A little snow makes for big problems

Halifax snow clearing efforts need improvement

Halifax is home to more than 448,000 people and has an annual average snowfall of 182cm based on data collected from 1981 to 2010. Despite the growing need for speedy snow removal, Halifax officials refuse to guarantee clear sidewalks in a timely manner, and it needs to change. 

A major problem with Halifax’s lack of initiative in quick sidewalk clearing is the impact it has on residents with mobility issues.

Brian George, a local actor and comedian, moved to Halifax from British Columbia in 2014 and uses a wheelchair to get around. The slow removal of snow from city sidewalks doesn’t just make life inconvenient for him, it limits his ability to leave his home.

“Winter in Halifax is something I dread every single year. While I don’t expect the sidewalks and curb cuts to be cleared immediately, there have been times when a week, or sometimes more, have gone by and I’m still unable to do simple things like wheel to the grocery store or get on a bus because nothing is clear,” says George.

George isn’t the only Haligonian unimpressed by snow removal efforts. In a report published in The Signal this year,  Kaija Jussinoja explains Halifax’s municipal service line has received 486 calls and emails since Nov. 1, 2021 regarding improperly cleared sidewalks.

Halifax chose not to increase snow clearing efforts this year

Currently, Halifax is obligated to clear sidewalks in 12 to 36 hours based on priority. Priority one sidewalks, those intersecting main streets in the city, must be cleared within 12 hours of snowfall. Priority two sidewalks, those along bus routes and in front of schools, must be cleared within 18 hours. Priority three sidewalks run through residential neighborhoods not on major bus routes, and need to be cleared within 36 hours of snowfall. 

Halifax regional council’s budget committee met last year to discuss increases for snow clearing, including priority three sidewalks. The hope was that all sidewalks could be cleared quickly, but the motion failed. Most councillors hoped to use the money elsewhere.

For me, hearing our city councillors aren’t worried about locals getting around is frustrating. For individuals with mobility restrictions, I imagine this frustration is amplified.

“What bothers me is I often hear ‘Thank you for your continued patience,’ from city officials pertaining to snow clearing. It really feels like they just don’t understand how someone with mobility issues can be stuck indoors for days or even weeks at a time when things aren’t cleared properly,” George explains. 

A major issue with Halifax’s current snow clearing strategies is that even when sidewalks are “cleared,” they’re impossible for wheels. The residual ice and narrow paths make it difficult to cross. 

Winter parenting struggles in Halifax are real

For me, getting my eight-year-old son to school has been a problem in the past. My daughter is four now, but in earlier years, pushing a stroller was impossible, and carrying a toddler across ice and snow is dangerous. 

Even without the stroller, sidewalk conditions are harrowing for parents with small children trying to get to school. 

Following the snowfall on Jan. 29, sidewalks were left looking like a sheet of ice for Monday’s walk to school. Not only did my eight-year-old son fall twice trying to get to class, but the ice turned a 10-minute walk into a 40-minute struggle. After the 40-minute trek to school, my daughter was too tired to walk back. 

Let me tell you, you haven’t lived until you’ve carried a 38-poundchild down an unsalted icy sidewalk.

Following the lead of other cities and countries

I love my city, but I’m with George when it comes to winters here – two thumbs down. While I imagine managing the city budget involves some tough decisions, we need to do more to reopen the city following snow. 

“I’ve spoken with many people over the years from other parts of the country like Calgary and Winnipeg, who have told me how other cities don’t have this problem. So, maybe it’s time we look at other areas to see what they’re doing differently because what Halifax does, or doesn’t do, just isn’t cutting it,” says George.

In Northern Japan, snow removal is carried out through solar-heated water flowing beneath the sidewalks. Sprinkler systems also spray warm water into the roads, while plows take care of the rest. 

I’m not suggesting we need in-ground heating to handle Halifax sidewalks, but as the infomercials say, “There’s gotta be a better way!” If not for the sake of convenience and safety, then for the sake of people like George who are confined at home until plows reach the sidewalks.

“I’ve sometimes felt like this city doesn’t care about people who aren’t able-bodied, and that feeling is intensified in the winter. I’m tired of the lip service and the excuses and it needs to stop.”

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