January 20th - People seem to have their own realities, and nothing has brought out the selfishness and plain nastiness in some people as profoundly as the bad weather.
Ever since the snow came, people have been complaining about, and to, Walsall Council on social media. Horrified that they’ve been delayed, or that driving conditions are bad, they attack the local authority for not gritting, for being unprepared, or lazy. Time and time again I have seen people berate council employees because things aren’t as they expect and that’s what they apparently pay council tax for.
Sadly, the truth is a little more difficult. As a cyclist, I travel slowly. I intersect with gritters on the roads with startling (and often painful) frequency, because they move about twice as fast as me. I have seen them around Brownhills and on all major routes I use frequently, since just before the cold snap started. They have spread whatever the conditions, and pretty much continuously over the weekend. That’s good folk, working hard, in very difficult road conditions, to try and ameliorate the problems caused by the snow.
There is clearly a fundamental misunderstanding about how roadsalt works. It can take hours or even days to take effect, and relies on moisture and the passage of traffic to disperse it. Temperature severely affects it’s efficacy. It cannot deal with fast settling snow. A gritted road may take 24 hours to clear properly, even with continuous application. Road salt is not fairy dust. It doesn’t magically remove ice and snow. It’s a deicer, a slow one, and it’s an aid, not a total solution.
Walsall’s gritting operation costs each household about £2.50 per year.
The thing about using the roads in bad weather is to develop, and hone the skills required. It’s our responsibility to ensure we’re as safe as possible. We can’t abrogate that responsibility totally to a third party just because it snows. The man I watched slide round a corner into a kerb in Little Aston on Friday Morning probably now understands this. A £60,000 Range Rover is only as good as the driver’s skills.
Walsall Council does many things badly. Some things, a few, it does really well. They’ve always been among the best at gritting, and have worked hard to communicate their activities on social media. When met with abuse, petulance or idiocy, the public facing employees have been stoical, polite and workmanlike, often in unpaid, out of hours time.
When I see people being stupid, unpleasant or misguided on this, I will always step in to defend the council and it’s employees wherever I can. So far this weekend I’ve had hate mail, nearly had my Facebook account pulled in an infantile spite attack and been roundly abused by a noted local journalist. None of these people have shown a shred of humility towards those who are actually charged with the job they are expecting to be done.
There’s a widely held belief that gritters are not being sent out; that roads have gone untreated. That the powers that be cannot grit every inch of every road has been met with incredulity. It seems beyond many that the weather currently has control, and whilst we can mitigate it’s effects, nobody can actually make it go away.
This afternoon, at 4pm, on Anchor Bridge, I was passed by the grittier that, on social media 3 hours later, Walsall were being attacked for not sending to treat Brownhills High Street. Further down the road, at Silver Court, a team of council workmen had cleared the snow by hand from the frontage and steps, and then gritted it. At the other end of Brownhills, lorries were returning to the depot for refilling, before leaving again in series.
Meanwhile, people are fretting on Facebook already as to weather their bins will be emptied tomorrow. As far as I’m aware, nobody has died in Walsall yet for the want of an empty dustbin.
It’s bad weather, folks. We used to get it a lot. It’s not the end of days. The mark of humanity should be be grace under pressure, from all of us. Not just those there to serve us.