MacGyver the Storm Drain

The storm drain in my alley needs regular help to keep up with its job. I noticed this during my first winter living here. The alley became a lake during a thaw and it took an auger truck half a day to get it draining. It was a huge operation. I felt a little sad about the money and waste that went into fixing a problem I might have been able to prevent. I set a personal goal to prevent our block from needing that service again.

When my city started an Adopt-a-Storm-Drain program, I immediately adopted that drain. The program let me name the drain, so I called it MacGyver, in honor of my recently deceased pet rat. I think MacGyver is a higher maintenance drain than some of the others, which makes my job extra important.

When MacGyver has a crisis, the alley floods, and then I run around giggling in my rain boots until I fix it. Unclogging that drain is one of the funnest things I do in life. MacGyver gets clogged with two main things: pine needles and ice. Pine needles aren’t the type of leaf one rakes, so sometimes it takes a heavy rainfall to get them all in one place.

Several months ago, there was a rainstorm so fierce that it clogged MacGyver with pine needles and then flooded the alley to the point that people’s trash carts started floating away. I threw on my rain boots, grabbed my tiny rake, and got to work. The water was so deep at the storm drain that it spilled over the top of my rain boots, which are a foot tall. It was tough to pull the clumps of pine needles away from the drain because of the extreme suction. I squealed with glee when a vortex formed in the draining water. And just like that, I likely saved one or two neighbors from catastrophic basement flooding. I may have even prevented flood damage to a neighbor’s car engine, because it was too deep to drive through.

This morning, Elysa brought it to my attention that MacGyver required my assistance. I could hardly wait to get to work. I grabbed my ice chipper, put on my rain boots and hurried out to the alley. This was a special opportunity. Breaking apart ice that’s under a puddle is a unique experience. I can’t really see the chunk of ice I’m working on, so I have to go by feel. Poking around with my ice chipper gives me a general idea of the shape of the ice.

my feet in rain boots, standing in ice water that's almost eight inches deep
Before: here are my feet standing in ice water that is almost 8” deep.

Finding a storm drain under four inches of ice is tricky. The first thing I do is get down to the pavement somewhere nearby. As a hard-of-hearing person, I get a lot of important information from the vibrations I feel through my feet. I’ve spent enough time with MacGyver to know how the ground vibrates nearby. Once I get my boot on the pavement and tap around it with my ice chipper, I have a pretty good idea where MacGyver is. I had to clear a few slots on the drain cover before the water started to flow. The initial trickle helped erode the ice and improve the drainage.

my feet in rain boots, standing next to my ice chipper on the storm drain I just cleared
After: here I am standing in the same place, on the newly visible storm drain.

I watched and listened to the draining water for almost 45 minutes before going back inside. Today has made me enjoy being hard-of-hearing. My deaf ways helped me find the storm drain, and I still got to enjoy the the amplified sound of the flowing water when I’d achieved my goal.

Accessibility Fairy

I wrote this post last week. I don’t feel so positive about things right now, but I’m willing to acknowledge that I felt this way last week and many other times. See my last post for a more current report on how I feel right now.

From last week:

My favorite wintertime activity is smashing ice that obstructs the curb ramps of sidewalks near my home. I like to think of myself as an accessibility fairy. In a perfect world, there would be no use for an accessibility fairy. All the sidewalks and curb ramps would be cleared for maximum accessibility. But that’s just never going to happen.

I can report properties where snow has not been cleared, but that doesn’t feel like enough. I want more than a dispersal of cautionary form letters. I want as many people as possible to be able to safely navigate my neighborhood. I want people to be able to get their wheelchairs from one bus stop to another. I want people to be able to push a stroller around without having to lift it all the time.

I can’t fix everything, so I focus on removing the obstructions that remain when people think they’ve cleared it well enough. The places where the sidewalk meets the street are a definite legal gray area. One side of the curb line is the responsibility of the property owner, one side is the responsibility of the city. But it’s hard to say which side the ice mound is on until you smash through it. In reality, though, the ice mound is usually on the street side since the plow drivers try not to destroy the curbs. The city isn’t going to do anything about the icy snow banks at the bottom of all the curb ramps. The plowing has a lot of room for improvement, and I’ve learned that pedestrian improvements are usually at the end of the public wish list.

Crossing the street as a pedestrian can be very scary sometimes. Most motorists don’t know the crosswalk law, and many motorists in my neighborhood show a wanton disregard for the safety of pedestrians. I like to clean up the curb ramp areas so pedestrians can have an easier time getting in and out of the street while aggressive, entitled motorists are careening about.

I wish all the sidewalks were fully accessible all the time. If more people cared, we could get a lot closer to that. I just do my best to make my little corner of the world a little better for some people.