Homeless in Vancouver: With winter temperatures come flurries—of salt

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      The temperature in Vancouver finally fell below zero in the early hours of Wednesday morning (November 27). Actual winter has arrived in the city and with it the dreaded white stuff!

      I mean salt, of course.

      Dashes of white could be seen all along the route from my parkade sleeping spot to my breakfast spot Wednesday morning. The unevenly distributed salt crystals glittered conspicuously under the street light shine, like heavy frost—but only on those stretches of sidewalk fronting the more commercial or businesslike of properties.

      In places along the north side of West Broadway, salt was strewn with such erratic abandon that it overshot the sidewalks entirely and could be heard and felt crunching under my bike tires on the roadway.

      When the temperature is expected to dip a few degrees below zero, a thin, evenly-distributed casting of rock salt on sidewalks is a legitimate safety measure against the formation, overnight, of slippery black ice. However, when the salt is thrown and poured in enthusiastic sprays and clumps it begins to present a slipping hazard in its own right.

      This is not just to complain and I am not saying that buildings shouldn’t salt their sidewalks. But, as is said, a little goes a long ways. You can have too much of a good thing. And when you miss most of the sidewalk you kind of miss the point of salting in the first place.

      The possible virtue signalling of oversalted sidewalks

      Big fistful of salt just off the sidewalk of the 2400 block of Spruce St., seen Wednesday morning just after 7 a.m.
      Stanley Q. Woodvine

      I actually have to ask myself if safety remains the whole point of salting a sidewalk, as I once thought, perhaps naively.

      If I didn’t know better I would now suspect that many of those doing the salting are deliberately going overboard, in order to make absolutely sure that they are seen to have salted.

      Such a cynical insight suggests that salting a sidewalk can also be a kind of advertisement and I guess that this has always been true to a degree.

      Visible salt on a sidewalk certainly advertises to a property owner that their custodian did their job. (Having done this sort of work I can say that it is far easier to prove that a job wasn’t done than it was.) And to every passing pedestrian, the salt advertises that the building is not only professionally managed but it is also a good and conscientious neighbour.

      In an era when both individuals and enterprises are mindful of opportunities to advertise their moral values to others, salting sidewalks has to be one of the few kinds of so-called “virtue signalling” that building owners and their custodians, can engage in.

      In that case then, I shouldn’t wonder why some of them are laying it on so thick.