Monday, March 13, 2006

Sidewalks and Curbs

We moved here in early June 2003. Now I had visited Montreal at least once a year for the previous ten years and almost always around Christmas. But this was really my first time to really get a look at the city outside of downtown.

During that first summer, there were a few mysteries about the sidewalks and curbs that really jumped out at me while discovering the area around where I work. I was able to figure out some of the mysteries fairly quickly and others took a winter or two to solve.

First mystery was that the sidewalks were covered with black granite pea gravel everywhere. Kinda like a street the month after it is repaved. That mystery was easily dispelled after asking around. People told me that the pea gravel was laid down during the winter for traction on the sidewalks. Made sense and it was true but it seems like it takes half the summer for the sidewalks to be reasonable clear of them.

The second mystery was that ALL of the curbs look like something has been chewing on them. Every single one of them is beat to hell. It is quite impressive. Arriving at the beginning of the summer, there didn't seem to be any good reason for it. But after the first winter, I started to see what could be the cause and after the second winter it was confirmed. The city's process of clearing the snow is the cause. Between the snow plows on the sidewalks and more importantly the plows on the street, the curbs take quite a beating. The difference in elevation between the street and the sidewalk is not enough for a plow driver pushing through a couple feet of snow to determine the exact location of the curb. So the curb loses the battle.

The third mystery was related to the second. There were these mysterious scrapes diagonnally across the sidewalk. Most of the time at driveways where the curb dips, but also randomly on the sidewalk. Now this one I haven't actually seen, but I have a good idea what it is. It is the plows again, but this time they swoop onto the sidewalk at driveways to draw the snow into the street. But the plow ends up picking up some concrete with it.

The last mystery was that projecting parts of the sidewalk appear to be ground down. The sidewalks are quite uneven with section projecting above adjacent ones. I think this unevenness is due to some of the frozen ground issues in the previous post. In some places it looks like these projections have been chipped down for a better transition. In other places it looks like someone was there with a concrete grinder and ground it down for an extremely smooth transition. Much like they do for places that must be handicap accessible and free of trip hazards. So that's what I started to think. The city is actually going around and grinding down the bumps in the sidewalk. Crazy, but impressive.

After a couple winters I figured out the real cause. The city employs these mini bulldozers to clear the sidewalks of snow. These fly around feveriously after every snowfall sometimes passing one right after the other. It turns out that the plows on the front of the bulldozers are inadvertantly shaving down the major projections on the sidewalks. I am still quite amazed when I see these ground down spots. Some look just so perfect.

So ends this mini-series on how winter battles the infrastructure. I still have some observations of how the city does things differently because of the snow, but I'll probably take a break on cold subjects until the end of the year.

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