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Lower Mainland cities learned many lessons from 2008/2009 snowstorm, but not enough to make this round perfect

January 4th, 2017 · 50 Comments

Spent the day yesterday collecting stories from people about their experiences with the snow/ice situation, as well as phoning as many municipalities as I could to find out how things were going.

It was interesting to hear how many city staffers talked about the big changes they made after the multiple snowfalls that turned into ice sheets in the winter of 2008/2009. My story on what they had to say here.

But that didn’t eliminate all the problems this time around, especially in Vancouver. As I outline in the story, Vancouver seems to be getting the most complaints and for particular reasons, likely why they’ve decided to throw 300 extra staff at sanding and salting roads and sidewalks and dealing with garbage/recycling pick-up.

  1. It has more laneway garbage pick-ups than any other city and laneways have been the hardest roads to access.
  2. It turned over recycling pick-up to the industry group, Multi-Material B.C., in October, which contracted it to Smithrite. That meant Smithrite wasn’t that familiar yet with the routes in Vancouver. (Different from Coquitlam, where environmental-projects manager Verne Kucy said he had heard few complaints about recycling pick-up, likely because Smithrite has been working in Coquitlam for several years. Coquitlam also has very few lanes.)
  3. It has many more people who expect to be able to walk and cycle around all streets.

Likely more info to come on whether there were other things Vancouver could have done to improve conditions in the past four weeks. For sure, MMBC managing director Allen Langdon says the company, MMBC and Vancouver staff will have to sit down after this is all over to talk about how to work together better.

As he pointed out to me, “Our ability to access some areas is wholly dependent on their ability to plow and sand alleyways and therefore their plans for future situations like this will have a major impact on our plans and ability to cope with those situations.”

In the meantime, many regular citizens have been unimpressed. Below are some of the messages I received yesterday.

Ivan ‏@p0stcap 22h22 hours ago
@fabulavancouver yesterday a 72 year old man fell from a curb at Oppenheimer Park, smashing his glasses & cutting his face

Ivan ‏@p0stcap 22h22 hours ago
@fabulavancouver I lifted him out of the water and sat him on the curb till the ambulance came. The sidewalk was a solid sheet of ice.

From Jenny Puterman in Vancouver

We live near 33rd and Knight. My husband is currently on crutches (due to broken ankle). He had to walk our 6 year old about 5 long blocks to school on his crutches.
We didn’t feel safe driving him or even taking him to before school care because of side streets being too icy.
I have been parking on 33rd because it doesn’t feel safe driving on our street or side roads.
Obviously we rarely get winters like this so it’s not reasonable for the city to be totally prepared but there are a lot of ways they could make life easier and safer for everyone. If they dropped piles of salt on the corners and residents could spread on street, for example.

From Kevin Plummer in New Westminster

I just moved back to the Lower Mainland this summer after more than a decade in Toronto. I didn’t expect that I’d have to be doing this much shoveling after the move.

Our residential street in New West (East Durham) is a relatively gentle slope surrounded by steep hills. Since the city didn’t do any clearing or salting of the snowfall right after Christmas our street (and our laneway) have both been hand-packed into sheets of ice about 3 inches thick. When the rain came last week, all it did was polish the accumulated ice. I’m comfortable driving in snow but there have been a few days where I’ve felt like a shut-in because the conditions have been too bad for getting out of my neighbourhood to the (reasonably clear main streets).

It’s nearly impossible to get up our street. Most people have been getting stuck partway, spinning their wheels until they eventually give up and back their vehicles down the street (towards a much busier roadway). Residents have taken to simply parking their cars facing downhill (parkes facing the wrong direction in many cases) because it’s the path of least resistance. Needless to say, it’s frustrating to keep hearing reminders (from the city – in the newspaper and on digital roadside signs) that homeowners and tenants are required to clear sidewalks when the municipality is shirking its own responsibilities. (To be fair, at least garbage collection hasn’t been disrupted for us.)

Most residents have been pretty good at shoveling the sidewalks in front of their houses on our immediate street. But 8th Avenue East is a different matter entirely (although I’m not sure about the appropriateness of expecting residents to shovel sidewalks on an extremely busy street as semi-trucks and vehicles speed by less than a foot away from the edge of the sidewalk. Plus, places like the Justice Institute didn’t seem to clear the public sidewalk adjacent to their property with any regularity this month, making it an ordeal to navigate ice and snow and ice hidden by snow to get to the bus stop (not that there’s any real public notification of whether specific routes are running) or to walk my son to daycare. New West, like a lot of Vancouver municipalities, hype their desire to be pedestrian-oriented and walkable but this winter has shown their actual commitment in action (or inaction). To me, the excuse about municipal budgets being exceeded is completely unstaisfactory. It’s a failure of governance that economies of scale haven’t been achieved across the metropolitan area for issues of common concern like snow clearance. In my opinion, the response to the past month’s snowfall simply illustrates the foolishness of there being dozens of small, individual municipalities in the Lower Mainland.

Those are my direct impacts , but I’ve also wondered about some longer term impacts. If housing affordability pushes transit workers, nurses and police further into the suburbs, how will these workers (essential to keeping a city functioning) make it to work if there aren’t reliable transportation options for them to get from the fringes to the centre?

From Liana in east Vancouver,

The sidewalk along the south side of Kingsway, heading up hill from Nanaimo, and in front of a Shoppers Drug Mart was a sheet of 2 inch thick ice on Sunday. I sent the City a note asking them to fine the development. Maybe someone will sue for injuries instead. Don’t have an update from today, but annecdotally, businesses have been the worst at clearing snow/ice on sidewalks during this winter weather. Homeowners generally much better, I’ve found.

From Matthew Kagis in east Vancouver

We’re on Kitchener, just east of Renfrew. Our street is a sheet of ice. Most neighbours have cleared their sidewalks, a few notable exceptions… Especially two places under construction and one newly built home which has been for sale since August. The alley is a mess & we have had no recycling pick up since the first snowfall. I think the garbage got done the other day, but I have not checked, I just saw some garbage trucks in nearby alleys and assumed ours got done too.

From Anita Petersen in Coquitlam

We are at the top of Westwood Plateau in Coquitlam and have some thoughts on the VOLUME of snow we have. The City is doing a great job on keeping main roads cleared but our little neighborhood has been pummeled. We have 7foot snow banks and no where to put more snow. More is coming. We were told by Smithrite that they won’t collect recyling as our street is not safe. Garbage has been picked up.

From Lisa Carver in central Vancouver

I live one block east of Main on Quebec. We did not have leaf removal before the snow, and we have had no snow removal or any type of de-icing measures from the start of the first snow. The recycling was not picked up for over 2 weeks prior to Christmas. We left for holidays on Dec 24 and dragged the boxes etc back in, so not sure if there was pick up the week of Dec 26 or not.

I called Smithrite 3 times in the lead up to Christmas eve, and each time was assured the trucks were “coming that day,” but never showed up…

From Megan Reiter in east Vancouver:

Reported our intersection (Prince Albert @ 11th Ave.) via VanConnect app yesterday. Sheer ice, even worse than the adjacent streets, which are also bad. Curious to see if there’s any action today.
21h 21 hours ago

From someone who runs a business in Strathcona:

Walk 9 block to bus each day. Today was the worst. Once you get to Cambridge, all intersections north on Kootenay are solid ice. Some sidewalks not cleared for a month now. Slipped after the first snowfall. Landed flat on my back. Hit as hard as one can without breaking ribs. Still hurts when I cough. Watched a snowplow slide on our street just before xmas, hitting a neighbours car. Garbage only picked up twice in December.

Dave Pasin ‏@dave_pasin 11m11 minutes ago
@fabulavancouver hi fabula HPNY near Lord Nelson school on east side, icy sidewalks, icy roads, no garbage or recycling since end nov/16

Jamie ‏@JamieLyall 16h16 hours ago
@fabulavancouver My last garbage pickup was November 23rd. I am not optimistic for next scheduled pickup on January 5th.

You’d think a private school would salt the sidewalks around it so people don’t fall. #icerink #bylaws #fraseracademy @CityofVancouver




Categories: Uncategorized

  • Morven

    It all goes to show that the City of Vancouver lacks the bureaucratic agility to cope with unexpected events – I shudder at thinking of their earthquake planning.

  • You of course mean homeowners and businesses within the City of Vancouver who aren’t clearing their sidewalks, as required by law.

    As for side streets, most municipalities are experiencing similar situations as you’ll note from the anecdotes above.

    And those supposedly “agile” private sector stores? They’ve also run out of salt.

    Sometimes Mother Nature is fickle.

  • A Taxpayer

    It is hard to believe that just because Vancouverites pay exorbitant property taxes which the COV says are necessary to pay competent staff to provide the services taxpayers demand, taxpayers insist on dwelling on the failures of the COV in such mundane matters as garbage collection, snow removal and ensuring city streets and lanes are passable. There are many more important matters that require the full attention of the City:

    – Stopping climate change;
    – Planning to build sea barriers in anticipation of higher sea levels due to climate change;
    – Ending homelessness;
    – Combating the fentanyl crisis;
    – Earthquake preparedness (I thought maybe these activities would be relevant to winter weather preparedness but clearly that is not the case);
    – Regulating the retail sale of marijuana;
    – Getting the name of Trump Tower changed.

    Just to name a few.

    Sure some goals like stopping climate change are impossible to achieve (but don’t we have a moral obligation to try whatever the cost to the economy?) and others are the responsibility of senior levels of government and require their support but do we really want to waste the talents of our councillors worrying about trivial matters like why the City can’t organize the distribution of salt without screwing up?

    Now don’t all you complainers feel ashamed of yourselves?

  • A Taxpayer

    The City is also required to comply with the snow removal bylaw. Oh that’s right, they would only be paying the fine to themselves wouldn’t they.

    And your analogy about the private sector stores misses the mark. The stores are suppliers of salt, not consumers. The City is a consumer of salt not a supplier and as such should have secured access to salt with suppliers in the event of a bad winter.

  • You mean the suppliers who have…run out of salt.


  • Keith

    There was salty language in the air, at the fireballs of Vancouver. There were rumours of assaults, but authorities took them with a grain of salt. Some people helped themselves to a single bucket, those salt of the earth types. It was a noble if flawed idea, whoever thought of it is worth their salt.

  • Kirk

    Such awesome people! I saw them lining up for hours and scrambling over one another to be the very first to clear our icy sidewalks! Role models of volunteerism and citizenship! If this is a glimpse of what our city is becoming, my heart is warming!

  • A Taxpayer

    Now you are just pouring salt in their wounds…….

  • A Taxpayer

    Once again you demonstrate a lack of basic economics. Suppliers of salt build their inventories based on estimated demand. Too much, they incur excessive holding costs, too little they have lost profits so their inventory decisions are a balance between these two risks. Consumers of salt have to balance the cost of buying too much salt with the costs of not being to purchase salt if their purchases were insufficient for the weather conditions. How to balance this equation? The City would take an option with suppliers to purchase additional quantities of salt to meet unexpected demands. Suppliers would then ensure they have access to sufficient salt to meet the contracted volumes if called upon.

    Yes, this option would cost the City more money in years that the salt was not needed but it would ensure that citizens receive the service they expect during more severe winters.

  • Chris Keam

    It sounds so simple. Just let big government spend tax dollars on weather wagers. I wonder why it isn’t common practice?

    “Although there is essentially a limitless amount of salt
    globally, transportation and storage logistics can make it challenging for highway authorities to ensure they have
    a sufficient supply to meet local and regional needs during severe weather events. ”

  • Jeff Leigh

    All this flap about a supposed shortage of salt.

    “We would like to confirm that we have not run out of road salt, and regular shipments of salt continue to arrive to help crews in their efforts to melt snow and ice from streets and sidewalks.
    There is ample salt supply for us to prepare for the anticipated upcoming snowfall.”

    City of Vancouver, Jan 5

  • A Taxpayer

    “Cherry Pick’en” Keam is back for another year.

    The article you quote (one paragraph out of a 12 page report) goes on to discuss how these challenges may be overcome and the high economic cost of failing to plan for “harsh winters”. The whole article is basically a critique of the failure of the responsible agencies to plan and ensure an adequate supply of salt. The City may save money by failing to adequately plan for a bad winter but there is a significant cost to the community when it happens, both financial and in public health.

    As for the additional cost of adequate preparation, the City Manager justified the higher than growth/inflation increases in the City budget by stating:

    “People are clearly willing to pay more for better service”

    This is probably true but taxpayers are probably thinking of services like passable roads and lanes rather than some of the other hair brained schemes the City wastes money on.

  • Chris Keam

    I know that you aren’t pleased to see me here poking holes in your argument, but there’s no need for playground name calling. From page 4 of the report:

    “However, as we’ve seen during tough recent winters,
    making adequate preparations for the season can be daunting for highway authorities and public works departments. Whether it be estimating needs, storing inventory, or even having to place mid-season resupply orders, there is no shortage of challenges when it comes to keeping the nation safe and mobile during inclement weather.”

    So, hard things are hard. I hope you were sitting down for that revelation. Nonetheless, does your proposed solution even exist? Are salt suppliers going to buy in? To be workable it would require an industry/nation-wide buy-in wouldn’t it? Do you see that happening?

    It’s just a chance to fling mud at City Hall. No one is surprised to see you seize that opportunity.

  • A Taxpayer

    They have done an inadequate job to date – icy streets and lanes resulting in garbage pickup interruption, caregivers unable to attend seniors, and the additional costs of fender benders for cars not equipped with ice skates. So what they are saying is that they have ample supply to continue doing an inadequate job of keeping the streets clear.

  • A Taxpayer

    Granted the City is an easy target but let’s all remember the next time the City goes on about how they are going to achieve some aspirational goal like ending homelessness or earthquake preparedness that they were unable to respond to a slightly worse than expected winter or even organize the giveaway of salt without it descending into chaos.

  • Chris Keam

    Slightly worse than expected?

    “Vancouver in its longest cold snap in over 30 years”

    Not sure how one would predict people would act like starving folk when a fresh tray of shrimp just showed up at the all-you-can-eat buffet (over a salt giveaway), but ‘descending into chaos’… really? Some people got a bit idiotic and shovey about it. That’s all. The only larger over-reaction has been a media in search of eyeballs pumping up some bad manners into something resembling a story.

    How many fire halls had zero problems with their salt giveaways? Perspective doesn’t sell papers these days.

  • Jeff Leigh

    I don’t think they are saying that at all. I am saying that if they have salt (as they say, and as shown in the photo) then all the posts about how the City is at fault for not buying salt options are a little silly.

  • Norman12

    Smith rite wasn’t picking up in my neighbourhood before the snow. I have the unfashionable idea that city government is there to pave streets and pick up garbage, not to try to influence world events, bur I’m just out of date, I guess.

  • A Taxpayer

    Perhaps the cold snap is the longest in 30 years but the winter of 2008/2009 saw a lot more snow and side streets and lanes were impassable for an extended period of time. But why are we debating which was the coldest winter? Given all that CO2 we keep pumping into the atmosphere why aren’t we discussing if this is the warmest winter in 30 years?

    Oh, that’s right. Abnormally hot weather is evidence of climate change but abnormally cold weather is, well, just weather.

  • Chris Keam

    Don’t deflect. Your characterization of this winter as ‘slightly worse than expected’ is either a deliberate misrepresentation or you’re just not very bright. Which is it?

  • A Taxpayer

    You’re right. This winter is not slightly worse than expected but something that should have been anticipated. Anyone who has experienced enough Vancouver winters know you have to keep the sidewalks and roads clear, salted and sanded even for a little snow fall because if you don’t you are at risk of the snow turning to ice as the temperatures hover around freezing. The problems arise if you don’t keep on top of it. In fact, this winter has been lower in snow fall than most years since 1992.

    Clearly the strategy is to do as little as possible and hope for the best.

    And it was not my attention to deflect from the issue at hand but I do apologize for going off topic. It’s just that climate skeptics can’t contain the positive anticipation of the beginning of the end of the Great Green Climate Scam on January 20th. Alarmists have had a good run making a ton of money and still have a few good innings in Canada but it would best to start looking for new opportunities now.

  • Chris Keam

    So your misrepresentation was deliberate?

  • A Taxpayer

    Yawn, zzzzzzzzzzzz………

  • Chris Keam

    Not so much fun having the tables turned eh Judgy McJudgerson?

  • Lysenko’s Nemesis

    You must have missed the reports that Vancouver asked for salt from Surrey, Coquitlam and other municipalities saying they were short of supply. They were refused.

    Note too, that Surrey has far more geography to cover yet seems to be handling the situation far better than Vancouver, who’s residents are complaining the most, by far.

    Vancouver failed. Gregor Robertson is working on his tan in Mexico. The citizens will not forget.

  • Lysenko’s Nemesis

    The most important challenge facing Vancouver right now is just how much beach is left on Nauru and if we all just put on an extra sweater and turn down the heat and bike to work instead of drive then maybe, just maybe, we can save this canary of an island and show we really care about mother Gaia.

  • Lysenko’s Nemesis

    Mayor Gregor went to Mexico, where he’s closer to the sun, praying to the sun god for warmth to melt the treacherous ice. You can see an icon of the sun on the easel in his room here.

  • A Taxpayer

    Unless I missed the announcement about a new solar powered passenger airplane, didn’t flying to sunny Mexico result in the spewing out of tons of CO2? Okay, so this amount of CO2 will not have a measurable effect on climate but wouldn’t the symbolism of forgoing a winter vacation be an act of leadership that would inspire us all to do our part to save the planet? It would also show leadership to be front and center here in Vancouver during the worst cold snap in 30 years and take the flack for the icy streets rather than leaving it to lower level managers to face an angry public.

  • Lysenko’s Nemesis

    Maybe Gregor cycled down there.

  • Kirk

    What’s the point in taking cars off the road when we’re replacing them with airplanes?

  • IanS


  • Everyman

    Poor Jeff & Chris just can’t bear to Gregor criticized. Mancrushing so hard it hurts.

  • A Taxpayer

    The poll reported today has him as the least popular mayor of a major Canadian City so he needs all the support he can get whatever the source.

  • Jeff Leigh

    The same poll showed that he has the highest amount of strong support of any city surveyed in Canada. Suggests that it is more about polarization that absolute levels of support or lack of support.

  • A Taxpayer

    You neglected to mention that our Mayor tied for the strongest disapproval rating (seems you can’t help supporting Everyman’s observation) and as we have seen, unhappy citizens are more motivated to vote than happy citizens.

  • Jeff Leigh

    Thank you for making my point. It is about polarization.

    Carry on.

  • Everyman

    Indeed. For Chris and Jeff it is apparently all about the bike. Gregor gave them bike lanes so he gets a free pass on everything else, like rampant housing unaffordability.

  • A Taxpayer

    Yes, and we have seen how polarization has played out in the Brexit and US votes.

  • Jeff Leigh

    Yes, and how many citizens have regretted it.

  • Lysenko’s Nemesis

    The stock market crash didn’t happen in the UK or the US. The lefties best buddy George Soros is said to have lost a billion dollars. Some of us saw that disaster was not imminent and we made money.

  • A Taxpayer

    And just how would you determine “how many citizens have regretted it? Take a poll? Using the same pollsters that predicted a Brexit defeat and a Clinton victory? Seriously? Pollsters are right down there with alarmists and their climate models in the lack of reliability of their results.

  • Jeff Leigh

    AT/LN posted “The poll reported today….”

    Followed soon after by:

    “Pollsters are right down there with…”

    First you use a poll to try and make a point. But you missed the point. When that doesn’t work out for you, you posted that polling can’t be trusted.

    Your arguments are a joke.

  • A Taxpayer

    I was not endorsing the poll on the mayors’ performance, simply passing on what was reported in the newspaper since many people do take them seriously – you clearly did since you took the time to find a morsel in the poll results that were favourable to the Mayor. Whether accurate or not, it may get people thinking about whether or not we are getting the performance from the Mayor that we need.

  • Jeff Leigh

    Own it.

    If you don’t believe the figures, then why would you use it to try and make a point? Seems dishonest.

  • A Taxpayer

    My belief or disbelief in the poll results is irrelevant. As I said before I simply passed along what was reported in the newspaper and let the reader determine what to make of it. It is probably a novel concept for someone who checks the progressive line before taking any positions but most people are quite capable of forming their own opinions about current issues.

  • Jeff Leigh

    If you didn’t believe the poll results, you should have said so when you posted that snippet. That would have helped preserve whatever shreds of credibility you still have.

    You did not pass along what was reported, you passed along a small portion of what was reported. If you actually wanted the reader to determine what to make of it, you might have provided a link to the article. You obviously are not in the business of helping people form their own opinions.

    I didn’t disagree with the support issue. I pointed out that along with the low support, there was very high strong support (net +5, IIRC), suggesting polarization. That was the real story. But you left out the net score, as well as the polarization.

    Just above, you accused another poster of cherry picking. How absurd, coming from you. It is your SOP.
    You continue to prove my point, that there is polarization on this issue. Thank you.

    Beyond that, your ranting answers the question of why there is such a low level of commenting.

  • A Taxpayer

    Gee, Jeff, I seem to have missed where you provided the link when you cherry picked the strong approval rating without noting the strong disapproval rating. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not complaining since anyone with half a brain can not only find the story but the actual poll results on the Mainstreet website but maybe that is the problem.

  • Jeff Leigh

    So now it is the responsibility of other posters to provide the links to your (wrong by omission) claims. Got it.

    You forgot to upvote your own post with your other identity.

  • A Taxpayer

    Actually, you claimed that the poll demonstrated the Mayor had very strong support so wouldn’t be incumbent on you to support that claim with a link? Oh, that’s right. You are a progressive so it is do what you say, not what you do.

  • Mainlander

    I just feel ashamed that I spent a minute reading your brainwashed drivel.