Living The Dream?

Friday was day 3 of the snow days. It was time to venture out of the house.

My eldest is very much an outdoor boy and he had been out every day sledging, throwing snowballs and launching himself into snowdrifts. My youngest is happy outdoors, but hates to get cold (she also loves to play in water but hates to get wet – this is often a problem) she hadn’t been out for more than a few minutes since the snow started.

But Friday is ballet day and my youngest loves her ballet.

The class still seemed to be on despite the snow, so we wrapped up and trudged off. And some trudge it was.

We should have been able to walk to the class in about 15 minutes. It took half an hour.

Now, I appreciate that the weather conditions have been somewhat extreme, what with red weather warnings and all. I also appreciate that councils have a nightmare of a job to do in trying to clear routes to enable folk to travel. I appreciate that they have to prioritise which routes to clear first. In my area, this prioritisation seems to be best described as ‘roads, not paths or pavements’.

I do understand that emergency vehicles must be able to get through. I appreciate that people must be able to get to work in order to operate those emergency vehicles. There are lots of reasons why there is a pressing need to keep roads cleared.

However, clearing four lanes for cars by ploughing the snow on to the pavement seems a little unfair.

There’s a pavement under there somewhere

My three year old was in tears trying to walk down this. The snow was a foot deep in places and lumpy and compacted. The only passable bit was so narrow that I had to try and walk behind her whilst holding her hand – not easy when it is slippy. We moved aside to let an older lady pass. She was seriously struggling to walk through this with a walking stick whilst carrying her shopping. Yet this is the only way to walk from a fairly large number of houses to the nearest shops. It is also the way to the nearest bus stop. It is a busy pavement, and it was barely passable.

So, when we got home, I did what many of us are now inclined to do – I went on Twitter and complained.

I got a fairly bog standard response. I am guessing that @edinhelp were receiving rather a lot of similar tweets.

So I had my own private rant to myself. What is the point in a council talking about active travel if it is not supported by real action? Why is it that the motor vehicle is still seen as King in our society? How can anyone justify clearing 4 lanes for cars whilst making the pavement impassable, especially when the official advice is not to venture out by car unless you absolutely have to? And so on and so on.

It was a good rant.

But it didn’t make any difference.

With my husband at home, I left the kids in the house and trudged off again in the afternoon to the shop for essentials. It being Friday, by ‘essentials’ I mostly mean beers. It was much easier to get down the same pavement without a complaining three year old but it was still tricky, and the path was still busy.

When I got home, the children were happily watching a film being supervised by my husband. I decided that actions spoke louder than rants. So I headed off to the appalling pavement again, this time armed with a snow shovel.

I spend the next three hours clearing a path along the pavement.

Have shovel, will travel

I believe in altruism, but I don’t believe in pure altruism. I believe that there is a degree of self-interest in most altruistic acts. If I am honest, I had several selfish reasons why I cleared the path:

  • I was going to have to walk down it again the following day, with the three year old in tow again.
  • I really needed to get some exercise since I have been off the turbo recovering from a virus for nearly two weeks.
  • Clearing snow is actually really satisfying – once you start, it’s quite difficult to stop!
  • The snow on the path was getting really compacted and turning to ice. I rely on this route to get to school with the cargo bike and clearing it now was going to make my life much easier when school re-opens.
  • There are no houses along this road so the theory of ‘if everyone just cleared in front of their own house’ was never going to get this done.

But I do also like to think that I was motivated in my snow shovelling by a larger philosophy. In my youth I spent a fair bit of time shouting and waving banners with the aim of ‘changing the world’. The world didn’t really change all that much as a result. Having children has also taught me that shouting and ranting is the least effective means of getting anyone to do what you want them to do.

The older and (occasionally) calmer version of myself has come to believe that the best way to create change is to live the change that you want to see. I fully expect that many people who saw me shovelling snow on a pavement with no houses alongside thought a thought along the lines of “oh look, there’s a mad woman shovelling snow”. I rather suspect that a few thought “well that’s a a good idea for community payback work, I wonder what she did”. I am well aware that many will have thought absolutely nothing at all. I will not have even registered in their consciousness, especially if they were driving. But I like to hope that one or two people would have gone out and cleared a path near them after they saw me.

I would like to live in a society where the pavements and paths are given the same priority as roads. Where routes for cycling, walking or scooting are kept clear of snow, ice, wet leaves and potholes as a matter of priority. I want this because I want to live in a society where some form of active travel is the norm for the majority of people (I know, I basically want to live in the Netherlands). Don’t get me wrong, I do not want to see all cars banned. I have a car. I use it for longer journeys and loads which defeat the cargo bike. There will always be a role for motor vehicles of various sorts.

But I do want to see the end of the ‘car is King’ society.

I do think that the council should be giving far greater priority to clearing paths and pavements. But that is not going to happen overnight. In the mean time, I believe that actions speak louder than tweets and my time was better spent shovelling than ranting.

I actually quite enjoyed myself while I worked. Like I said, shovelling snow is really very satisfying. But I also spent some of that three hours chatting to people. Fair enough, at least half the people who walked past me kept their eyes down and studiously ignored me – I probably did look a little bit odd. But plenty of people did stop for a chat. One very kind lady thanked me for clearing the path then walked on, only to come running back and ask if I wanted anything from the shop since that was where she was heading. It was really nice to natter to random people.

So my moral to myself for the weekend is to try to live the change I would like to see in society. Many things in my life come back to bikes and cycling, and a change that I would like to see is for more people to ride bikes. So I will continue to cycle in the hope that more of the people around me will come to see cycling as possible for them. I will continue to organise Breeze rides and set up kids cycle clubs.

And the next time it snows, I will be out on that same pavement. Shovelling!

5 Replies to “Living The Dream?”

  1. Great blog and inspiring words! We’ve been clearing the snow directly in front of our tenement flat but this post has inspired me to do more next time it snows.

  2. I had a tough time walking my 4yr old to Nursery once it reopened due to people who had cleared their driveway snow into piles ON the pavement!!! Either side of their gate posts!! I was shocked my normally sensible and thoughtful neighbours would do this

    1. Lots of that here too. I think it is a reflection of how car focused our society has become. It doesn’t occur to people that people need to get around on foot too.

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