Friday, January 2, 2009

The other day I wrote about how the limits of my admiration for the plow drivers had been reached when one sprayed me while I was shovelling out a space for my car. Today, my admiration has been restored, largely because these guys are doing this work in the context of a community that is incessantly bitching about them.

If you read the Bowen Online Forum - and I used to post there, but I don't anymore - there are several threads where people complain about two things: the conditions of the roads (why haven't mine been plowed yet, it's so icy that its impassable) and the communications fro the Municipality. Here are my thoughts on both.

On the road conditions

The weather we have been having is freakish and unseen for 40 years. There is no way to compare this weather to anything people on Bowen can remember. Forty years ago, no doubt the island just shut down and people bravely banded together. What has made this weather tough is the huge amounts of snow we have had followed by days of rain, freezing and thawing. This is how it is in March in most of the rest of the country, where conditions get very icy and dangerous.

Main roads are kept clear and are passable all day when the temperature thaws them, At night, they are icy though and very dangerous, especially for cars, like mine that aren't equipped with snow tires. So bottom line is that I don't drive at night.

On the secondary roads and tertiary roads, things are bad. People are complaining that those roads haven't been plowed. It seems as if every road HAS in fact been plowed at least once, and the hills have been sanded and salted. The problem is that the moment anyone drives on fresh snow, it compacts it and in the cycle of freezing and thawing, that compacted track becomes ice. You can salt to help reduce frost buildup, but ice more than a centimeter or so thick is really hard to get off with a plow.

There are other complications with some roads being very narrow and having cars parked on them because people are snowed out of their driveways. In these cases, there is no way the plow can get through.

So, while its frustrating, I have to admit that I have seen snowplows every days since before Christmas and that these guys are doing their best to get the job done. The weather we are having is not typical for our community and not easy in terms of snow removal.

What you can do

  • If you are parked in a public space, it might already be too late for you, but get your car into a private space. This might mean shovelling out somewhere or asking someone to do that for you. It might cost some money, but along our stretch of Miller Road, we've been doing that for each a little, especially with folks that can't shovel. Cars have to be off the roads for the crews to do their thing.
  • If there are tricky sections on your road, you could go out there and break them up. Compacted ice needs detailed attention, not a snowplow, and there is no one else that is going to come and do that for you. Peter King, our intrepid bus driver, has been slating and shovelling treacherous parts like Reef Road in Tunstall Bay. Follow his example and take care of the road by your place. Take shovels, axes, garden edging tools, salt and sand or dirt and take advantage of the thaws during the day to work on your part of the road.
Municipal communications

This one is tougher. The municipality has not communicated well during this storm. Part of the reason for that has to do with the fact that it is holiday time, and the staff aren't around as much. Part of it has to do with the fact is that no one is able to or required to update the website. It seems people would like to see the following information:

  • Road conditions updated as much as possible, but especially focused on passability and iciness.
  • Plowing schedules so folks have a sense of what is being done
One challenge for this kind of thing is that we really don't have a local communications system. There is no one place people turn to for up to the minute information. We have a local radio station, but it is mostly web based. Not everyone has an internet connection, and so even the Municipal website will only reach some people. As for the forum, that is not a place to post news. It once was, but the vitriol of several posters over the years have scared people away from it, and I know I only check it on occasion. It's a venting space, now, which is fine, but it's no longer a useful source for breaking news. Pretty much the only things everyone reads is The Undercurrent, but they are a weekly paper.

In fact the best source of news has turned out to be Peter and Toni King, who run the bus company, but they are TOTALLY overwhelmed with people calling and asking about conditions. If you want to call someone, do what firends of mine have been doing - call your friends further down stream from you. I have taken calls from friends in Eaglecliff and Hood Point about road conditions here on seven hills and am happy to do so.

An additional challenge is that everyone wants news provided to them individually. In other words, I want to know specific things right now. It's impossible for a central communications hub to do this. And given that the municipality ISN'T doing any of it, it seems that the best thing to do is take the matters into our own hands.

What you can do

  • First, stop complaining about how easy it is to set up a blog or a wiki to share road information, and just do it. Here I did it for you: Bowen Road Conditions weblog. If you want to be an administrator there, please email me at and I'll hand it over to you. People can post news in the comments. For a tool like this to be effective, people have to know about it, so spread the news and we'll see if it catches on.
  • Alternatively you could contribute to the road status tool being built on Bowen 2020 to help out a groups of folks develop a mapping tool that would do the same thing.
The Municipality might embrace decentralized news gathering, but it might not be for a while. All of which begs the question of our emergency communications system in the case of an earthquake. I'll have to check into that one.

Anyway, there are some things we can do as citizens to get through this strange period of winter weather. If you have more ideas leave them in the comments.

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