I didn’t believe that 20 inches of snow fell last week. But the National Weather Office says it’s true – the third worst storm since 1967, apparently. There are a few problems with assessing snow depth as an amateur onlooker. One, it was a blizzard, so there was a lot of uneven blowing around, drifts and banks of snow. Two – since it really didn’t look like 20 inches – I wonder if snow settles after it falls? Does it gradually compact even if you don’t trample it? Three: the effects of snow shovelling.
Shovelling and other forms of snow clearance are quite the winter recreation here. The roads themselves get cleared by the city authorities, leading to the following Facebook announcement on Wednesday after the snowfall:
Update 2/2/2011 6:25 a.m. Pedestrians Should Avoid Walking in Streets to Avoid Plows
Pedestrians are highly encouraged to stay of the actual streets as visibility is extremely low and snow plows may have a difficult time spotting them. Officials continue to remind residents that they should stay indoors during this snow event as they continue snow removal operations.
Anyway, the roads around us stayed silent and empty until mid-morning, when at last the snow plows cut a ribbon of dark grey tarmac through the even plain of snow stretching away from our window. A few students were out playing by lunchtime, and when we ventured out after lunch the pavement outside our building was still knee-deep. It was all very Good King Wenceslas, putting our feet into the hollows people had trodden before.
Clearing the sidewalks, or pavements as I like to call them, is the responsibility of whoever lives in the house or business next to them. This is fine if you’re renting an apartment from Northwestern, because Northwestern does the job for you with a special snow-clearing lawnmower type of thing. If, on the other hand, you are old and infirm, you can be put in touch with Evanston’s Snow Shoveling Program for Seniors, a sort of matchmaking organisation for young people with a need to shovel and the old with a need to get shovelled. Though my first reaction is to laugh at another wholesome Evanston activity, it’s probably a lifesaver: every winter, people have heart attacks from snow shovelling. A couple of Chicagoans may have died that way this year.
The major spinoff phenomenon from all this shovelling is the controversy over car parking spaces. Some maintain that, once you have dug out your car over several hours, you should be able to call dibs on that space for good. This means staking it out with garden furniture. Others think this is pathetic and are calling for a Chair-free Chicago. (I am not making this up.)
Not having a car, however, I can’t really get into this controversy, and thought I would use the remainder of this blog to highlight the plight of the pedestrian instead. Because: it’s all very well the city clearing the streets, and the people clearing the pavements… but who, exactly, is responsible for clearing the ridge of snow between pavement and street? If you are ever to stop circumnavigating your home block, how do you cross the road?
In my limited survey of Evanston and Chicago crossroads or, as the Americans like to call them, intersections I have encountered a variety of approaches. Some crossings are properly cleared. Some have a tunnel the width of one slim leg that you can tiptoe through across the ice. In many places, you must mount a hill of snow four feet high and stumble down again into the path of oncoming traffic. I know you think I’m exaggerating, British readers, but when the snow is this deep it is a very real health hazard.
I am calling for greater intersection awareness. I might even design a ribbon that looks like a crossroads. Because when you have an unemployed woman in Evanston, you have a woman in need of a cause.