I know it’s an odd time to be thinking about snowclearing. We have many serious concerns facing our city and province right now. Notwithstanding — and in response to the city’s recently announced sidewalk snowclearing discussions slated for June — I’d like to share some thoughts on how to make our city respectful and safe for pedestrians all year long.
Cars get a safe transportation corridor. The city clears snow and salts the roads in winter, fixes potholes (well sometimes), repairs pavement, etc., all to ensure vehicles can go about their business on city streets all year long.
Pedestrians do not get a safe transportation corridor in St. John’s all year long. The problem of walking safely in St. John’s during winter has been with us for many years. Snowmageddon exacerbated the problems, but it also shone a bright light on some problems that can be fixed.
First things first
Snow removal and ice control on sidewalks will never happen until the city stops using sidewalks for snow storage. Any policies that require homes and businesses to play a role in clearing a patch of sidewalk cannot even be contemplated when the city dumps mountains of snow on the sidewalks. It would be asking citizens to literally move mountains. As it stands, even sidewalk plows cannot do an effective job.
Pedestrians do not get a safe transportation corridor in St. John’s all year long.
We are a winter city but we’ve taken North American development models for moderate climates and plunked them down in a hilly, windswept island in the North Atlantic. Take utility pole placement. Why are we still placing the poles at curbside and not on the inside of the sidewalk? Many years ago the city did move its downtown parking meters to the inside of the sidewalk. In some places, new poles are being placed away from curbside. But I have recently seen poles replaced at curbside. Who is responsible for approving the placement of poles and other street infrastructure? Poles at curbside make it difficult to plow the streets — let alone the sidewalks.
Enlist citizens and snow equipment
Consider how many households and businesses have snowblowers in this city. How many trucks have plows for snow removal? We can use this equipment to supplement what the city does. We have to think creatively. If there’s a silver lining to Snowmageddon it is this: we discovered that citizens, neighbourhoods and local businesses are capable and caring and want to do more to make our city hospitable and safe for everyone who chooses to live and work here. We shovelled out fire hydrants, cleared drains, sanded icy areas and cleared around bus stops. We came together to do important work. So, formalize this. Find out what equipment is available that can assist with the most challenging areas for sidewalk snowclearing and make neighbourhood plans. Leverage smaller equipment and engage neighbourhoods to identify and participate in solutions.
Invest in the right equipment
Our climate demands ice control. That’s just how it is. So, invest in the right equipment for the job. Sidewalk plows that don’t salt and sand don’t cut it. Furthermore, large highway-sized snowplows don’t effectively clear many narrow streets. What they do is push exceptionally large volumes of snow onto sidewalks and take concrete chunks out of curbs. I have often wondered just how much we spend as a city on curb and street repair following winter. Think I’ll look into that.
And finally, our city needs to adopt the Complete Street concept. A Complete Street is one that is planned, designed and maintained to accommodate pedestrians, cyclists, transit riders and motorists of all ages and abilities. That has to be the foundation on which we go forward.
So, come on city. Take the steps that are necessary. Pedestrian safety cannot remain optional for six to eight months of the year. Access to a safe pedestrian transportation corridor needs to be looked at as a right, not a privilege, year-round. Today’s citizens know that. And we’ve got the ideas and energy to help make it happen.
Mona Rossiter, citizen