Welcome Minnesotans to another round of Ice, Mud, or Puddle! Just when our tundra homeland relents on its annual attempt to kill us with skin-peeling winds and lung-piercing temperatures, it turns the entire state into a swirling cauldron of glare ice, inescapable mud, and bottomless puddles. Pretty much every block has a stretch of sidewalk where the boulevard snow acts as a dam, creating a vast reservoir of water deep enough to foster a population of Asian Carp, and the only options for crossing are: on the left, an area of snow that has been tromped into an uneven escarpment of slick ice! Or, on the right, a strip of rutted, sticky mud straight out of Passchendaele!
Whenever I come to such a Hobson’s choice of a sidewalk (no matter whether you choose ice, mud, or puddle, you still get your feet wet), I always look over to the roadway. Of course, some roads are just as poorly drained or icy as a sidewalk, but the vast majority of them are dry and ice free. This is no coincidence, as we all know, since we as a society have decided to pour unimaginable amounts of money into the extensive drainage systems and enormous organizational effort required to keep the roads drivable (but nonetheless complain about it). Meanwhile, despite the more enlightened municipalities making minimal attempts to ensure adequate pedestrian space in their streets, the amount of funding for the pedestrian realm is a Loring Pond compared to the Lake Agassiz that gets spent on the part of the street dedicated to roads.
So, annually as necessary, I think about what could be done. Why aren’t sidewalks built with a cross slope from the centerline, as many roads are, so that water drains to either side and presumably leaves at least a narrow space to walk through? Why not use more heat-absorptive materials, such as asphalt, so that the ice melts more quickly? We already have this huge expensive network of drainage tunnels for roads, why not maximize our investment by using them to drain sidewalks as well? How much does plowing for parking spaces exacerbate sidewalk flooding? Could the issue be mitigated by banning parking and using that space for snow storage rather than the boulevard? If that’s not radical enough, how about replacing our existing residential streets with shared spaces streets so all modes benefit from the high drainage and clearance priority for cars?
Soon the problem will be obviated by the relentless wobbling of the earth, which will expose the Burger King wrappers and pigeon shit that compose the pedestrian realm of the City of (sidewalk) Lakes to more and more solar energy and gradually bake away all of this impeding moisture (gravity will assist in this process). Until then, get ready for the season of wet socks, ankle casts, and futile searching for galoshes (most Americans today buy SUVs instead). If you need something to take your mind off it, how about posting more ideas for better spring sidewalks in the comments?