It is harder to walk or bike through 10 cm of snow than to drive a car. A group of city officials in Karlskoga came to this realisation and consequently ordered that pedestrian walkways, bicycle paths and bus stops be cleared of snow before larger roads. This new routine benefits women in particular, as more women than men walk, bike and use public transport.
It all started with a gender equality programme for heads of department at the city of Karlskoga’s community development office.
‘The community development staff made jokes about how at least snow clearing is something the gender people won’t get involved in. But then they thought about it and realised that maybe snow clearing is not gender neutral after all,’ says Bruno Rudström, gender equality strategist in Karlskoga.
The manager in charge of snow clearing on city property realised that major traffic arteries and other roads for cars and larger vehicles were cleared first, often late at night when they were rather empty except for occasional lorries. Pedestrian walkways and bicycle paths were last on the list.
When staff from the traffic department looked closer at who uses the different types of roads and paths, they realised that their snow clearing routine affected women and men differently.
The Snow Clearing Routine Benefited Car Users
The reason for this is that men drive cars more often than women, who in turn walk, bike, use public transport and travel by car as a passenger more often than men. Single mothers and single women walk and bike more than any other group, as a proportion of their total travel.
‘Single mothers and single women walk and bike more than any other group, as a proportion of their total travel.’
By prioritising roads intended for car use, the city also prioritises accessibility for the mode of transport that men prefer. And this despite the fact that car travel often is faster than any other mode of transport.
Traditionally male domains had been prioritised in the city of Karlskoga’s snow clearing services, for example job sites with mostly male employees. This was not a conscious degradation of women’s destinations or preferred mode of transport; rather, it was just the way it had been done for many decades.
Changed Routine Increased Accessibility for Everyone
Today the traffic department has changed its snow clearing routine. Pedestrian walkways, bicycle paths and bus stops have higher priority than roads for cars since it is harder to walk or bike through 10 cm of snow than drive a car. The difference is even more noticeable for people with strollers, walkers and wheelchairs.
Changed priorities from a gender perspective made the city more accessible to everybody, not least children and teenagers since they do not have the option to drive.
Areas around pre-schools are assigned the highest priority. They are cleared before six o’clock in the morning, since parents go there before they go to work. Major employers are next in order of priority, regardless of whether mostly males or females work there. Pedestrian walkways and bicycle paths to schools are cleared around the time when pupils and students leave their homes.
Once all these prioritised areas have been cleared from snow, it is time to clear the major roads. This new organisation of the snow clearing work is more compatible with people’s daily schedules and modes of transport, implying an important improvement of the traffic department’s services.
Improved Service at No Cost
Making the snow clearing more gender equal was easy.
‘It wasn’t a big deal. We didn’t need to make any big decisions; we just started working in a different way. Actually, all we did was change the snow clearing schedule. It didn’t cost anything, but still made a big difference for the citizens,’ says Rudström.
So the changes did not cost anything. In fact, research shows that snow and ice control targeting pedestrians may yield economic benefits. Three times more pedestrians than motorists are injuries in accidents due to slippery conditions. The resulting costs of healthcare and lost production are four times the total cost of winter road maintenance.
‘It didn’t cost anything, but still made a big difference for the citizens.’
In the county of Skåne, Sweden, the total cost of healthcare and lost production due to pedestrians getting injured in snow- and ice-related accidents has been estimated at about 36 million SEK per winter.
Gender-equal snow clearing can prevent unnecessary suffering and save money. The city of Karlskoga can tell you all about it.