Even though it was a beautiful day in St. John’s with ample sun and temperatures exceeding 20 C, those who gathered in the library of a junior high school in St. John’s weren’t having sunny thoughts.
The first public consultation for the City of St. John’s winter maintenance review was held Tuesday evening, with representatives from consulting firm KPMG on hand to discuss how the snowclearing review will proceed and to hear from residents.
That discussion got emotional at times for some who attended. Mother of four Andreae Callanan described her worst fear when walking the streets of St. John’s in the winter.
“When we did the Happy City survey (on snowclearing) and they asked what are your concerns about walking around St. John’s, I said I’m concerned that either I’m going to see one of my children get killed, or they’re going to see me get killed,” Callanan said while sobbing. “That’s what I worry about when I go outside my house.”
Pedestrian safety in the winter was a topic that came up multiple times during the meeting. Sidewalk clearing received a failing grade for being infrequent and ineffective. Many said when it is done, the sidewalk becomes too icy to walk on, forcing people onto the roads.
KPMG senior manager Brian Bourns confirmed when asked about the city’s spending on sidewalk snowclearing that it does not keep track of how much is spent on that service.
Anne Malone, accompanied by her guide dog to the meeting, said in her eight years living in St. John’s as a legally blind person, she has experienced a dramatic decline in her quality of life directly impacted by inadequate snowclearing. For nine months of the year, Malone said, she cannot leave her home to go to work, attend school or go out to buy groceries.
“If the city is not worried about an eventual human rights class-action suit, they damn well should be, because it is absolutely intolerable here if you live with a disability, particularly in the city. It’s like your life sucks, and that’s the truth.”
As part of the review, KPMG will look at practices in other cities with comparable annual snowfall amounts based on 20-year averages. Snowclearing services in Halifax, Fredericton, Mount Pearl, Quebec City and Saguenay, Que., will be examined for the review.
One man at the meeting suggested KPMG should also look at Scandinavian municipalities like Helsinki, Finland, a city he has previously lived in. In Helsinki, walking trails and sidewalks are prioritized along with side streets.
The same downtown resident also suggested that if the city’s $15.2-million annual budget for snowclearing is not getting the job done, it should be doubled to $30 million.
“What do we pay to park downtown? $6. I’ll pay $1,000. I’ll pay $2,000 if you clean my damn road in front of me.”
Another man suggested the city could alleviate the issue of removing snow on some wider streets by plowing it into the middle of the road, thus creating a temporary median for streets like Torbay Road and Topsail Road.
An interim report will be produced later this summer outlining different options, some of which may be singled out for potential implementation in the next snowclearing season.
Further consultation will then take place in the fall before KPMG produces the final report in late October.
Another consultation is scheduled for Thursday at Southlands Community Centre starting at 7 p.m. Comments can now be submitted to the consultants through the website www.snowsj.com. That same website also includes a background document detailing the current state of snowclearing operations in the city.