Toronto was hit by an early snowstorm this week. Oh, the humanity.
The city, thank goodness, stopped short of calling in the army this time. It is still wincing from the richly deserved ridicule it suffered when mayor Mel Lastman summoned the troops after a giant snowstorm in 1999.
Still, there was a bit of fuss this time over the state of the sidewalks. Many businesses and homeowners, perhaps unprepared for so much snow so soon, left theirs uncleared for an unconscionable length of time.
That led some city councillors and residents groups to call for a big overhaul in how Toronto clears its snow for pedestrians. In the suburbs, they note, city workers come along after a snowfall to clear the sidewalks. They even clear the windrows – the piles of snow left by the plows in front of driveways. Not so in the centre of the city. The sadly oppressed people of downtown Toronto have to do their own shovelling.
Josh Matlow was sounding positively Albertan about the snow-shovelling gap. “I think the displeasure has been there for many years,” the city councillor for Ward 12 said. “The anger is growing.”
Stephen Cameron-Smith of the Deer Park Residents Group complained that with people in the suburbs getting their snow cleared and those in his Yonge-and-St. Clair neighbourhood of $2-million houses enjoying no such service, “There’s some equity things going on here.” Pointing to the snow-covered sidewalk on his block, he told the CBC: “It’s embarrassing for me.”
The injustice of it! The flagrant unfairness of treating householders with narrow hard-to-plow sidewalks in the Annex differently from those with wide easier-to-plow sidewalks in Scarborough.
People like him want the city to start removing the snow from their sidewalks, just as it does in the burbs. They complained bitterly after a big snowstorm last winter left many sidewalks covered for days. The early snowfall this week stoked their sense of grievance. The city has agreed to conduct a pilot project with small snow plows to see whether it might be feasible to clear the 1,400 kilometres (out of 7,900 citywide) that it doesn’t clear at present.
Of course there is another solution. People could shovel their damned walks. They could get out in the fresh air and put in a little effort. They could spend a few minutes contributing to the common good. Is that really too much to ask?
Uncleared walks can be treacherous. Snow left on the pavement with people treading on it soon turns to ice. Ice causes falls. Older people are especially vulnerable. Clearing your walk is a basic and not very onerous civic duty. It is something we do not just for ourselves but for others, neighbours and strangers both. That is why an old, classically Canadian city campaign enjoined Torontonians to Be Nice, Clear Your Ice.
Instead, the snow-gap crowd wants city hall to do their job for them. The Deer Park group even has a slogan: Clear Our Sidewalks, which is succinct if nothing else. What is next? Will a horde of North Toronto homeowners descend on Nathan Phillips Square to burn their shovels on a protest bonfire and chant: No snow plows, no peace; no ice on our streets. There must be better targets for their ardour.
Downtowners are not so hard done by. As a report by city staff notes, some other regional cities, such as Brampton and Hamilton, don’t get their sidewalks cleared either. If Toronto residents are too old or too infirm to shovel, they can apply to get the city to do it for them at no cost. Otherwise, the rules say they should clear their walks within 12 hours of a snowfall.
Rather than plowing downtown sidewalks, the city could try a little harder to enforce this often-flouted bylaw. And it could do a better job of clearing the walks promptly for those who can’t. But the main onus is on the able-bodied majority who have walks and could shovel them. It is really quite simple, Toronto: Be nice, clear your ice.