Helped by a weekend of melt, the City of St. John’s downtown snow removal efforts marched on, using overnight Sunday and into Monday to attack an ambitious agenda of 24 streets, ranging from the busier Duckworth and New Gower streets to the quieter Nunnery Hill and Flavin Street.
The midnight-to-morning snow ballet will trundle forwards, out of sight but hardly out of hearing.
It’s the grunt of heavy equipment pushing the snow into the middle of the road, followed by snowblowing it into dump trucks and the eventual dumping of loads of snow off the harbour apron into the ever-accepting waters of St. John’s harbour.
With each dump truck load, with each cleared street, with each bottleneck removed, the outcry about the state of the streets for weeks now shrinks a little more. With the immediate problem solved, people go back to their everyday lives.
At city hall, it must bring a small sigh of relief: with no new snow this weekend, people get distracted with more mundane things, like, “Am I going to have electrical power all day today, or is the ‘not-crisis’ continuing?”
But there will be more snow, and as it falls, just as the tide rises, so, too, will rise the level of snow umbrage.
In some ways, it’s like watching the inevitable car accidents that follow the first dusting of snow in early winter: it’s like all driving skills have been forgotten during the summer months, to be learned the hard way all over again with crumpled fenders and broken glass.
For the city, for a little while, snow complaints will shift to the other side of our freeze-and-thaw cycle — from snow complaints to pothole complaints — while staff juggle the age-old conflict between staying on budget and delivering services.
The question is whether the age-old — and same-old — is good enough.
Well, for a lot of the time, it isn’t.
The only thing that does seem to work is that people have short memories and suffer from the misguided belief that, when their personal situations are addressed, everything else is fine.
It’s time that the city took a step back and returned to the drawing board on snowclearing: it should look at the whole picture, right back to what it’s trying to achieve and how quickly, where driver and pedestrians fit into the snowclearing picture and whether it’s acceptable to have sidewalk clearing play second fiddle to everything else.
The city should look at what routes it wants to keep clear, how clear and in what order: it should explain clearly and honestly how costs factor into the safety equation, and how costs would have to change to improve the service. It’s not tinkering that’s required: it’s time to look at wholesale change, if that’s what’s necessary.
Snow is going to fall, complaints are going to come: the argument that “crews are doing the best they can” may always be true. It just may not be good enough. Status snow has to get beyond delivering the status quo.