Cutting grass or shoveling snow: What would you prefer?

One of the most frequent comments I received as a councillor was: “I cut my lawn and maintain my property…why should I have to cut the grass on the boulevard in front of my house? It belongs to the city.”
That boulevard is there to make life easier for you. In the early years on North York Council, whenever it snowed heavily I had a strong urge to hide under the bed and not go to work. That’s because I knew I would get at least 30 telephone calls that went something like this:
“I spent two hours shovelling my *@#% driveway yesterday and last night your &%#@+ snow plough came along and filled it up again. It froze and I can’t get to work this morning.”

The pile of snow that obstructs your driveway is known as a “windrow.” Until I was elected to office I didn’t know the meaning of the word “windrow” let alone that I had to find a way to deal with them.

In the 1980s North York invented the “snow rid.” It was a gate at the end of the plough, a sort of a short blade or scoop that the operator lowered when he came to one side of a driveway and raised it after he had pushed the windrow to the other side.

Streets downtown don’t have a grassy boulevard -the sidewalks are built to the curb. The city doesn’t even plough the streets downtown. Suburban areas, on the other hand, have boulevards as a place to store ploughed snow. In North York, not only are the streets ploughed but so are the sidewalks.

For downtown residents, there is a bylaw that requires every homeowner to shovel their sidewalk clear within 12 hours after a snowfall or face a fine of $125. There is no bylaw that requires North York residents to cut the grass on the boulevard. Most people, because they care about the appearance of their neighbourhoods, do it by unwritten convention. More importantly, if we didn’t have the boulevards the City couldn’t provide the great snow clearing services that they do.

When amalgamation arrived in 1998, those of us from North York knew that we would have the fight of our lives to keep both sidewalk ploughing and driveway opening. Downtown councillors were chomping at the bit to save money by cutting these services. Why not? Their residents didn’t get them. Same went for Scarborough and Etobicoke councillors who were only too happy to make the budget cuts. Neither of these municipalities had them. We knew that the only way to keep them was to spread these, what some called “cadillac” services, to Scarborough and Etobicoke. Once established, we knew that their councillors would never vote to take them away.

When my neighbour moved to Downsview from downtown he spent his first winter shovelling the sidewalk in front of his house until he learned that he didn’t have to. So next time, when you are out there cutting the grass on the city boulevard, think about how lucky you are. You could be shovelling snow instead.

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