they call it snowy monday…

While it’s not really the first snow of the year, it seems our increasingly online existence is taking it’s toll. Especially when it comes to dealing with real time events like snow. Even the city of Montréal has succumbed to the “melting is part of our snow removal policy” much to the chagrin of several people on the receiving end. This time though, everybody getts involved as you can see below.

Certainly won’t be the last time, and won’t change bureaucratic minds interested in garnering publicity value. Otherwise it’s been a beautiful day and I can’t wait to share what I found tomorrow.

Incowrimo – feb 19 (part 3)


In case it means something to you, those are Caterpillar-D8’s on that hill. On a good day there can be 7 or 8 of them up there plus a Komatsu or two for good measure. And yes it’s all snow.

I managed to write several letters today and have managed to close the gap that opened at the beginning of the week. Clear blue skies brightened things up for a bit and I had time to think about snow. Weather for Canadians is like a hardened crust of bread. It can be a topic of conversation, but it’s often the only thing on the table and not very good if you don’t know how to deal with it. The weather that is.

After posting about snow a couple of days ago, fondness had me looking at a lot of footage of snow clearing in Montreal. Living there for fifteen years never dulled the thrill of hearing the towtruck horns announcing the coming parade. Like a circus complete with trained seals and clowns, the whole shebang rolled down the street in a foundation rattling thunder. Rushing out to move a car and then huddling inside to watch the procession never once seemed like privation. It made me understand what we could attain as a high mark in civilization in a harsh, northern, snow-filled land. Inhabiting Mars isn’t going to happen just by sitting around playing with our cell-phones.

Montreal is only two hours drive from here, but in approach it could be a different planet. The more I watched, the more I knew this topic deserved more than a just a passing glance. A city with more than 6,500 kms of road that gets roughly 225cm of snow every year. And doesn’t shirk it’s civic responsibility. They’re building a culture. Happily. And snow removal plays a big part.

If the above didn’t make complete sense, it translates to 4,000 miles of road that get nearly 7½ feet of snow on an average year. Often in 5 or 6 major snow ‘events’.  And event would be the proper term.

It unleashes an immense tactical operation that may go on for more than a week. 2,200 dedicated vehicles manned by 3,000 specialized employees. They take to the streets in precision, skill and training with a certain celebration of life that even in the middle of the night when I hear that massive rumble it still makes me ‘tax-dollar proud’.

Imagine if it helps, that each major event has enough snow to completely fill the Houston Astrodome to the lid. Twice. And that hill at the top of this post? More than once it’s been declared an aviation hazard and officials have demanded it lit. There are now 10 piles around the city mixed in with a dozen other sites.

It’s impressive if not just entertaining, but more important are the implications to civic life. And that’s what has caught my attention and I want to continue to write about. So along with my daily letters I’m preparing a little summation about civics and snow. Alarming and fascinating I can’t wait til my research is done.

*note: the clip above is provincial highway clearing and doesn’t represent municipal efforts but is equally amazing non the less :)

Incowrimo – feb 16 part 2


If you’re Canadianfrom Winnipeg, Edmonton or anywhere outside of the GTA; a sight like this isn’t going to be special or even something to write home about. **

It means that although I did get to stick some new pins in the map; I didn’t get take as much time to write.

I grew up in what is known as a snow belt, so this snow isn’t a shocker by any means. But for people living in places like Singapore, Quezon City and Delray Beach this would be the picture to represent at least a couple of hundred words.

People have asked about winter, what it’s like and the snow, so I thought I would take time to share a brief post.

For the most part, winter can be like this. Large storm systems blowing in much like thunder or tropical storms. Today it began in the morning and this picture was taken at the end of the afternoon.  About 35cm fell by then (about 14″) and as it’s wrapping up to be a total of 50cm (or 19.5″) by the time it’s over tonight.

What this means is that in order to go to work, or even the store, you have consider that you have to shovel out. The car you parked outside work this morning, yes you’ll have to shovel it too because this is most likely what it’ll look like.  You never get used to it, you wont like it and it’s not something you ever look forward too. Especially if it’s bitterly cold. And dark.

In fact we’ve been pretty lucky today in that it’s been a very cold week. We woke up on Saturday to see our thermometer at -40C the magic number where farenheit and celsius meet. Cold weather like this is generally dry and makes the snow light and fluffy. Closer to freezing, it becomes waterlogged and heavy; weighs a ton and is real hard to move. The bright side is these storms rarely last long and the snowfall will end by tonite. That leaves only a relatively light shovelling tommorrow.

If you can imagine, there are winters and places in Canada that can get nearly this much snow every day. Say maybe 30cm (about 12″) for several days in a row. And occasionally this will go on for a week or two. It’s unusual for it to snow like this for more than three or four days a couple of times during the winter and would only be considered unusually heavy if a bunch of these storms followed one another for the better part of a month. One or two storms do not a bad winter make.

Lately the media in search of attention has made a great deal out of these storms. The fact is that municipalities in this country have relinquished their desire to clear snow.

As far as I know, Montreal and many parts of Quebec are the only places that still take clearing roads seriously. In Ottawa, a city with a moderate snow, plowing may not even start on many roads until 10cm (4″) or more has accumulated or 10-16 hours AFTER the storm has started depending on which one is worse. This can be read both ways and is, and the majority of roadways may not be plowed for 24-36 hours. It’s a bit of a disgrace, but makes great news. And everyone has something to twitter about.

I hope one day to post pictures of a heavy winter, but for now this snapshot will do. Sorry for those who find this pedestrian and boring. I’ve only become aware through corresponding this past year just how much daily life we take for granted. And how it could be fascinating for someone else. Meanwhile I hope it’s more pins and letters tomorrow and the postbox will be filled.

And in case no one has mentioned it, snow clearing in Montreal should be on everyone’s bucket list.  After a storm it’s all done in 36 hours.With regular swipes every couple of weeks.

The link below for those who are interested, is a residential street close to where I used to live. Filmed just 3 weeks ago. Although it’s longish and I didn’t add the commentary (bad language alert) it is worth watching to the end. Especially if you’ve never seen this kind of thing.

** (note)  I’m not being unkind to people west of the Rockies. It’s already complicated to explain Canada’s regions. That we’re so big and really diverse. It isn’t personal, and I don’t pretend to ignore you, it’s just you’re so different and I know you’re big kids and able to speak for yourself.

Abandon all hope ye who enter here.

transit-1937-ford-busIt’s said the road to hell is paved with good intentions; but these days you could pretty much pick any road.

Given the dominance of motorized transport in our world, I’ve always wondered why we can’t find something better than fantasy and good intention to design how we move about in cities.

Some way of thinking that has an actual chance of real world success.

It doesn’t take a genius to realize the current mish-mash of broken dreams and failed potential is a mess. And not being good at dialectics we focus more intently on waiting for our chance to swerve into the next lane because we know it’s always faster …Utopia awaits, or so say the visionaries, preachers and hucksters alike.

Mad Max was a guy in a similar fix. His answer? “Hope is a dangerous fantasy to pin your life on …You have a better chance if you fix the problems you already have”.

So, I say “I’m in, where do we start?”

When I was a kid in the 60’s, all cars had speedometer with ridiculous speeds on them. They still do.

Like duh …what’s up with that? There are no public road that will ever let you drive that fast? But I was missing the point.

That speedometer gives us the room and power to take on the world and always come out number one. It shows we own a monster. A mighty engine capable of crushing, passing and intimidating anything in our path. It’s our visible proof. And like the other tricks we’re prey to; that speedometer convinces us that if called upon – we’re better, stronger and more skilled than anyone else.

We watch movies about it. The magic day arrives. Finally we are let loose to battle to the death, triumph and rise the victor. Winner takes all. And all this possible with our car. The most potent dream of power and freedom we’ll ever set our hands on. It’s no accident we like calling our roads a ‘snarl’ and continue to put up with it.

And it’s no wonder we pay so much for them. In comparison it’s no wonder that public transport is so hard to sell.

When it comes to transport; the thought of abandoning the disaster we confuse as individual freedom seems like madness. And coming up with cohesive ways to integrate our daily travel isn’t on anyone’s books.  Resistance is futile!

But there’s got to be another way. There always is.

Public transit like garbage is one of those areas where people come in direct contact with their government. A place you get to feel the effects of political, administrative and planning decisions in a forceful way. A mistake made here is clear and the consequences are deeply felt.

The basis of most bureaucratic, administrative and political work for the past fifty years has been grounded in an ability to personally avoid the consequences of decisions. And we all can sense the result has been a complete disaster.

Regardless, we’re not going to change any time soon but that is no reason to avoid thinking about better scenarios.

I often try to imagine the impact of small, simple, and no cost changes that could radically change our lives and politics for the better. It’s fun and a challenge. Sitting in traffic this morning I came up with a good one.

Imagine if the law required that every Mayor, Councillor, person who sits on a board or committee involved with transportation, every transport planner and designer, and every manager and executive in the city’s transport division had to use public transport exclusively for a one month period every year. And that failure to do so would be grounds for dismissal.

Just to make it a little more interesting; imagine it applied to their immediate family as well. Their spouses and children would have the same requirement as well. Their failure to ride the buses would put their jobs on the line as well. Hell, we could even afford to give them all free passes just for making the effort.

And to give it a little kick, let’s say this month had to February.  And like bike to work month we could celebrate city wide! They could be required to wear a ribbon month and take the pledge. Only this time it would have teeth. I can hear the heartfelt conversations around every dinner table about the crappy state of affairs.

How long do you think before the current state of public transit changed? What kind of changes do you think we’d see?

Personally, I believe people don’t use things because they don’t work.

Forcing people to use things that they’ve created and are responsible for seems like a sensible idea yah? Especially when they have both tools and power to fix it when it doesn’t work.  Just sayin’.

All of a sudden these people would have a superpower ability called insight. And they could use it to find practical and useful solutions in a way that has been the norm for most of human history . A month taking public transit and living with people who used it and you might be tempted to develop realistic solutions AND implement them.

The sooner we allow people who use things to take control of them and give them the ability to fix them instead of leaving it all to experts, the sooner we can get drop our stupid fantasy solutions and get on with real life.

In fact this could be a new kind of goal for civic institutions, but maybe that’s asking too much :P