The Effects of Mindless Bureaucracy— Slip Sliding Away

We have all been victims of it. Mindless bureaucracy. You’re trying to renew your driver’s licence, you’re trying to deal with a parking ticket issued on a dead meter … the list goes on.

Mindless bureaucracy is alive and well and thrives particularly well in places like government, hospitals, schools and other institutions.

So, we have the often pointless policies and laws administered by mindless bureaucrats. These are put into place by people who do not actually have to use the service or department to which they apply, and these same people are also mindless bureaucrats.

Policies and laws are often put into place for a specific issue, but over the years, and even after conditions change, and these policies and laws are no longer applicable — they are left in place. If you question the them, you are told that these ARE the rules and always have been, etc. etc.

The problem is that mindless policies and laws administrated by mindless bureaucrats are a very bad combination.

Recently this tunnel vision judgement came up in our own City.

In recent years in Ontario, Canada, cities have become more sensitive to the problem of excess sand from winter road treatment being washed down into the sewer system. They have asked the public to reduce their use of sand, and in many cases, cities have stopped using sand for traction, and ours is one of those cities which has stopped using sand for traction on ice.

Sounds very reasonable, the City is trying to be environmentally responsible by not using sewer clogging sand — that is until you have a winter like the one of 2013–2014, where we experienced some extraordinary winter conditions, ones which rendered the use of many ice melt products non effective (due to the extreme cold) and which left road and sidewalk surfaces like ice skating rinks.

What happened was that snowy areas froze, then salt or treated salt was been put down by the city. The temperature then rose and the top layer of ice and snow, aided by the salt, melted. When it melted it left a watery layer on top of thick ice and that surface became a wet skating rink.

Snow plow photo courtesy Barbara L. Slavin

In our city, on most residential streets, the homeowner is responsible for clearing ice and snow from the sidewalks in front of their homes.

However, on streets sidewalks which are high traffic and/or heavily used by pedestrians and school children, the City clears them with a small plow and follows up with a melt product.

One of the streets nearby our home is a very busy one, heavily used by pedestrians, through traffic and school buses. The City usually plows this street and clears the sidewalks. On secondary streets, such as this one, They apply a “treated salt” which supposedly provides better traction.

The City says
“… Salt is used on the priority roads and treated salt is used on the residential non-priority roads to provide better traction.”

Unfortunately this “treated salt” does not provide ANY traction in the perverse weather conditions we had been having. There is no doubt that we had been spoiled for the past several years with extremely mild winters with little snow or ice. This year however, winter was here with a vengeance.

The City says that their winter maintenance crews clear City roads, priority sidewalks, bus stops and pedestrian crossings within 12–36 hours after the end of a snowstorm. They also say that local or residential streets will not be not plowed immediately during a snow storm. They say that residential streets will be plowed after priority roads are cleared.

The residential street that I alluded to was in fact plowed and and an application of ice melt was done. Unfortunately, as a result of the cold temperatures, where they plowed became solid ice and the melt product simply created a layer of water on top of the ice.

We witnessed school buses out of control and unable to stop. We witnessed cars unable to stop even at a low speed, and we witnessed hapless pedestrians unable to negotiate the sidewalks. All this after the so-called “treated salt” was applied!

An email to our local government office was answered promptly but rendered only the information that “The City is no longer using sand” and that the City had been out to the street in question and applied treated salt.

Clearly, in these particular weather/temperature conditions the “treated salt” is not providing traction. You would like to think that the City might be somewhat more flexible in face of these unusual conditions, and apply sand to areas where there is high traffic — vehicular and pedestrian. I’m not saying apply sand all the time — I’m just suggesting that those few times when it is actually a safety issue, sand should be used to give traction.

In the photo below, all the shiny surfaces you see are pure ice, to a depth of about 5 inches.

Furthermore, salt — Sodium Chloride — melts ice only up to 5F or -15 Celsius — surely the works department for the City must be aware of this — meantime this year we have endured temperatures as low as -15F or -25 C. The other problem that year was the huge temperature fluctuations — one day it was 5F and the salt was working, then overnight the temperature plummeted to -13 F and the salt was useless.

Doesn’t anyone in the road maintenance division stop and consider these issues? Apparently not. They just obstinately say “we’re no longer using sand” and allow very dangerous conditions to persist.

In my opinion, this shows a classic “mindless bureaucrat” attitude. I do not feel that it is acceptable to put residents at risk to satisfy a new policy which is not taking into account extraordinary circumstances.




Louise Peacock is a writer, garden designer, Reiki practitioner, singer-songwriter & animal activist. Favorite insult “Eat cake & choke” On Medium since 2016.

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Louise Peacock

Louise Peacock

Louise Peacock is a writer, garden designer, Reiki practitioner, singer-songwriter & animal activist. Favorite insult “Eat cake & choke” On Medium since 2016.

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