Holding on

Hit and Miss #284


T and I were talking last night about hospital doctors (particularly residents) who work 24-hour shifts. (If you hadn’t heard about this, there’s a good interview with a resident from ten years ago—though it’s very much still a thing—and there continue to be calls to abolish the practice, to little avail.) You can imagine different reasons for this, including the “physician god complex”, despite the huge incongruity of physicians doing something they’d never recommend to their patients.

I got to wondering whether it’s a legacy practice, grounded in assumptions that no longer hold: of lower patient volumes, higher staff numbers, fewer and simpler procedures, and technology that speeds rather than slows (the speedy technology would be paper, to be clear). In that world, there was at least a chance of using the bunks commonly found in hospital break rooms—24 hours didn’t meant 24 hours of work, but 24 hours of presence. The assumptions have changed, the status quo unjustified—yet 24-hour shifts persist.

Similarly, it’s increasingly likely the Rideau Canal will not open this year. This is a shame: the Canal is an iconic part of Ottawa’s winter landscape, the sounds and sights of people skating a cheery break from midwinter doldrums. It’s also… somewhat inevitable? Average temperatures pursue a stubborn course “up and to the right”, which, while great for many graphs, is not great for ice.

Around ten years ago, the Canal cost $1.5 million to operate as a skating rink—including ice maintenance, contractors, some capital costs, and so on—though the NCC is (understandably! rightly!) quick to point out the significant economic benefits of the tourist attraction. Some of those costs vary with the length of the season, but others are fixed. Researchers are working on extending the ice’s viability, but that’ll no doubt carry its own cost tradeoffs.

As the season grows shorter—or, in some years, disappears entirely—we might start asking: is this the best use of the Canal in winter? Nearly 8km of ice is really impressive, and fun, and wonderful—but it’s only for two, two and a half months at best, and often less than that.

Why not 8km of linear park, open the entire winter? I think I first heard the idea from Gabe a few years ago, and it’s stuck with me since.

The Canal already serves something of this purpose when open for skating: each year, I walk the entire length, sticking to the snowy bits on the sides, in addition to skating. Why not double down on this, expanding the area for walking (or snowshoeing) and adding groomed trails for cross-country skiing and winter biking? And, when weather permits, I reckon we could find a way to offer skating—on parts of the route, if not the entire length.

Access to the space would be much more predictable—we could confidently plan for Winterlude activities in the snow park, instead of cancelling them when weather doesn’t cooperate. Businesses, too, could establish more permanent presences, instead of their operations depending on the ice’s quality (a few, like Beavertails, operate on the ice, but only when it’s open, making for a very variable business). Tourism wouldn’t have to suffer, is what I’m saying: it could remain an attraction, maybe even become more of one.

I wrote “Similarly” while transitioning from speaking about physician schedules, because I wonder if there’s a similar phenomenon at work: we’re stuck in assumptions of the past, but not yet at the point of change. One can only dream—though there’s little time for dreaming for those on 24-hour shifts.

All the best for the week ahead!