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Snow Shoveling and Social Engineering - Elizabeth Unexplained
Lots of data but no answers
Snow Shoveling and Social Engineering
It snowed last night. Only a few inches of accumulation, but it sure was coming down thickly.

As happens in many situations like this, I shoveled some while the snow was coming down, following our standard procedure of only doing half the width of the sidewalk while it was actually still snowing.

The sidewalks on Powderhouse are about six feet wide. This is probably at least twice as wide as most humans need them to be, so half the sidewalk is plenty given that people don't do a whole lot of walking during a snow storm. We only do half when the snow is actually still coming down because we want people to use only half the sidewalk (the shoveled part) until the snow stops and we have time to clear the other half. Anyone who has shovelled a sidewalk is aware that a) you can't get it to stay clear when the snow is coming down, and b) snow that has been walked on is much more difficult to get up and is prone to turning into an icy mess. By trying to encourage people to only walk on the half that we are keeping less snowy while the stuff is actually coming down, we're hoping that the other half will be virgin snow when the sun comes out, and that we can then be sure of getting that half completely clear. The aim is to guarentee that at least half the sidewalk will not become a frozen death trap once the storm is over.

While this is often at least somewhat successful, there are always people who resist our subtle hints. I'd just finished half the sidewalk last night when some guy moodily came along and moodily trudged through the unshoveled half. Was he angry at me for not doing the whole six foot width? It seems unreasonable considering that none of our neighbors had done any clearing yet as far as I could see. Does anyone have any ideas on how to spread whole half-now-half-when-it-stops method around? I admit, it wouldn't work on the narrower sidewalks, but as a sometimes pedestrian myself I'm in favour or avoiding the trampled-down icy death-trap effect.

Current Mood: frustrated frustrated

8 comments or Leave a comment
firstfrost From: firstfrost Date: January 20th, 2005 12:33 pm (UTC) (Link)
As a relevant (but clearly troublesome) data point - if it's cold enough to be icy, I may well walk on snow rather than sidewalk, if I'm not sure whether the sidewalk is clear rather than covered with invisible-but-deadly ice (if, for example, it is dark).

I admit I hadn't been thinking about the difficulty of shoveling the other half of the sidewalk later; I've always assumed when I encountered a narrowly shoveled sidewalk that the other half wasn't going to be shoveled at all.

I realize that this is because I really don't remember state for snowy sidewalks - if I walk along a sidewalk and it's narrow-shoveled, I won't necessarily think when I pass it again "Oh, now the other half has been cleared more thoroughly - how clever!". So it seems to me that what you need is how to make your narrow-shoveled side more inviting than the snow. For me, that might be putting sand on it - if it has sand, then I can see that it's not ice. :)

I have no good idea how to convince your neighbors to do this, though, other than chatting to them when you're both out shovelling and talking about your clever idea about half-sidewalks.
twe From: twe Date: January 20th, 2005 01:56 pm (UTC) (Link)

A not very helpful comment

Hmm, I found myself adopting the same strategy when shovelling my walk too this winter - shovel half early in the hopes of getting one side that wasn't icy.

On the other hand, like firstfrost, I often choose to walk on the snowy areas once the snow has ended on the grounds that they are less likely to be deadly sheets of ice.

I'm not really sure how to convey this to your neighbors. Moreover, though, I suspect it's less your neighbors than the random pedestrian traffic that youd want to convey it to anyway. So this isn't a very helpful comment in the end...
merastra From: merastra Date: January 20th, 2005 04:31 pm (UTC) (Link)

An excellent plan

That's a wise and clever thing to do. Sadly, like some clever ideas, I think that one's too much to expect of the public. At least, too much for one person to educate. I think the culture would have to support it. There are so many reasons why someone would choose to walk on the snow and many of them valid that it would take too much of your time and energy to address them all. firstfrost and twe had good ones. And you'd probably get pegged as "cranky" by your neighbors. So yeah, sand for visible traction. Possibly shovel more onto the half that stays snowy to further discourage stepping on it.

Hm... On the culture side, I s'pose if you're really energetic, you could try getting it written up in a local newpaper article. Or neighborhood article if your area has one.
greyautumnrain From: greyautumnrain Date: January 21st, 2005 05:51 am (UTC) (Link)


Well, the sand is a good idea. I recognize that traction is a valid reason for using the snowier half.

I recognize that there are several flaws our system. If sand will helf people adopt it without understanding what is going on (because that would be expecting too much) then I'll look into getting some sand.

I'm already considered cranky by our neighbors over the snow issue. They don't seem to get it when I request that they please *not* shovel any part of our section. I'm willing to live with being cranky if it means fewer bruised tailbones in front of out house.

merastra From: merastra Date: January 21st, 2005 09:03 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: Sand

already considered cranky by our neighbors over the snow

That's too bad. It really is a good idea. Did you have time to explain it to them the way you did us?

I'm pretty certain I've done my fair share of walking on the un-shoveled side which makes me feel like a "Dumb User" a la computer software.

Also, is salt not an option? I know it doesn't provide the visible feedback but after everything turns to a big icy mess, it's pretty nifty.
greyautumnrain From: greyautumnrain Date: January 21st, 2005 10:43 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: Sand

I try only to use salt if the big icy mess develops. Its not so great for the environment.
dcltdw From: dcltdw Date: January 24th, 2005 08:57 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: Sand

Hmm, I don't have an alias for my spouse. Anyways, she suggested we get fertilizer instead of salt. This way, if we get back-to-back snowstorms, we're tossing snow-and-fertilizer onto our yards -- and her plants.

We went to Home Depot last year and got a gimungous bag of something that looks like the sprinkles you put on cupcakes, except they're spherical and either green or brown balls. And it does a great trick of melting stuff. And it's visible. Another win.

If I see that someone has salted (or something similar) a stretch, then i'll walk there. Otherwise, yeah, snow for me.
countertorque From: countertorque Date: January 21st, 2005 05:08 pm (UTC) (Link)
Speaking as a guy who sometimes trudges around moodily: Even though I'm staring straight at the ground, I'm not always really seeing what I'm walking on. I'm just too caught up thinking about what I'm being moody about.
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