Saturday, 18 December 2010

A Prairie Problem

Extension-cord law stirs Regina debate

Resident creates frigid fuss over $25 ticket

REGINA -- The harsh realities of a prairie winter and the right of pedestrians to move freely on sidewalks have collided in Saskatchewan, where civic lawmakers are dealing with a debate that could only have erupted in courtesy-conscious Canada.

Regina resident Bob Klassen has created a frigid fuss over a $25 ticket he got for running the extension cord from his car's block heater across the sidewalk to an outlet.

The city said people could trip over the cord.

Block heaters, foreign in warmer climes, are a winter driver's lifeline when the mercury dips. The electric heating element, juiced by a plug in the grill, keeps an engine from freezing up on long, cold nights.

Klassen doesn't have a garage, or a driveway on which to park his 1991 Corolla, so he has to run an extension cord from his house to the street.

"For an older vehicle it is really reliable, but it does need that extra little bit of TLC, you know," Klassen says.

Enter a bylaw officer who chose to enforced traffic Bylaw 9900, Section 68, Subsection 2: "No person shall allow any cord or cable left across, above, or on any public highway or sidewalk to be attached to their vehicle while that vehicle is parked on a street."

"I was dumbfounded," Klassen recalls.

"Let's face it. We live in Saskatchewan and not everybody is really rich. We don't all have off-street parking. We don't all have garages.

"I'm thinking, that's a law for Saskatchewan? It just makes no sense. We get down -- often for weeks on end -- to -40 C."

He took his grievance to city hall.

At first the only acknowledgment was an explanation -- we don't want people tripping on cords.

But when Klassen expressed his outrage in a letter to a newspaper, things began to snowball.

Debate has raged in online forums ever since. Some people are urging a more common-sense approach to bylaw enforcement, while others warn that anyone given an inch of cord will take a mile.

On Monday, the mayor and Klassen's councillor are to put forward a motion asking a committee to review the bylaw and consider options. Whether they are enforced or not, similar bylaws appear elsewhere on the Prairies. Some larger municipalities, however, have hit on solutions.

In Medicine Hat, Alta., drivers are allowed to run a cord through trees or anything else at least 2 1/2 metres above the sidewalk. In Grande Prairie, Alta., a cord may snake across a sidewalk if it is "done in such a manner to ensure due care and attention for the safe passage of vehicles or pedestrians."

Klassen says his situation is particularly galling because he meticulously clears his sidewalk of snow and makes sure walkers can spy his cord.

For this crusader for free-range extension cables, the only thing that really works is letting him keep it on the ground.

-- The Canadian Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 18, 2010 A7

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