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Monday, 20 December 2010

Snow, London's Nemesis

Keeping our streets snow free

Making steps in the city is a careful activity in the snowfall we’ve had this past week. London City Steps walks are more likely to be slushy trudges so get ready to be booted, with thermals and thick socks and layers upon layers of woollens. It looks like our local councils whose responsibility it is to keep our pavements snow-free, might be running out of grit later in the winter.

By the way, if it’s any help, a Himalayan guide once advised me to walk heel first on ice (legal caveat: use this advice at your peril, afterall he was a Himalayan guide used to such conditions).

London’s wrong type of snow

London copes poorly with snow you see, not for her the romantic vision of snowflakes shimmering and spiralling in moonlight – closer to the truth are irate commuters, train delays, snow clearing trains not coping due to the “wrong type of snow” and even our underground system (the “Tube”), failing. It’s havoc and standstill at a time when there’s so much to get done, presents to buy, mincepies to fill and pine trees to carry home.
So even if it’s our local council’s duty to clear the snow, what’s the neighbourly solution here which Londoners can expedite should they fail in this?

The start of public pavements

This takes logically and tangentially to one of our walks at London City Steps, the Classic Tour where our guides show a small forgotten square right beside Trafalgar Square; one Arthur Onslow, the Speaker of the House of Commons was in the 1710s visiting this square by Harrington House, when his horse drawn carriage got stuck in the tiny alleyway leading up to it. It was so tightly squeezed-in that Onslow was unable to open the carriage door to get out. In the end, they had to cut a hole in the top of his carriage and pull him out by his breeches and poor Onslow was forced to do something he hadn’t done before – walk the streets of London to get to his office down Whitehall. On that walk he saw muddy streets, the risks for pedestrians to not have a part of the road that was theirs with huge cartwheels passing close by. And on this walk, Onslow had his eureka moment – he recommended to Parliament that London should have series of paving stones for pedestrians to walk on and every household and business would be responsible for the creation and upkeep of a series of paving stones in front of their properties. And thus London’s pavements were created.

Clearing snow for neighbours - is it a good idea?

Anyway I digress: so the neighbourly solution to clearing snow? That we the citizens clear it from the front of our houses and businesses? Great idea but how does that stack up in this era of health and safety at Christmas (or should that be “elf and safety”). In Germany, USA, Austria and Switzerland there are legal requirements to clear snow even down to the millimetres thickness of the snow. Although London City Steps is not in the legal business, it seems in Blighty you could get in to a spot of bother for bothering to clear the snow – you see, if the snow you sweep away causes a nuisance in the place it’s swept away to it could cause a legal problem depending on how carelessly it was done. But really! Haven’t we really got to use some common sense here? Just to be neighbourly and just check on someone else? You know, we might just get a sense of community once more, but just don’t get swept away with the concept.

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