Of ice and men

January 19, 1994

Last winter we chided some of the city's leading businesses for failing to clear their sidewalks promptly after a snow storm. Many of them moved more quickly following Monday's snow/sleet/freezing rain, though it proved to be a mixed blessing. Pedestrians discovered that it's easier to walk on snow, even with a crust on it, than it is on sidewalks that have been cleared but have an icy sheen from the rain that fell into the evening.

Even drivers who know how to maneuver in the snow -- a rare but not non-existent breed around here -- are justifiably scared of ice. It is treacherous not just because it is so resistant to traction but also because it is hard to distinguish from simply wet pavement. And hardy pedestrians -- yes, there are even some of those around here -- would much rather trudge through several inches of snow than tread on icy sidewalks.

Still, the law is the law, not to mention simple consideration for fellow citizens. Property owners are required by city law to clear their sidewalks within three hours of the end of a snowfall, or by 11 a.m. if the storm ended overnight. And that means the full frontage of the property, not just a path from the entrance to the curb.

The everyday tension between motorists and pedestrians becomes more acute during icy conditions. Pedestrians who properly assert their right of way on dry streets need to remember that cars need two or three times more pavement to stop on slippery streets. And motorists need to be more tolerant of pedestrians who find it safer to walk in the curb lane than on ice-covered sidewalks. After all, the pedestrians also helped pay for the rock salt and crews that cleared the streets.

Monday's storm again points up the impact of a slight temperature variation. A little colder into the evening, and we would just have had a little more snow. A little warmer, and the rain would not have frozen on the pavement. It takes only a little moisture to create havoc when the ground converts it into slithery ice.

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