several people who were injured in falls, I've seriously started to rethink my visceral opposition.

I'm starting to like the proposal, and here's why:

  1. Despite MediaWatch's assertion that a problem "doesn't in the main exist", the ability to move freely along the sidewalk is both a) essential to a mobile, accessible society and b) in serious jeopardy when sidewalks aren't shoveled.

As for how widespread the problem is, you need go no farther than ask the next Canada Post letter carrier you run across: it's widespread, a major irritant, and a source of far too many preventable injuries.

  1. I believe that access for pedestrians on the sidewalk is at least as important as access to motorists on the street. However, as a city we value the latter enough to pay collectively for snow clearance but not the former. This seems to reflect an automotive bias in our priorities.

  2. I could write a whole book about the role of "ought" in political discussion, but I'll suffice with the following:

People do not behave the way they "ought" to.

No amount of moralizing, browbeating or punitive enforcement will change this, except temporarily, superficially, and at endlessly escalating cost. (See, for example, the US War on Drugs, which has done nothing to reduce drug use but has produced the highest incarceration rate in the world.)

In short, the way people "ought" to behave is strictly irrelevant and even a dangerous distraction when trying to decide on a public policy around the way people do behave.

So to conclude: If we value mobility enough to spend public money clearing the streets for motorists, then it follows that we should also value mobility enough to spend public money clearing the sidewalks for pedestrians - especially as those pedestrians are often among the most vulnerable people in our city.

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By jason (registered) | Posted March 14, 2008 at 13:53:33

there's nothing 'road-hating' about this blog at all. I believe that all modes of transportation are equal. Just because you do not, does not make me a 'road-hater'. If it's ok to leave bus stops, sidewalks and bike lanes covered in a foot of snow and ice, then it should also be ok to do the same on some of our roadways.

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By Capitalist (anonymous) | Posted March 14, 2008 at 17:03:44

If people can not shovel their sidewalks they should reconsider where they are living. Taxes are already way too high in Hamilton.

Jason, if something like this is implemented, wouldn't people who live in high density condos/apartments be subsidizing "urban sprawl" housing. Think about it.

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By shoveling it (anonymous) | Posted March 14, 2008 at 17:56:21

as far as i know you get charged different rates based on how much frontage you've got.

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By jason (registered) | Posted March 14, 2008 at 19:50:21

capitalist... high rise dwellers would benefit the most from this idea as they are the most likely to walk. it's about people being able to get around safely without having to walk on the road (which is always completely cleared and in many cases, bare within hours of a storm). I find it hilarious to read comments from people who wouldn't dream of city streets not being cleared, yet have no problem if sidewalks remain snow covered for the entire winter. How stupid of me to forget that car drivers are so much more important in our society, and pedestrians and transit users deserve to climb through snowbanks if they are going to choose to not use a car.

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By Cityjoe (anonymous) | Posted March 15, 2008 at 01:33:52

I don't have a sidewalk, but i do pay in taxes to have the main street sidewalks cleared, Probably 85% of those sidewalks are located in front of business'. So are we making things easier for pedestrains/shoppers, or just picking up another tab for business'? (In other cities, the business' are responsible for clearing their own sidewalks, as are home owners.)

One thing I have noticed is that snow is cleared from roads onto sidewalks by the City, then later, the sidewalk is cleared with a Bobcat,& snow often pushed back onto the road. The City then does a 'clean up' of the curbs & gutters, putting the snow back onto the sidewalk again ......etc., etc, etc.

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By highwater (registered) | Posted March 15, 2008 at 13:27:35

I can assure you mediawatch, that the problem does indeed exist very much in my neighbourhood. I am quite sure that this proposal did not spring fully formed from McHattie's head, but rather was a response to numerous citizen complaints. There is a reason that support for this proposal has been running at 2:1 in favour in Ward 1.

I live in Westdale which is a very walkable neighbourhood 3 seasons out of the year. Families continue to move here for that very reason. But because of the high rate of student rentals in our area, the sidewalks become all but impassable in winter(and yes, cityjoe, unfortunately some of our businesses are repeat offenders as well). Because of the state of our sidewalks, people, especially parents with kids in strollers like me, are forced to walk on the roads, which are already narrow, and made narrower by snowbanks and all the on-street parking. Sleds are no help because the snowbanks at corners are so high, you are still forced onto the road. There is no bussing to speak of at George R. Allan and Dalewood. Hundreds of kids are walking to school everyday in these conditions. It's a miracle no one's been hit. The many seniors in our area who would normally walk out to the coffee shops everyday, are often housebound.

Pious sermons about how everyone 'should' shovel because it's the 'neighbourly' thing to do, don't do me much good when I'm struggling over snowbanks with my kids on the way to school. Enforcement is a non-starter as well. It takes several days to issue a compliance order, and several more to follow up, not to mention the cost of the army of bylaw officers we would need to go after the hundreds of rental properties in our area.

If you live in a ward where there are no sidewalks, or everyone does their civic duty, consider yourself lucky (well, except for the no sidewalks part). Contact your councillor and tell him/her that you would not be interested in a program like this in your ward. But please, walk a mile in our snowshoes before telling those of us who walk the streets in Westdale to rely on enforcement and the good graces of absentee landlords.

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By ventrems (registered) | Posted March 15, 2008 at 13:53:04

Cityjoe: Interesting point. I think businesses should foot their share of the tax bill given the sidewalks infront of their shops...

Mark Whittle: So you want to lay off some of the 9000-strong city workforce, but also increase bylaw enforcement. You might want to do that math again.

Just to clarify, this snow clearing service is for snow greater than 2 inches. For everyone who loves shovelling snow, you'll still have plenty of opportunities. You could count on your toes how many snow storms we've had that dumped more than that.

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