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A snowy winter makes sidewalk issues a bigger deal

After a nice start to the fall, the latter part has been a mixed bag, with more than a dusting of snow to remind us what’s in store.

The forecast is for a more traditional winter, meaning cold and snowy at times. That’s in keeping with the up and down winters we’ve seen. If that’s the case, the first order of business is dealing with the large number of driving mishaps, as many of us are suddenly forced to remember that it’s no longer July out there on the roads. The second is actually removing the stuff from streets, sidewalks and driveways, almost nobody’s favourite part of winter.

Many of us, of course, will grumble about shoveling out the driveway – the less there is to do, the better. But, as always, it’s the sidewalks that will prove the most contentious, particularly in Elmira, where the township has a contractor clear the walkways. And the kind of arrangement that Wellesley is contemplating just now.

You might think that service would be more widely welcomed than it is, as someone else is doing the work.

Though we made it through the early stuff relatively unscathed, forecasts for a harsh winter might have us on edge before too long. People will complain about how long it takes crews to arrive, about the thoroughness and about the inevitable ripping up of lawn edges. Some will simply clear the sidewalks in front of their homes, rather than wait, a job that everyone else in the township is required to do – they don’t have a service, only a bylaw compelling them to do the work.

That the new contractor has been a big improvement will undoubtedly help, as was the case last winter.

In Elmira, complaints about the condition of the sidewalks surfaced almost immediately following the implementation of the township’s sidewalk-clearing measures. From the initial smaller-scale contract, council subsequently approved a plan to clear all walkways in Elmira, expanding the coverage area and enhancing the equipment used to do the job in an attempt to reduce the number of complaints about the service. A good idea in principle, but one that did not succeed in practice – some people are never going to be happy with the level of service offered by the township.

Prior to the new contract, there was another road of council discussions about the options, including putting the onus on individual property owners, a policy in play in neighbouring municipalities where bylaws make it each resident’s job to clear the stretch of sidewalk in front of his or her home. Failure to do so could result in fines, and a bill for costs if a public works crew comes out to do the job.

The advantage is that it removes the municipality from direct action – and the subsequent costs – but does require some form of enforcement. But people using the sidewalks are still subject to each household’s definition of an acceptable job: some clear right down to the concrete, while others are content to brush off the loose snow, allowing a thick layer of snow and ice to pack on the surface. Human nature dictates that we’re likely to be more tolerant of a “shoddy” job by our neighbours than by the municipality, where our tax dollars are in use: if we’re paying for it, no matter how little, we want a perfect job.

Given such high expectations, the township will never be able to live up to a level of service some demand. And a protracted winter will not help out collective mood.

 

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