Puddles, Grates, and Other Sidewalk Traps

It might be the rainy weather that has me thinking about walking safety a bit more than I would in the summertime, in any event, it made me want to write up this post.

When you walk down the street, you are usually looking up at the stores and houses or maybe have your head buried in your phone. You don’t usually spend a lot of time taking long looks at the sidewalk, but we are all doing this at our own peril because a sidewalk can be a dangerous place, especially this time of year with its dark mornings and evenings, and the often heavy rains making everything a little more slippery.

I call them sidewalk traps, these are the little things that can ruin your day if you are not careful and they range from the annoying to the extremely dangerous.

The deadly street gutter puddle trap on Blanshard Street

The deadly street gutter puddle trap on Blanshard Street

So puddles, it is hard to avoid them in Victoria and while those found off the beaten path while wearing rubber boots may still be fun, the rest are really quite annoying. There are two kinds that I try to look out for as I walk to and from downtown. The first kind of puddle is the sidewalk flood. This type of puddle is usually due to some less than well planned gardening. If you raise the height of the ground on both sides of a pathway to above the height of the pathway then when it rains water runs down to the lower sidewalk and floods it. You see this kind of puddle a lot on some of the city’s side streets. If you have a regular route for walking you learn to avoid those spots that tend to flood on a rainy day. The second kind of puddle is a little more malicious, this is the street gutter puddle. A well placed one of these can soak you from your head to your shoes when a passing car goes through it. There is an absolutely terrible one just outside my work that I quite often have to time my walk by to coordinate with the traffic. There is nothing worse than getting all the way into work only to have your suit covered in grimy street run off. The street gutter puddle is either caused by poor engineering or lack of street maintenance. For the one outside my work, it is definitely the latter. The thing is that for the most part a simple smear of asphalt would solve the problem.

The second sidewalk walk trap is one that you really only see downtown, the sidewalk grate. For good reason we have to keep a lot of the city’s infrastructure under the sidewalk. Things like water pipes, electric wiring, gas lines among many other things. There needs to access to these different pieces of infrastructure and some of them need to vent hot air to the outside. For whatever reason, we have decided that it is okay to have these vents covered with a metal grate and then to make them a little more treacherous, we make sure to have the grates line their metal grooves along the length of the sidewalk. Add a little water onto the top of them and these grates are one of the biggest dangers of just walking down the street there is. I know that there are safer types of grates available and I don’t know why in a city that does see a little bit of rain, that we haven’t invested in this. I do my best to avoid walking over the grates when it is rainy or icy out and I know there are some people that try never to walk on them due to concerns about them collapsing.

Another common sidewalk trap is the uneven cement. This can happen from years of rain washing away sand on one side or the roots of a nearby tree pushing up a side of the stone. If you aren’t watching where you are going and stumble over one of these lifted pieces of sidewalk, you can easily trip all the way over. When compared to some cities I have been to, Victoria is pretty good downtown, outside of downtown is another story and some of the sidewalks in the neighbourhoods look a more like a country road going up and down over hills.

Some sidewalk traps can be fixed with just good courteous behaviour. On a walk downtown last week I walked by two piles of feces (dog or human but uncertain which…) and a large amount of broken glass from someone that decided to get rid of their beer bottle on the street. While I will say that the amount of dog feces you see on sidewalks has diminished since I was a kid, it is still there. As for things like glass bottles you just should never see this. I know the City has their cleaning crews that go around cleaning the sidewalks, but if we could just help each other out by not leaving the mess in the first place it would be nice.

A final sidewalk trap that I want to point out is the infrastructure artifact. While the part of me that loves history and urbanism likes them, an infrastructure artifact can be dangerous. These traps are caused by a piece of infrastructure that is no longer there. It may have been a traffic sign, an old electrical conduit or a space where a bench used to be. After the item was removed, the part that connected it with the sidewalk or a depression along the outline of where it used to be remains. It is likely that there was an intention to even out the sidewalk and it got overlooked once the initial work was completed. No matter what their cause was, they are something to look out for, especially in the older parts of downtown.

There are of course, many many other types of sidewalk traps and it is likely that we each have out specific one in town that drives us crazy. What are some of the ones that you try and avoid as you navigate the city?