2 weeks after the storm, St. John's pedestrians still walking in fear

It's a fight that seems to freeze and thaw as often as city sidewalks across St. John's.

But every year — just like the snow, ice and broken bones — it bubbles back to the surface again.

A handful of residents are once again raising the issue of impassable, unsafe walkways forcing pedestrians onto the roads. Two weeks after a blizzard blanketed the city, many of these thoroughfares remain clogged with snow or partially plowed — leaving them treacherous even when they do exist.

Meghan Hollett is part of the informal group that formed this winter to combat what they're calling a serious risk to residents.

"It's a conversation that we have every year," said Hollett, also the vice-chair of urban development group Happy City.

"There have been numerous reports. There have been documentaries. There have been surveys all done over the years."

But nothing, she said, ever seems to change.

The group met with Coun. Ian Froude and Deputy Mayor Sheilagh O'Leary earlier this week to try to ramp up the discussion.

 

"There's not necessarily a need for a task force or another report on this. We need action and more than anything we need people to realize that this is about priorities," Hollett said. 

"This is about what we value — what we choose to value."

A spokesperson for the city said Friday about 60 per cent of the 161 kilometres of walkways cleared by the city have been completed.

Ninety-eight per cent of streets, in contrast, have been widened to allow for two lanes of traffic.

Jonny Hodder/CBC

Hollett said talks on Wednesday broached the financial cost of paying more attention to sidewalks.

"To be comparable with other large cities around Canada with roughly about the same amount of sidewalks, we'd need an estimated $2 million for better snow clearing," she said. 

"That's roughly just under $20 a resident."

Not just snow clearing

Pedestrians argue many of those getting around on two feet have been forced onto the roads, just inches away from cars whizzing past.

But Daniel Fuller, the Canada Research Chair in Population Physical Activity and professor at Memorial University, says better snow removal is just the start.

The "Vision Zero" project,  implemented in major cities across Canada, advocates a zero-tolerance approach to pedestrian injuries and deaths.

Fuller recently wrote a report on collisions in St. John's. Using police data from 2016, he calculated the city saw about 2,900 crashes that year, or about eight every day.

Of those, about 99 collisions involved pedestrians, or about two a week.

 

Fuller says changing speed limits is an integral part of the Vision Zero plan. The plan would have cars going as low as 30 km/h in most neighbourhoods.

It also pushes for cities to redesign public spaces to make them less about vehicles. "We do have to build our roads differently," he said.

That includes creating narrower streets and reducing the number of turning lanes to slow cars down at intersections. Pedestrian advance signals and a ban on right turns on red lights are also possibilities, he said.

Jonathan Hayward/Canadian Press

What do other cities do?

Some municipalities compel residents to help clear sidewalks through bylaws, while others shoulder the chore themselves. Here's a look at how cities across Canada deal with walkways:

  • Calgary: Adjacent property owners have 24 hours to clear snow and ice down to the bare pavement, or face a $150 invoice if city crews must do the clearing for them and progressive fines starting at $250 for a first offence.  
  • Regina: Downtown property owners must clear adjacent sidewalks within 24 hours of a storm. Other owners have 48 hours. There is no fine for non-compliance.  
  • Waterloo: Property owners have 24 hours to clear adjacent sidewalks or they face a $250 minimum fine for a first offence. City crews clear sidewalks not connected to a property.  
  • Hamilton: Property owners have 24 hours to clear adjacent sidewalks and access ramps and must ensure routes to hydrants remain clear. Those who violate the bylaw risk a fine of up to $5,000.  
  • Toronto: Snow and ice must be cleared within 12 hours from adjacent sidewalks where city plowing isn't available. A $125 fine is issued to homeowners who violate the bylaw.  
  • Ottawa: City crews are responsible for clearing sidewalks, but the city provides do-it-yourself grit boxes for residents who want to pitch in.   
  • Halifax: The city is responsible for clearing all sidewalks. Taxes were raised to cover those costs.  
  • Vancouver: Adjacent property owners must remove snow from sidewalks by 10 a.m. the day after a snowfall or they face a minimum $250 fine.

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