The Garden Plot

Snow unrest: why we need to re-think our service delivery.

Ah winter snow has finally arrived in Halifax, and over the last week or so we have acquired a nice layer of winter gold.   Snow banks are now lining our streets, and those sleds that were Christmas gifts can finally be used.  However, there has been much debate over the level of service that residents have experienced.  I support the workers that are executing as current set by regional council. The municipal workers and private contractors are I feel doing their job to the best of their ability given the resources provided to them.  But what is in question by many, and warranted from my perspective is the snow clearing standards themselves.   Our current service standards are built on a priority system with separate rankings for both roads and sidewalks.  Service standards range anywhere from 12 hours to a maximum of 48 hours from end of storm depending on priority and what is being cleared. For more detail on the service standards please visit here.    We live in a geographically large city, which can experience unique weather situations depending on where you are in the city.  These two factors combined with the freeze-thaw cycles that we often experience during the winter help to make snow clearing a significant challenge.    Back in 2013 regional council made a change that city staff would clear all sidewalks on the peninsula vs. previously that some residents were responsible to clear their own sidewalk.   Andrew Murphy wrote an op-ed piece on this change, and even within that year his concerns rang true as they continue to in 2015. 

Comparatively to other centres like Moncton or St. John’s, Halifax’s service standards provide a quick turnaround time in theory.  However, in practice they represent inconsistencies and failure to meet service standards set by council.   Furthermore, with the increased focus on making Halifax a more walkable city the poor snow clearing we see year after year has become a safety concern.    Driving across the region this weekend, I have seen snow banks excessively high that make it difficult for motorists, cyclists and pedestrians to see each other.   Many bus stops without shelters are not adequately cleared, nor are countless crosswalk approaches or only cleared to permit passage for residents without mobility challenges.   It is clear that there are aspects of our current snow service standards that are not working.   

So, where do we go from here?

It is clear that there are aspects of our current snow service standards that are not working.  However, let’s not throw the baby out with the bath water.  For a city of our size, we do have good service standards but how they get to be implemented is the issue.  For example in Moncton,  for sidewalks outside the core business district staff have 5 days to clear them vs 36-48 hours in Halifax.   However, I feel that we could be doing better and that we need a holistic review of the plan.   I would suggest that we cancel the 2013 change that saw the expansion of sidewalk clearing across peninsular Halifax. The service standards times for items like bus stops and sidewalks need to be adjusted. Two days to clear bus stops in a city where many depend on public transit does not work.  I like Megan Blumenthal's ,(@MegBlumenthal), suggestion that sidewalks get one pass during a storm, then the rest residents take care of.    Also we can copy good practices from other local centres.  In Moncton, they have an adopt a fire hydrant program, whereby residents take responsibility for clearing a hydrant.   Let’s adopt this program in Halifax and also expand it to include storm drains and bus shelters.   Lastly, in collaboration with resident’s associations and/or community groups develop community based lists of people willing to help shovel sidewalks, paths etc for residents who are unable to and to reduce the strain on city staff.  

We live in Canada, we have winter if we work together we can improve safety across Halifax.