Someday in the distant future residents of St. John’s might look back at 2011 and be mystified and repulsed by the era’s primitive approach to snowclearing.
Contrary to the boastful pronouncements of some politicians, the snowclearing dilemma is not improving, nor is the current situation acceptable.
To put it in language they might understand, the problem is getting worse going forward.
A few years ago, 20 or 25 centimetres of snow was sufficient to shut down St. John’s for a day, as everyone shovelled out.
These days, a forecast of a mere 10 centimetres of snow and perhaps a wisp of wind prompts bulletins on the radio and announcements of school closings.
We have overlooked a simple, essential fact: weather is not the problem.
Our reaction to weather is the problem. More specifically, our inadequate reaction to it is the problem.
Banking on snow
A friend of mine from Quebec says that after a heavy snowfall in Montreal, city crews work around the clock and within a day or two all the snow is removed from central areas.
Walking down a cleared sidewalk, he says, you’d never guess there had been a storm the day before.
The snow is gone.
It isn’t just pushed up against buildings or piled into huge snowbanks at the edge of streets, as it is in St. John’s.
Granted, this is anecdotal. It doesn’t include statistical analysis of labour costs, budgets or centimetre counts.
Another anecdote, which Canadians like to recite and laugh at, is that a dusting of snow in Toronto will cause civic officials to call in the Army.
The approach taken in St. John’s is equally ridiculous.
Officials at city hall — time and again, year after year — defend their snowclearing tactics. Crews are working 24/7, they claim. The city’s snowclearing policy is good, they say.
Yet there is so much evidence to the contrary. Downtown merchants complain there is so much snow blocking parking spaces it discourages potential customers from shopping in the area. It’s more convenient for people to go to suburban big-box stores, whose owners understand the importance of accessible parking.
This week — days after the most recent significant snowfall — dozens of parking meters on Water Street had yellow covers on them, indicating they were “closed.” Why? Their spaces, which would usually accommodate vehicles, were blocked with snow.
On Harbour Drive, meters did not have yellow coverings, but they did have snowbanks about six feet wide and almost as high as their coin slots, making them virtually inaccessible to motorists.
If the city can’t even be bothered to clear away snow in areas that will bring it revenue, its claim that its policy is good isn’t very convincing.
Last week, two young women walking on Topsail Road were critically injured when they were struck by
a pickup truck. The driver was allegedly impaired, and hit a number of other vehicles as well as the women.
It could be another tragic case of drunk driving, of which there are far too many. But near the end of the next day’s news report in The Telegram was this line: “Sidewalks on Topsail Road were snow-covered at the time of the incidents, forcing pedestrians to walk on the street.”
Winter after winter, residents point out the dangers of leaving sidewalks impassable because of snow, and of having high snowbanks lining the edge of streets.
The explanations coming from city hall have always been illogical and indefensible.
What will it take to make the city safe in winter? A doubling of the snowclearing labour force? Dozens of extra trucks and snowplows? Millions of dollars?
That is the debate we should be having.
Brian Jones is a desk editor at The Telegram. He can be reached by email at email@example.com.