Thursday, February 28, 2019

Taking Care Of Business

See that dark spec next to the rectangular part of the yellow sign? That's a pedestrian.
This heavy Winter snow and deep cold we have had throughout February has sparked several conversations about how municipalities take care of, or don't take care of, cyclists and pedestrians. I do not want to frame this conversation in terms of "clearing recreational trails", but that is part of this story. I do want to say a few basic things regarding cities and towns and relate that to what our cities and towns should be doing as it relates to its people who walk and cycle.

I am somewhat fortunate in that I live in a city that does make efforts to clear off several sidewalks and bike paths for Wintertime passage of cyclists and walkers. However; the city adjacent to where I live does not do this, and its mayor was quoted recently as saying that this particular city "could not afford to do that" (meaning take care of plowing off the broad cycle/ped ways that run through various parts of this city.)

Okay, this is a sad state of affairs when a city cannot afford to provide safe passage through its own system of transportation for its citizens, no matter if they are in a car, or if they walk, or if they cycle. It's not going to fly very well if, say, the City decides that "Elm Avenue" (fictitious street to serve as an example here) cannot be cleared because, well, the City cannot afford to do that. Can you imagine the hue and cry that would go up if that happened in any city in the Upper Mid-West? Why? Because it is assumed that if you make a way, (paved, gravel, dirt, bike path, sidewalk, etc), that it should be accessible all year. Snow or no. A city that says, "we aren't clearing sidewalks and bike paths" is really saying that they cannot/will not care for citizens who choose, or have to use means other than cars to get around. 

This path was cleared up until a bridge crossing, and what then? Get on the street!
 See my image above where the curve ahead sign is and note the spec next to the rectangular part of the sign. That's a woman who was forced out in the street to walk because the path wasn't cleared properly in a few areas. Now she had to be in danger of being struck by a car because, by no fault of her own, she had no other option to move from where she was to where she wanted to go except by way of using the street for a bit.

This might be due to other causes, sure. However; I see the footprints and tire tracks on my commute. Not everyone gets around by car, and some have to use other means. Cities should be responsible for making sure their paved walkways and cyclepaths are cleared in Winter so people like the woman above don't have to choose walking in the street. If they "cannot afford" to be clearing off these right of ways, then why did they install them in the first place? It's like building fire stations and then saying you cannot afford to pay firemen to man them. Oh.......yeah. That's actually a thing too.....

It just makes sense to take care of those who cannot drive and must walk or cycle, and by extension, those who choose to do so. They are out there, whether you think they are crazy or not. (Some might say you are cray-cray for driving, so there is that) But what you think of these people doesn't matter, cities and towns exist for the mutual benefit of those who choose to live within their bounds. The government is tasked with the duty to "protect and to serve" its citizens. If then, a snow storm comes along and dumps snow on right of ways, be they for cars, buses, walkers, or bicycles, it is then incumbent upon the government to make sure its citizens can use these amenities which they are taxed for.

Car culture is catered to the point of the exclusion of other citizens that do not or cannot use cars. This is wrong. We have made a lot of progress in some areas, but we've got a lot further to go before we can say our cities are caring for its citizens in the way that is only decent.


Erin said...

Here in Germany the bike/walking paths are cleared BEFORE the streets in many cases. There are some paths that are clearly labeled "Kein Winterdienst" which means that they will not be cleared in winter but these are usually narrow paths through woods or other unpaved low travel paths. My winter commute is boring most of the season as the route is almost always clear regardless of temperature or precipitation.

Tim said...

The town where I reside does get to the pedestrian routes eventually, but as of the last month that is getting less priority as the snow piles up. More disconcerting to me are the businesses that choose not to make areas cleaned for people on foot and/or bike. Car culture continues to be predominate as much as the city touts being friendly to all forms of mobility. I don't expect that to change anytime soon so I choose be wear reflective/visible clothing so I'm seen even if I do get hit.

Michael said...

Eau Claire, WI usually does a good job with getting things cleared. With this February being one of the snowiest months on record things have been a bit “interesting” but I think that mostly has to do with everyone being swamped with work. Where we don’t do as well is getting some private businesses to plow their sidewalks. It’s not that uncommon to see an entire block of plowed sidewalk with one chunk of unplowed area in front of a business.

Mac said...

My town of 15000 in the Chicago suburbs plows all of its sidewalks with Bobcats. Apparently, it is a legacy of the 1950's debate allowing the installation of parking meters in the main business district. when residents were told that revenue from this would be sufficient for the task.

It definitely makes a significant difference in walkability for all residents.

Mike said...

I live in a Midwestern city of 500,000 - a city I might add that has been boasting about all the new protected bike lanes it has installed. Not a mile of those bike lanes has been plowed for months, so we have to ride in the street.

Scott said...

Most U.S. cities are designed and maintained for cars, not humans. It's an importance difference and a huge obstacle for those of us that prefer non-car methods of transportation.

mcasey said...

I haven't been able to ride to work because of the heavy amount of snow in the Twin Cites area. The snow banks are so high at the intersections that cars need to go farther into my lane in order to see if any one is coming before they pull out. Plus the width of lanes has shrunk to the point where 2 lanes plus a shoulder are now 1.5 lanes and no shoulders. Sure has taken the fun out of biking to work, way too dangerous.