Thursday, December 27, 2012

Wet Apathy

I like to travel.  The biggest reason is it allows me to discover new things, though the major area for discovery is in the mundane.  Even if I don't particularly like a place (rare), I still learn something.

One of my favourite places is the Kansai prefecture of Japan.  This is the region that contains Kyoto, Osaka, Nara, etc.  I find it inspirational because the mundane things in life have often been addressed in ways that are the polar opposite to how things are done in the place where I spend most of my time - Toronto.

For instance, in Kyoto, the downtown centre has covered sidewalks - which means when it rains, you don't get wet when shopping.  In Toronto, you get the feeling that nobody wants you to shop in it's stores when it's wet - there's a feeling that they want to corral you into the shopping mall instead, or drive you into the PATH system (an underground tunnel system that whilst expansive, is largely geared towards office workers - you can't go there on a Saturday morning and expect to find everything open).

One of my biggest annoyances with Toronto's civil engineering is gutters, drainage, and water in general.  In Kyoto, much like Toronto there are ground waters to deal with when it's not raining.  So, in Kyoto they built little streams and bridges, and put tea houses on them and turned the water into features that everyone likes to enjoy.  

In Toronto, it's like the mantra is "Who needs water anyway?" as the creeks are all bricked up and buried, the views of Lake Ontario is repeatedly sold off to the highest bidding condo developers, and just to make sure nobody has any want to get to the water, they cordoned off the lake from the city with an elevated six lane highway.  

And so we come to gutters: Here's a gutter in Kansai…  

That's Koi swimming in it.  

In Toronto, the gutter is an afterthought - it's where you park your car, not a feature that was invented to handle water.  Nothing shows up this more than when it snows.  

People have been aware for quite some time now, that it snows in Canada.  When it snows, Toronto city laws stipulate that you have to shovel the sidewalk so that people can pass.  What generally happens is people shovel the snow towards the gutter - and the snowplough also pushes the snow off the road and towards the gutter.  

The net result is you get a snowbank.  Snowbanks are notorious for one reason: As a pedestrian crossing the street, you eventually have to navigate them.  Whilst it's not immediately obvious to those who don't live here, there's one major issue with them that everybody who has ever lived here knows about…  Slush.

The problem happens in two stages, both of which I find comical to watch, but infuriating to endure:
1.  After a significant snowfall, crossing the street is like something like a scene out of a WWI movie.  You first wait for the signal, then you climb several feet up the bank and go up "over the top" and dash across to the other side, trying to avoid obstacles like slippery buried rail tracks, potholes, and other people coming at you with briefcases and umbrellas.
2.  After several hours of this, the banks at these points have been mushed down to a grey puddle that normally expands out about three to ten feet in radius, and it usually just a little deeper than the height of whatever shoes you happen to wear that day.  This means you have two options to crossing the road: a) Leap out like a ballet dancer from Swan Lake, trying to land in as shallow an area as possible, or b) find a new un-mushed bit of snowbank and repeat the WWI "over the top" manoeuvre.  As I mentioned before, everyone here knows about this, and just like WWI, everyone spends their day with something resembling "trench foot" as a result.  

The question is what has anyone done about this?  

I can't see anything being done about it.  Nothing has changed between 1912 and 2012.  A simple solution would be to move the drains from their current positions (always far from the corners) to be nearer the corners where they are not buried under a snow bank but where the puddles are at the lowest point - where the slush gathers.  This is something that other countries have done - as seen here (the drain is circled in red).

I hate to sound like I'm always bashing things, but the sense of apathy I see that's evident in how things are done in Toronto just drives me bonkers because nobody is addressing this mundane stuff that affects a greater number of people than some of the "cooler" stuff that only affects the few.