Frances Bula header image 2

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