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EDITORIAL: A better route

St. John’s Mayor Danny Breen speaks at a news scrum Friday afternoon, answering a host of questions regarding the city’s snowclearing policies.
St. John’s Mayor Danny Breen speaks at a news scrum Friday afternoon, answering questions regarding the city’s snowclearing policies. — Telegram file photo

All right: from the very beginning, let’s admit the obvious.

Clearing snow from streets and sidewalks in St. John’s — with a winter climate that runs through snow, freezing rain, rain and the inevitable refreeze-up that follows — is a difficult job to do well.

Let’s admit something else that’s obvious: no matter how well you plow the snow, there are always going to be people who are upset with the way it’s done. That comes with the territory.

The city has hardworking, dedicated crews that work an established pattern to clear streets and sidewalks, based on the way the streets are categorized — obviously, main arteries get done first and cul-de-sacs are left to last — and the safety needs for particular sidewalks. That means that sidewalk plows start in school zones, and work outwards.

But, as winter after winter comes and goes, you have to ask whether the city needs to sit down and think about what its actual snowclearing goals are.

Are downtown parking spaces so important that the snow that fills them immediately after storms has to be pushed into the fronts of downtown businesses, blocking access to those businesses with mountains of frozen slush? Or should the city mobilize to remove it as it’s plowed in the space-challenged downtown, rather than days later? Is there a more reasonable solution?

But, as winter after winter comes and goes, you have to ask whether the city needs to sit down and think about what its actual snowclearing goals are.

When it comes to sidewalk clearing, does it really make sense to send a sidewalk plow the length of Elizabeth Avenue or Thorburn Road, for example, only to have a road-based wing plow fill the sidewalk all in again an hour or so later? Isn’t that a waste of time, money and effort?

Is it possible for the city to plan its sidewalk clearing in a way to would establish specific cleared walking routes — main arteries of sidewalks — instead of having cleared routes that end abruptly and force pedestrians onto busy and dangerous streets? Plowing small patches in specific areas — like around schools — helps with loading and unloading cars, but not pedestrians.

Should municipal tickets be issued to private snowclearing operations and even private homeowners who fill in already-plowed sidewalks as they clear their own driveways and parking lots? It’s already a ticketable offence to re-block a street by shovelling snow into roadways. Why is it acceptable to block safe passage for pedestrians, who are arguably in more danger from an accident?

The city already tracks its snowplows using GPS to show citizens where the plows are during a storm. Is it possible for that information to be collected on sidewalk plows and then mapped in an app, so walkers can plan the most safe and cleared route to their destination?

It’s time for the city to surrender the defence of “this is the way we’ve always done it,” and rethink. It won’t make the snow go away, but it might find a better way.

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