Pedestrians urge City of St. John's to get a grip on slippery, snow-covered sidewalks
St. John's resident Shane Regular says commuting on a snowy winter day in the city means walking on the streets alongside cars and trucks.
He says it's often the only viable option for pedestrians in the wintertime: either risk your safety by walking on the street, or wait indoors for a few days until the sidewalks are clear.
"It's just making it hard living 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 urged the city to address what they say is insufficient sidewalk clearing.
While the roads are cleared, many sidewalks in the city remain slick with ice or covered in snow, making it challenging for many to walk or take the bus in the winter.
LISTEN | Elizabeth Yeoman speaks to The St. John's Morning Show about sidewalk clearing:
"It makes me feel like a second-class citizen," said Regular. "It's me against, I don't know, a few-thousand-pound machine."
Elizabeth Yeoman, an advocate for better winter walking conditions, said St. John's lags far behind other cities in terms of sidewalk snow clearing.
"Most of the city's terrible every year," she said in a recent CBC News interview.
An ongoing issue
The issue isn't new to St. John's pedestrians.
In September 2020, protests ensued after the city's committee of the whole voted against a proposal to spend an extra $1.35 million on its sidewalk snow-clearing budget.
The city's 2022 budget included $510,000 to add a third sidewalk snow-clearing shift, and the 2023 budget includes an additional $306,000 to improve snow clearing at pedestrian crossings with eight additional employees, two leased loaders and two light duty trucks.
The 2023 budget says city council reviewed the results of its 2022 resident satisfaction survey, in which residents rated road maintenance, traffic planning and road and sidewalk snow clearing as "top priority areas for improvement."
The city, which budgets about $19 million for snow clearing and ice control operations, says it has identified about 161 kilometres of sidewalks for snow clearing and ice control. The 161 kilometres, says the city, are "collector" and "arterial" streets that have higher pedestrian and vehicular traffic.
The city also says that, depending on the amount of snow on the ground, most streets are plowed within four to seven days following the end of a storm.
Yeoman says the city's approach to sidewalk clearing isn't up to par with other Canadian cities.
She says the city completed a snow-clearing consultation in 2015. Of the five comparison cities — which include Halifax, Fredericton and Mount Pearl — she said four aim to clear all of their sidewalks, with the fifth aiming to clear 62 per cent of its sidewalks. In contrast, she said, St. John's clears only about 10 per cent.
"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 that in St. John's the lack of sidewalks in winter has been somehow normalized. People just think it's normal."
Regular, who doesn't own a vehicle, says he's created his own safety protocols when walking the streets alongside vehicles.
Sometimes, he says, he'll stretch out his arm toward the traffic to ensure cars give him enough space to walk. Otherwise, he says, cars can cut him off or come very close to brushing against him as they turn corners.
Yeoman says it's not acceptable to put pedestrians into precarious situations like Regular's. The city needs to do a better job clearing sidewalks, she said.
"We can do it and it would not cost us a fortune. People want it, everybody wants it, and we can do it."