I don’t step on manhole covers. Never. I’ve sidestepped them, walked around them, even leapt over them. I won’t even let part of my shoe touch the edge of a manhole cover, or any other metal access panel in the street. And I’m especially vigilant when it snows.

I didn’t used to have this hang-up. And honestly, I’m a little embarassed about it. But it’s based on a lot more than some wacky superstition.

A few years ago, a woman walking her dogs in the East Village stepped on one of those squarish access covers you see here and there and got fatally electrocuted. ConEdison said it was a freak confluence of events, because rock salt and melting snow had found their way underneath the cable cover and eaten away the insulation of wires below, which then touched the metal cover and turned it into an electrified death trap.

I believed them, partly because it seemed like a plausible explanation and partly because my brother-in-law was working for ConEd at the time and swore it was true. But then ConEd checked thousands of other manhole covers and access doors, and found that some of them had the same problem. And, budgets and bureaucracy being what they are, I remain unconvinced that ConEd has done anything to prevent the same not-so-freakish-after-all confluence of events from happening again. So if you’re walking down the street and see a guy jump over a manhole or suddenly change direction to avoid a cable cover, now you know why.

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