When I moved to Waterloo, I was initially impressed by the winter path maintenance – the fact that there was any at all. In the part of Toronto I lived in, the city made no effort to keep any paths clear. But this year, snow clearance of the Laurel Trail has been so poor that the path is basically unusable.
During my commute last Tuesday, the state of the path was so poor that I was really pushing my limits in terms of bike control and physical exertion. On top of that, the ride was so bumpy that my bike’s chain jammed three times within the 300 metres I travelled along the trail.
The fact that the worst part of my commute is along a bicycle path says something about the state of the cycling network in winter. When the only way to travel by bicycle is to share space with fast-moving cars, few people will travel by bicycle. It doesn’t matter if it’s twenty degrees below freezing or twenty degrees above.
So I decided to take things into my own hands, and shovel the path myself from Seagram to University.
This was not purely an act of benevolence or frustration, I wanted to see if there was some intrinsic issue with that segment of path. I know that some paths are inherently impractical to clear, such as the unpaved segment of the Laurel Trail through Waterloo Park:
During my walk bringing the shovel from home to the trail, every single street and sidewalk I encountered was cleared to bare pavement. After all, it was above freezing and it had been many days since the last snowfall.
According to this notice I recently found taped to my front door, the city expects sidewalks to be cleared to bare pavement within 24 hours of each snowfall.
Clearly the Laurel Trail was in violation of this standard.
Thanks to the warm weather, I could clear a path simply by walking along with the shovel in front. There was clearly no characteristic making this segment of path abnormally difficult to clear.
It took about an hour for me to clear the 300 m segment, but if I had access to an actual snow plow, I probably could have done it in a couple minutes. The most frustrating part is that while I was doing this, the city’s plows were sitting idle in a garage somewhere.
Of course it has snowed again since I cleared the path, so my efforts may appear to have been in vain. But I have demonstrated that it is completely practical to maintain paved paths to a standard suitable for anyone, not just young athletic people with fat-bikes.
After all, given that we’re already paying to have these paths cleared, surely it’s worth doing the last centimetre to make them useable by everyone?
My decision to clear the Laurel Trail was unrelated to the warning I got for my own sidewalk (which ironically was in the same condition as the Laurel Trail). I cleared the Laurel Trail last Tuesday, and didn’t get the notice about my own sidewalk until this morning. The long delay in posting this article was because I was procrastinating researching the municipal standards for snow clearance. The city addressed that mental block by conveniently posting them on my front door.