Alastair Dalton: Snow falls harder on pedestrians than drivers

A woman on a mobility scooter struggles to negotiate an icy pavement while cars stream past on a cleared road. 'Picture Robert Perry
A woman on a mobility scooter struggles to negotiate an icy pavement while cars stream past on a cleared road. 'Picture Robert Perry
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If you think cars have the upper hand on the roads, just wait till it starts snowing.

Scotland’s towns and cities have escaped with only limited snowfalls for almost a decade and main roads are cleared reasonably efficiently.

A pedestrian treading carefully on an icy pavement. Picture: Phil Wilkinson

A pedestrian treading carefully on an icy pavement. Picture: Phil Wilkinson

However, residential streets, pavements and cycle paths are left till last, if cleared at all.

That means while urban drivers have continued to get about without too much bother, pedestrians and cyclists have often had to risk their limbs if not their lives when venturing out.

The lack of grit on pavements can soon reduce them to treacherous ice rinks that are virtually impassable in places.

As for cycle paths, if last week’s cold spell in Glasgow is anything to go by, the official view seems to be ‘forget it and wait for the ice to melt’.

READ MORE: Scotland’s weather: Drivers told to stay off the roads

Cycle lanes were buried under snow cleared to the side – rather than off – the road. Off-road cycle paths seem to have been ignored completely, even sections of the national cycle network.

As one transport planner observed in Glasgow city centre on Saturday: “Cycle lane on Glasgow Bridge deep in snow – adjacent road surface absolutely clear.”

The situation has sparked an interesting and timely debate between council roads chiefs and pedestrian campaigners.

The Society of Chief Officers of Transportation in Scotland has floated the idea that while local authorities have been “doing well” in clearing and gritting their roads, people should be doing their bit, such as by clearing pavements themselves.

READ MORE: Man rescued after becoming stranded by snow for a week

It asked whether there should be a law requiring residents and businesses to do it, arguing: “It is no longer realistic to expect councils to do this.”

In the discussion on Twitter that followed, the society also admitted not even all roads were cleared. It stated: “The assumption that councils routinely clear roads in residential areas of snow is misplaced.”

The proposal that we should all muck in for snow clearance sparked an angry response from the Scotland director of Living Streets, which lobbies for pedestrians.

Stuart Hay, tweeting in a personal capacity, said it amounted to councils clearing the roads for those rich enough to own a car, while everyone else was forced to buy their own shovel and clear the pavement.

He said cuts in road maintenance budgets were increasing pressure on the NHS observed and that “Scotland would rather fund orthopaedic trauma wards than winter road maintenance”.

Mr Hay suggested councils be required to keep pavements clear on bus routes and station accesses. There are similar arrangements in Germany, Switzerland and Canada.

What both sides agreed on was that funding is the key. But just as snow clearance is one of the many council services mainly paid for in a block grant from the Scottish Government, snowfall varies widely in scope and intensity across different local authority areas, whose size and weather also differs markedly.

There is never going to be enough money to clear every road and pavement, but there seems to be a clear inequity in how they are tackled.

Not giving greater priority to pavement clearance would indicate the least able people are being disadvantaged, while councils who develop snow blindness when it comes to cycle lanes are hitting those who opt for the greenest and among the healthiest ways of getting about.