If it weren’t for the private building owners of Constitution Square, Minto Place, and others, the downtown sidewalks would have been worse — totally impassable — during the recent snowfall.
Many larger buildings have small tractors and dispatched their maintenance crews to clear the sidewalks. Some of that is their self interest, but like Adam Smith noted, their self interest benefits the public too.
I have noticed numerous online stories in the past few years about the proliferation of heated sidewalks and plazas in Chicago and other cities. Initially installed for labour saving reasons, and as a convenient feature for tenants who somehow fail to dress for winter, they proved a hit. Here is one in Ottawa:
Claridge’s condos downtown have nice, usable entry sidewalks during snowfalls. This is especially convenient in front of the Sobey’s Urban Fresh outlet (which if you haven’t been in, has an amazingly large selection of food without boutique prices). My biggest regret is that most of the heated area is on the private property and only a tich of it is on the curbside sidewalk.
Montreal is in the process of installing some heated sidewalks. Regrettably, they are simply burying wires in the concrete, a system prone to failure due to salt water seepage (viz, electrically heated stair treads at Carling OTrain Station). Electric resistance heating is just under 100% efficient, which is bad.
Much more efficient is heat pump technology, which is about 400% efficient. It is much more efficient to move existing heat around than to create heat from scratch. For larger buildings, it is possible to move the heat from the downtown air or from waste air exhaust ports and use it to heat a brine solution in plastic tubes in the sidewalk.
Lets go back and linger on those heated sidewalks by Claridge, at the end of the snowstorm:
No huge snow banks to climb over. Dry. Ice free, for good footing. When the sun shone, the space was actually warm and pleasant. I saw people eyeing the outdoor picnic tables.
For keeners, you can buy heated stair tread pads today for your front porch. Low voltage, can be connected to a small solar panel too. I vaguely recall seeing these on someone’s house in Ottawa South (Barry Hobin’s maybe?).
In the US, you can buy coco matt runners for porches and stairs that have electric wires woven in, to keep your entry footing safe.
If these grow in popularity, and if eventually solar powered mats for downtown driveways come into popularity, the city could save a bundle in not trucking away snow banks.
Well, we can dream.