Monday, January 05, 2009

Thaw Day

Twice now, since winter began, we've had a decent quantity of snow and then a day where the temperature goes well above freezing. The result of this, when there is enough of a base of snow, is that you get some melting, but not enough and when the temperature freezes again, all that snow becomes ice and the streets and sidewalks become incredibly slippery. My understanding from old-time Montrealers is that the increased frequency of this is relatively new. It used to stay cold here all winter.

It's very frustrating for me, because what could be an awesome opportunity to work collectively and clear the streets and sidewalks, becomes instead another burden for the city. It's just another example of how as a society we have become less and less self-reliant, less and less socially aware and more and more dependent on the government (about whom we all complain).

The thing about those thaw days is that the snow becomes incredibly easy to move. It breaks off of concrete easily and can be scraped (or broken if it's ice) and swept off to the side. It's much easier to handle than when it is just piles of cold snow. Furthermore, the warm weather is actively melting it, doing a lot of work for you.

What I do on these days is to clear off my stairs and the walk around my house, throwing the snow towards the sidewalk and curb. Then I do the sidewalk, pushing the snow and ice out into the street. Not just into the curb, but into the lanes of the street. As the cars go over it, they break it up and increase the melting rate. The water flows into the curb and then the drains. The job takes me no more than hour for my classic Plateau triplex and the sidewalk that runs its width.

Since Montreal is mainly multi-unit dwellings, almost every building has at least one person physically capable of doing this. Of course, other than me and the old Portuguese guys, nobody does anything. Instead, they just wait for the city to come by and drop gravel on it. Then they all bitch and complain about how slippery it is.

The city's primary expense for snow removal, I imagine, is fuel (with labour a close second). So it's really a question of how much volume they have to cart out. It pains me to see so much snow and ice still sitting on the ground the day after it reached 6 degrees celsius. Think how much fuel could have been saved if we all went out and did our part, throwing the sidewalk snow out into the street and getting it to melt? An hours work, which will give fatties some much-needed exercise, as well as some social camaraderie with your neighbours, is all it would take.

Then maybe the city could save a bit of money, moving it into public transport, to get more cars off the street in the winter.

Here's a great post by Alanah Heffez in SpacingMontreal critiquing our negative approach to winter. Great stuff.


Buzby said...

But I love the ice and the havoc it causes after a thaw day and I don't understand why everyone seems surprised about the ice.

Jason L said...

You should see the idiocy that happens out here on the west coast. It makes you guys look like snow geniuses. On the side streets many people just drive their cars into the parking spaces haphazardly so there are a jumble of vehicles at various angles to the curb. Also, because only a single lane has been driven through the show, every outing involves some sort of standoff with someone coming in the other direction.

OlmanFeelyus said...

I love the havoc too, but not in a city where we are all supposed to be a bunch of winter experts. I mean the entire Quebec mythology is based around winter. It is hilarious how when something is already predicted, people still act all freaked out. I mean aren't they at home the night before being stupid and lazy in front of the TV, which is blasting them non-stop with snow warnings? Humans.

Now Vancouver and the island must have been just awesome. I was talking to a lady from the bank in Nanaimo and she said there was a huge panic run at the supermarket the day before another storm was coming in, that people were fighting in the aisles. It's the end of the world! Hilarious.

I think we should have a mandatory conscription for a two-year service in the north for every young Canadian, where you learn about real winter and how to deal. Similar to the military conscription in Israel.