Residents who spoke during a public meeting where the City of St. John’s unveiled its new sidewalk snowclearing program commended the city for taking an active interest in improving the service.
That said, all speakers appeared united on the following point — the city can do even more to enable residents of St. John’s to safely walk its streets.
Camille Fouilliard was among the latter. Fouilliard said walking should be a basic right year-round. Attempting to do so during the winter has proven problematic for her family.
“If anybody walks in this room, they know the streets in this city are not safe to walk on.”
Fouilliard was almost hit by a car last week while walking, and she said her daughter avoided serious injury by a split second in a vehicle-pedestrian incident last year.
The city hopes new investments will reduce those incidents.
With a recent $450,000 purchase of three new sidewalk snowclearing vehicles and a new $250,000 investment for providing service, an additional 47 sidewalks will be cleared as part of an enhanced program.
The additions, which came into effect two weeks ago, include extra coverage for Elizabeth Avenue, Topsail Road, the Stavanger Drive area, Empire Avenue and Torbay Road, among other streets.
Clearing and salting service is now offered to four routes covering 133.7 kilometres. Previously, two routes covered 101 kilometres of sidewalk.
Sherwin Flight, executive director of the Essential Transit Association, questioned why the city devoted so much new coverage to streets where one side was already looked after. He suggested it would be in the city’s best interest to focus on streets where no sidewalk snowclearing is offered instead of clearing two sides of the same one.
Coun. Danny Breen said the move was made in response to feedback received during last year’s Metrobus strike, when sidewalk snowclearing practices were adjusted to help affected users.
Flight questioned why people were not invited to meet with the city prior to the new plan’s finalization. Breen said the plan was informed in part by many of the concerns raised by residents and city staff over time. Breen also pointed out the city is already re-evaluating some aspects of the new program and will continue to do so as it receives feedback.
On new vehicle purchases, Flight wondered why a doubling of the sidewalk snowclearing fleet would only allow for an additional 32.7 kilometres of coverage. Director of public works Paul Mackey said in the past, crews were challenged handling the two routes. Under the new four-route system, he said it is expected crews will respond more rapidly.
Fouilliard also questioned why the city would opt to introduce sidewalk snowclearing to Stavanger Drive given there is almost no pedestrian traffic in the area.
Resident Anne George said the city should alternate the sides it clears to be more fair to taxpayers, some of whom never have their sidewalks cleared while neighbours across the street do.
Mackey said focusing on one side makes more sense, as alternating would leave sides untouched for lengthy periods of time and make them impossible to clear during colder periods.
Multiple concerns were also expressed about the quality of sidewalk snowclearing in the downtown core. The Downtown Development Corp. administers the service and funds it jointly with the City of St. John’s, contracting the work to another service provider.