Twenty or so years ago, we had snow in June. We’ve had frost many times in other Junes past, regardless of the summer solstice, but this snowfall was significant enough to require boots.
You might be forgiven for thinking that similar weather was coming again, given the unseasonably cool temperatures.
More than a few friends have noted that blankets are still in use, they have put on fires for warmth, not just for light and marshmallows, and they are still hauling out mitts in the evening.
I was reminded of that June snowfall by the news that the City of St. John’s was embarking on a series of public consultations on snowclearing.
This winter was long, hard and frustrating; maybe even more so than the infamous year of the big snow, where more than 700 inches of frozen H2O in crystal form kept us occupied from December to May.
It didn’t really matter where you lived in the city this winter: everyone had a problem with the city’s approach to snowclearing.
The issues ranged from getting a street’s worth of snow dumped in your driveway to sidewalks that were filled with snow and never cleared to laying off most of the staff complement in March, on the hope that the rain would come and take it all away instead.
We have several issues to deal with. The first is that we call it snowclearing when it should be snow removal. In many cases, snow gets pushed off the road and onto the sidewalks and driveways where it becomes either no one’s problem in general or the homeowner’s problem in particular.
There is nothing guaranteed to raise blood pressure as fast as a doctor’s white coat than the sight of a heaping pile of boulders, ice, snow and slush in your driveway or surrounding your car.
Or the fact that your child may have to scramble over equally steep drifts and cuts just to get to school (especially when some, but certainly not all the streets on their route are cleared).
Or that seniors or people with disabilities face a season indoors dependent on the help of others.
Or that people who wish to maintain their health and fitness by walking to work or to live there daily lives without a car cannot do so in winter because of the sheer inaccessibility of our city.
The second is that the city has several different kinds of snow removal challenges.
A good portion of the city centre is made up of steep streets, both crooked and narrow. It’s primarily commercial with some residential at its densest (Water, Duckworth, Gower and LeMarchant). The remainder of the city is a little wider in places, somewhat less crooked, and a great deal less steep.
What is abundantly clear is that the city needs a new plan.
With the exception of classifying streets as A, B, or C in a priority listing to determine what roads are cleared first, there are many gaps in managing snow removal, co-ordinating related services, such as busing, and ensuring sidewalk access.
St. John’s cannot continue with the status quo.
What we need is not just a new strategy that better connects equipment with streets but a whole new way of thinking.
‘What are you gonna do?’
What I find disconcerting each year is the shrug that seems to come from the city: we get harsh winters, there’s a freeze-thaw cycle, what are you gonna do?
It’s almost as if our council has adopted an attitude that there’s a limit on what could possibly be accomplished.
We accept terrible snowclearing half the time because it’s always been that way.
Sometimes, we only see how terrible it is when we travel, and see how other cities (larger and smaller than ours, with forbidding weather as well) get the streets and sidewalks plowed in short order.
I hope the two meetings last week are just the start.
This city needs a good long talk, in summer and at any time, about what kind of winter city it wants to be.
Martha Muzychka is a writer and consultant living in St. John’s. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.