As North America’s northeast digs out from a whopper of a snowfall, there is one topic that, not surprisingly, often comes up at these times and that is snow clearing and removal. That’s clearing and removal; two different beasts. The difference is simple, clearing involves pushing the fallen snow out of the way to allow for vehicles and pedestrians to get about. It’s a temporary measure that allows cities to function. On the other hand removal entails the actual permanent cartage of the snow from city streets to some end point. Clearance comes first, and takes place even as the snow falls. Removal is done once the snow gods have finished their work.
I consider myself to be very fortunate to live in a municipality on the island of Montreal that provides both excellent snow clearance and removal. For instance we are anticipating about 10 cms (almost 4 inches) of snow to accumulate today; only time will tell as we have often been expecting snow only to have it change to rain or miss us entirely – global warming I guess. Prior to the snow’s arrival trucks will lay down abrasive rock salt that will keep roads safe – it will eat your car as well, but that’s another issue. During the snowfall plows will keep streets clear so that cars, buses and, for those hardy souls who dare, bikes can get around. But before seven o’clock this evening the fluorescent orange No Parking From 7:00 to 19:00 signs will be erected on my street, giving motorists the legally required twelve hour notice.
Tomorrow the tow trucks will circulate making their hideous toodling noise warning any recalcitrant parkers that their cars are about to be hauled away and a big ticket left on the windshield. Then the snow will be removed by a small army of plows, dump trucks and a snow-blower. Viola! Do I live on a main thoroughfare or fire lane? Nope. Just a regular old street. Sadly other municipalities and boroughs in my area don’t deal with snow quite as effectively as mine, but then what are taxes for?
Of course it’s not just snowy icy roads that require maintenance, sidewalks must be cleared as well. One idea that arises once or twice a year it seems is the notion of having people take responsibility for clearing the snow and ice from the section of sidewalk in front of their home or place of business. Evidently there are European cities where this is the norm, but I have to wonder how much snow these cities get. It’s one thing to sweep away a dusting of snow, and quite another to shovel heavy snow and more importantly insure the ice is also taken care of.
I’m sure city officials would love to have people clearing snow in this manner. They could sell off most of their Bombardier sidewalk plows, even lay-off workers who would no longer be needed. But let’s bear something in mind, we are already paying for this service in our taxes. If people agreed to clear their own section of sidewalk, would they see a reduction in taxes? I think not.
And what about elderly and disabled citizens? And what if my neighbour does not do a very good job and I slip and hurt myself as I walk by, do I sue him or the city?
To me this sounds like the thin end of the wedge. Today it’s the snow in front of your house, tomorrow it’s pruning that tree on your front lawn that, by the way, belongs to the city. God forbid a streetlamp malfunctions and they ask us to shin up the pole and have a look. Should folks who live facing a park be expected to cut the grass? Can we pick up sacks of asphalt to use filling in potholes come spring?
This is a mentality that McDonald’s has very successfully driven into the minds of many of its customers. Clean up after yourselves so we don’t have to hire more staff. I have to admit I drop by said hamburger emporium every now and then, and worse, I bus my own table. Yes, I’m one who at some point drank the Kool-Aid and I now dump my own detritus in the trash and place my tray in the pile, like a good customer should. I have friends, some who work in the food industry, who berate me for this. “Next time just go in the back and make your own burger” they hoot at me. And of course they are correct. In 2013 McDonald’s Corp. had earnings of $28.1B; they don’t need any help.
Call me old fashioned, but while I seriously doubt many municipalities have a bankroll like McDonald’s, I do still believe there are some services that are best left to city administrations to provide. Snow clearance and removal fall into that category. After all, we are paying for it. Here is a link to an article from a few years ago in Maclean’s on the topic.