Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Sidewalks after a brief snowstorm (Jan. 24, 2008)

Current mood: hopeful

Long title or executive summary: If you even half try to clean a sidewalk after a snowfall, you will be rewarded in time with a bare, dry sidewalk. Not even to do that means you are endangering the safety of a lot of people, many of whom are bus riders. This discourages bus use and makes our use of cars more entrenched.

A couple days ago, in my blog post about traveling to a friend's calling hours, I mentioned the sloppy snow that came down that day here in Pittsburgh. There wasn't much, not quite two inches. In the next 36 hours, though, it first got sunny, then very cold. That snow didn't so much melt as turn to slop when it hit ground, then froze solid.

That in turn has made for some particularly nasty conditions for bus riders. Few things in pedestrians' lives are less pleasant than frozen slush.

Last night, I made an unexpected late evening trip home by bus and got to experience a variety of sidewalks first- ... um, first-foot. I started in Oakland, Pittsburgh's second Downtown, changed buses Downtown, then hoofed it about a mile across a school campus and along a couple of sidewalk-less suburban streets, before making it to my house.

The parking lot where I started was heavily salted, so was bare and dry. The place is visited daily by a large contingent of physically handicapped individuals, so of course its walkways will be sacrosanct when it comes to snow and ice removal.

Crossing the street, I first waited at a bus stop in front of an in-city convenience store (Centre at Neville, for you natives). The owner, or someone, had cleaned the sidewalk off pretty well. I hardly noticed any. Thank you, whomever!

Downtown, I had a five-block stroll between buses, all on major streets which tens of thousands of people trod each day (Sixth Avenue at Wood, then to Liberty Avenue between 7th and 9th Streets, then 9th itself to Penn Avenue -- an 81B-to-12A/1D transfer). Where there were empty storefronts, there was no snow removal at all. Other places were not only bare but dry, or had just scraps of frozen slop around objects like lamp posts and mailboxes.

At the next bus stop (9th at Penn Avenue), on the side of a corner pizza shop, apparently nobody cared to clean off the walk on 9th, though the front on Penn was quite clean. Clearly this owner cared about his shop traffic, but not one whit about bus riders. This was very treacherous, not only along the building wall but right up to street edge, where people have to step in order to board the bus. Only a path along the walkway, parallel to the street itself, was bare.

I do not know if anyone got hurt here, but it was so icy it was difficult to stand. The thing is, five minutes with a broom yesterday would have made it so much easier.

When I exited, I was in Car Heaven, the suburbs. Not a sidewalk to be seen, at least along a road. The school's parking lot and sidewalk were bare, though.

Finally, I faced my usual nemesis, Perrymont Road. Strangely enough, it wasn't that bad. The postman's delivery truck had made a nice path along the entire what-passes-for-a-shoulder, so it was fairly clear. I ran most of this, mainly because I was only wearing a sweater, and no cap, so in 21°F cold I was freezing. I was probably in the actual road for a lot of it, too, since it was dark and I could see oncoming traffic for hundreds of yards ahead. The road, of course, was spotless by this point.

Moral of the story, it doesn't take much to clear a sidewalk. Up to an inch or so, even a broom will do a decent job. Get it clear, including up to curb edge if you have care of a bus stop, and when the sun comes out, as it does even in snowy Pittsburgh, every last trace will magically disappear. But left to itself, it will get mushy then freeze, making for a very slippery, very unstable surface. Even we healthy adults have trouble negotiating this. Imagine what trouble it is for blind, lame, or heavy individuals, who cannot recover from even a minor unexpected weight shift.

As long as it is easier to get around by car, we will keep driving everywhere. My goal in life is to make it easier to get around by bus, even when it isn't convenient or would be the obvious first choice. Clear sidewalks would help so much!


bus15237 said...

I am reposting this on the hottest day of the summer to remind us all what winter is like. So, A, stop complaining about the heat, and, B, when the snow does return, clean off your sidewalks!

bus15237 said...

Comment on the original 2008 post:

Pittsburgh Storm
Great points! Take a moment out of your busy lives to take care of responsibility. People take the bus, kids walk to school, commerce is going on in front of the street. Let's go, people!