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It’s been a cold and snowy few weeks, but it wouldn’t be surprising if Mayor Dennis O’Keefe and a few St. John’s city councillors have found that their ears are burning. Why? Because the talk of the Christmas season — at parties, in letters to the editor, at the office and in social media — has been about the city and its snowclearing efforts.

And the talk has been anything but complimentary.

The general tenor of the discussion (which, to be fair, is far more anecdotal than it is scientific) is that, in some areas, snowclearing seems to be slipping: downtown hills that used to be cleared repeatedly now get one sweeping cut and then seem to vanish off the snowclearing radar. The limited areas cleared by sidewalk plows are filled in again by street widening; in other areas, street widening in freezing weather is creating impenetrable walls of ice blocks.

More pointed? Especially as far as people who try to walk in the city are concerned, the current level of sidewalk clearing simply isn’t adequate, and doesn’t measure up to the standard that a city this size should have. Walking in the current snow conditions is not only difficult, it’s downright dangerous, and it’s only a matter of time until more walkers are seriously injured or even killed. When streets are barely two lanes, are coated with icy slush and have both walkers and cars, something’s going to give — and it’s likely to be whatever is the most fragile.

Mayor O’Keefe recently complained that Canada Post’s plan to get rid of door-to-door delivery will cause hardships for the aged and the disabled — at the same time, those same aged and disabled can be close to trapped in their homes by the lack of effective snow clearing.

The city’s position has been that it is doing the best it can, given the unique design of the downtown, the limits of its budget and the sheer volume of snow we get in our winters. That’s legitimate — to a point. And that point is whether you can say that it’s working effectively. There are plenty of people who say it isn’t, that things are getting worse, and they have the war stories to prove it.

Technology doesn’t always help make the case that everything’s working just grand: Monday morning, with snow forecast since last Friday, a trip to the City of St. John’s real-time snowplow tracking website at 10 a.m. showed just four operational pieces of equipment — one truck snowplow and three front-end loaders with plows. By 10, streets were already snow-covered and greasy, and the four pieces of equipment shown on the website? All four were parked at the depot.

In the great wide expanse of the rest of the city, the website said there was not a single piece of equipment operating. Twenty minutes later, there were 14 pieces of equipment fired up: 12 were still at the depot, and just two on the road. (By 11:30, 13 pieces of equipment were fanned out city-wide.)

Other cities do better, and do things differently. Perhaps it’s time to start looking at new solutions, rather than saying that we have to live with the status quo because it’s the best we can do.

Organizations: Canada Post

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Recent comments

  • Camille Fouillard
    January 08, 2014 - 17:09

    I lived in Halifax for years, including through the winter of White Juan. Halifax easily holds the equivalent of downtown St. John's, including hilly streets, density of housing edging sidewalks, etc. Roads and sidewalks were always promptly cleared, and my taxes were considerably less. Everybody cleared sidewalks in front of their homes and we helped each other out. Something is amiss here and it's not the workers busting their asses at all hours of the day and night.

  • anna
    January 02, 2014 - 19:21

    Anyone interested in forming a protest group to get the city to clean up the sidewalks

  • penney rowe
    January 01, 2014 - 15:24

    My personal challenge to St. John's City counselors: park your cars for one week, this coming week! From Monday to Sunday walk to your closest bus stop and get the bus to work, to the bank, to the grocery store. Then tell me with a straight face that either snow clearing or public transit are adequate. I dare you.

    • Elizabeth Yeoman
      January 02, 2014 - 10:03

      I was going to write to them with the same suggestion. Dennis O'Keefe apparently is a walker but it's hard to believe he walks in these conditions, or that any of them have ever tried it.

  • peter
    December 31, 2013 - 15:19

    any good reporter would do a tiny bit of research before he published something. 10:00 is shift change at the depot. By the time the equipment is fueled and all the pre trip inspections are done ect its going to take some time to get the equipment back on the streets.

    • Jason
      January 03, 2014 - 18:22

      And the other 10 pieces of equipment? The devil is in the details my friend.

  • peter
    December 31, 2013 - 14:41

    There is a shirt change at 10:00. Any good reporter would research a little before he posted information.

  • anna
    December 31, 2013 - 14:37

    wonderful editoral, please run this every week and see if you can embarrass City Council into cleaning up this city. It is getting worse every year, they keep expanding the City but nothing is done to add more resources. Paul Mackey is living in a bubble as is Denis O'Keefe. Too bad the cruise ships and Republic of Doyle don't happen here in the winter, we might get the place cleaned up. As it is now, I'm trapped in my neighbourhood, I can only walk on one street without getting hit by a car. I don't know how they can expect people to want to move here with this total lack of concern for it's citizens. After being here for four days, my daughter and friends said they would never move back here.

  • sc
    December 31, 2013 - 14:09

    The city has never cared about pedestrians and it never will. This consistency is considered 'progress' and 'forward thinking' here in St. John's. There is no co-ordination between street and sidewalk clearing. In the unlikely event that a sidewalk is cleared, it will soon be covered up again by a snowplow. If not, the sidewalk is left covered in ice, plowed at about a 30 degree angle, or with about 6 inches of snow left on it all of which makes the sidewalks dangerous or impossible to use. My wife and I have given up trying to walk in or around the downtown area -- not that there's any reason to go down there.

  • Ron Scott
    December 31, 2013 - 13:04

    I live in Cowan Heights and wait approximately 18 hours for a snow plow to make one cut! The adjacent streets are done at least 4 times a day! Calls to the snow line result in frustration as the operator is not allowed to pass my call to City Foreman who they say control the street clearing issues! How can that be productive when they cannot even allow contact with the persons who control what streets get plowed and when?? I find the planning and street clearing to be abysmal!

  • Jay
    December 31, 2013 - 12:13

    The councillors at city hall will do nothing about snow clearing because they are terrified of the operators. The attitude of these employees is disgraceful. I know a senior citizen in the downtown who couldn't get out of his house because the plow pushed the snow so tight to it that he couldn't open his door. Then you hear idiots like Galgay praising the staff for their efforts. O'Keefe, on the other hand, hides away while Paul Mackey runs to every camera he can find to justify the lousy job these people are doing. Snow clearing in this city is more about labour peace than good service.

  • Devil's Advocate
    December 31, 2013 - 11:45

    You get what you vote for. Dennis O'Keefe ran on a platform of "Everything I've done is fine and I'm going to keep doing it". Last year's snow clearing was abysmal. He was re-elected Mayor. The snow clearing is still abysmal. Why are people surprised? That is what he promised, and that's what he's delivering.

    • doug
      December 31, 2013 - 20:27

      right on,get rid of the snowclearing and contract it out,cheaper and the contractor can be held responsible ,,taxpayers are only good for their taxes and shutting up,,,

  • JH
    December 31, 2013 - 11:22

    "Especially as far as people who try to walk in the city are concerned, the current level of sidewalk clearing simply isn’t adequate, and doesn’t measure up to the standard that a city this size should have. Walking in the current snow conditions is not only difficult, it’s downright dangerous, and it’s only a matter of time until more walkers are seriously injured or even killed. When streets are barely two lanes, are coated with icy slush and have both walkers and cars, something’s going to give — and it’s likely to be whatever is the most fragile." Agreed. I live on a busy East End street, and I haven't seen any sidewalk clearing since before the last two storms. And now yesterday's snow has been added to that. The snowbanks at both sides of the road are as high as my head. As a pedestrian, every time I go out the door, I'm taking my life in my hands. I can't tell you how many times I've nearly been clipped by passing cars that refuse to slow down. It's downright scary sometimes. The city definitely needs to rethink its snowclearing plan, because obviously, their current plan simply isn't working.

  • Gerry.
    December 31, 2013 - 09:56

    I have lived in cities in Canada from the East Coast to Vancouver Island and I can tell you that nowhere in between is there any city (old or modern) with a snow clearing record as terrible as that of St. John's, NL. On our street (Hamilton Avenue Extension) the plows go up and down the street and clear it sufficiently enough to allow traffic to pass (and very slow at that) while at the same time they pile whatever amount they are plowing onto the sides of the street and sidewalks. The mounds of snow prevent anyone from parking on the side of the street in any kind of safe way and without impeding the regular traffic flow. We have not been able to have any relatives/friends visit simply because there is no place for them to park. The scenario is pathetic ! Someone at City Hall needs to step in and take hold of this catastrophic situation and shake up the Street Maintenance Program so that it reflects what the residents/citizens need and deserve. Clearly a paradigm shift in planning and execution is needed in that specific area of City operations. For a City which has been expounding the heightened economic growth and development of its region one would never imagine it could be so abaft in its snow removal exercises. For someone who is paying nearly $5000. home property taxes here in the City I am both angered and frustrated by the quality of service I am being handed (or not handed). I am of the opinion that this troublesome chaotic state of affairs could be obviated by improved planning, and better use of resources. It's time for someone at City Hall to intervene, to show leadership and to refrain from the repeated whine, "we're doing as best we can under the circumstances". It's just not acceptable.

  • Jm
    December 31, 2013 - 09:20

    @ Brad, I know it is very frustrating. But the fact of the matter is that cul-de-sacs are very low priority when it comes to snow clearing. High traffic and high speed routes have to take priority over the smaller ones.

  • joan noonan
    December 31, 2013 - 09:06

    the snow clearing has been mother at 76 years old has 100 feet frontage on her house and spent a lot of money to have it plowed out only to have it shoved back god if you have 100 feet of frontage would not the SOB at least leave enough room to get your cars out.i am afraid to go out and check my garbage can i think they destroyed that and garbage is every where.that would be one of those 140 dollar cans the city insisted i should have.i can't get over is the worst i have seen.i know we have have had mild winters over the last few years u until december but historically if you are wise you should be prepared for any eventuality after the 15th of also appears no matter what type of winter we have wether it is mild or harsh by the spring the council is talking about being over budget on the snow clearing and up go the taxes.the peoples lives in this city are in constant jeopardy as they struggle every day through the conditions our council have left the city in.just to add insult to injury i have heard one of our newly elected councillors thinks the shovelling will give the seniors some much needed exercise.that councillor should not only have been diciplined for that remark but made to apologize to the seniors.i hope he is blessed with extraordinary health when he gets old.that had to top the list of idiotic comments made at city hall over the years.we have a long winter ahead....GOD HELP US ALL.

  • Guy Incognito
    December 31, 2013 - 08:56

    Look up status quo in the dictionary and there is a picture of Doc O'Keefe. Stagnant council.

  • Guy Incognito
    December 31, 2013 - 08:53

    All Doc cares about is getting his name in the paper, bike lanes and cruise ships. I certainly didn't vote for him. Same old same old. Should have saved the money for the harbour fence and spent it where it is needed.

  • Brad
    December 31, 2013 - 08:49

    That is a fair point Jm. Thing that drives me crazy is how long it takes to clear streets. One time this season, it took my street 18 hours after the snow stopped to see a cut from the plow. And yet the guy who lives around the corner from me pays less taxes, but sees the plows more often while I am stuck on my street paying more in tax because I live on a cul-de-sac. Unacceptable

  • Jm
    December 31, 2013 - 08:23

    It is worth noting that around the time of 10 when you noted there was equipment parked at the depot, is the time when shifts change. Also, equipment does break down which is why you may see it parked.

  • Herb Morrison
    December 31, 2013 - 06:56

    Well said

    • Sailor
      January 01, 2014 - 07:38

      The one thing that you people don't understand is the fact that the city only has so much equipment and it is a big city that is getting much bigger. A snow plow truck cost upwards of $300,000. A loader $200,000. If you want more equipment to preform better snow clearing, taxes have to go up. But you don't want that either. One or the other. Taxes or equipment. Suck it up.