The City of Vancouver is putting another 265 employees to work on snow removal duties, as the municipality launches a new offensive against Old Man Winter and a persistent cold spell that has delayed city services and kept residents on edge for a number of weeks.
“It’s a big decision for us for us to shut down our construction crews,” said engineering general manager Jerry Dobrovolny to News 1130. “Typically we don’t go in and clear the neighbourhood residential streets because there’s so many more of them and typically the weather breaks. We were hoping even in the last week, we had temperatures above zero, the expectation was that would start to break up a lot of the ice… but it didn’t break up the ice this time.”
The cold is not expected to let up, either. Environment Canada says that more snow and precipitation expected over the next few days.
“As we head into the weekend, things get really messy,” says meteorologist Matt MacDonald, in conversation with the CBC. “We’re hovering right around that freezing mark and we’re probably going to go back and forth between rain and snow and even a chance of freezing rain.”
Vancouver officials say they’ve received over 1,800 requests for snow removal from city residents during recent weeks and they have allotted another 50 staff towards bylaw enforcement in efforts to keep residents on the job of clearing sidewalks of ice and snow. The City has been offering free buckets of salt to help deal with the icy conditions, but residents are still complaining about having to grapple with icy streets and sidewalks, with thousands of calls pouring into the City’s 311 service about the condition of some sidewalks and grumblings of criticism over the city’s handling of the winter onslaught.
“Most people are clearing their sidewalks, but there are some problem areas, in particular strata councils and businesses in commercial areas that have not cleared their sidewalks and that’s creating some problems,” said Dobrovolny to Global News.
Canada’s major cities are split over whose job it is to deal with snow and ice removal on city sidewalks. Along with Vancouver, places like Edmonton, Calgary, Saskatoon as well as those in the downtown core of Toronto require residents and businesses to take care of the sidewalks next to their properties, typically giving residents 24 or 48 hours to do the job. Others like Winnipeg, Montreal, Ottawa and Halifax get city staff to do the job.
The choice is in large part about allocation of resources. A city like Edmonton spends over $50 million a year on snow removal while Calgary’s recent budget is an even more modest $37 million. Ottawa, on the other hand, spends over $60 million a year on snow removal and Montreal a whopping $155 million.
Yet, the issue goes beyond money, says Barry Wellar, creator of a walkability index for Canadian cities and professor emeritus of geography at the University of Ottawa. “Sidewalks are a fundamental element of the urban transportation infrastructure,” said Wellar to MacLean’s magazine in 2011. “It is bizarre that any city would fail to provide the same level of service for sidewalks that it does for roads. This makes its pedestrians second-class citizens.”
Vancouver reportedly spent $2.5 million over the month of December, 2016, on snow and ice removal, well over its budgeted $750,000 for the year.