Pedestrians are urging the city of St. John’s to brace themselves on slippery, snow-covered sidewalks
Shane Regular of St. John’s says commuting in the city on a snowy winter day means walking the streets alongside cars and trucks.
He says it’s often the only viable option for pedestrians in winter: either risk your safety by walking on the street, or wait inside for a few days until the sidewalks are clear.
“It just makes it hard to live here,” said Regular, a Memorial University student who has lived in the city since 2011. “It’s just awful.”
For years, many pedestrians and accessibility advocates in St. John’s have been urging the city to address what they believe is inadequate sidewalk cleaning.
While roads are being cleared, many sidewalks in the city remain slick with ice or snow, making it difficult for many to walk or take buses in the winter.
HEAR | Elizabeth Yeoman speaks along The St. John’s Morning Show on sidewalk cleaning:
“I feel like a second-class citizen,” Regular said. “I’m against, I don’t know, a thousand pound machine.”
Elizabeth Yeoman, an advocate for better winter walking, said St. John’s lags far behind other cities in terms of snow removal from sidewalks.
“Most of the city is horrible every year,” she said in a recent interview with CBC News.
A constant theme
The problem is not new to St. John’s pedestrians.
In September 2020, protests erupted after the city’s full committee voted against a proposal to spend an additional $1.35 million on the sidewalk snow removal budget.
The city’s 2022 budget included $510,000 for a third shift to remove snow from sidewalks, and the 2023 budget includes an additional $306,000 to improve snow removal at pedestrian crossings with eight additional employees, two leased loaders and two light trucks .
The 2023 Budget said the City Council reviewed the results of its 2022 Resident Satisfaction Survey, in which residents rated road maintenance, transportation planning, and snow removal from roads and sidewalks as “top priority areas for improvement.”
The city, which is budgeting about $19 million for snow removal and ice control, says it has identified about 100 miles of sidewalks for snow removal and ice control. The 161 kilometers, according to the city, are “collective” and “arterial roads” that have higher pedestrian and vehicle traffic.
The city also says most roads are plowed within four to seven days after a storm ends, depending on the amount of snow.
Yeoman says the city’s approach to sidewalk cleaning doesn’t compare to other Canadian cities.
She says the city conducted a snow removal consultation in 2015. Of the five comparison cities — including Halifax, Fredericton and Mount Pearl — four aimed to clear all of their sidewalks, while the fifth aimed to clear 62 percent of sidewalks. By contrast, she said, St. John’s only erases about 10 percent.
“It’s definitely not good enough,” said Yeoman, who said the city’s goal should be to clear all sidewalks, not just those that are in high-traffic areas.
“I think St. John’s has sort of normalized the lack of sidewalks in the winter. People just think it’s normal.”
Regular, who doesn’t own a vehicle, says he made his own safety protocols when walking the streets next to vehicles.
Sometimes, he says, he stretches out his arm in the direction of traffic to make sure cars give him enough room to walk. Otherwise, he says, cars could cut him off or come very close to him when turning.
Yeoman says it’s not acceptable to put pedestrians in precarious situations like Regular’s. The city needs to clear the sidewalks better, she said.
“We can do it and it wouldn’t cost us a fortune. People want it, everyone wants it and we can do it.”
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