All clear?

This year the city of St. John’s launched its sidewalk snow clearing pilot project, which saw sidewalks on busy streets plowed after snowstorms. So, how’d we do?

With spring nearing the bend, Sarah Smellie hit the streets to get a sense of how we made out this year.

It was a monumental winter for the pedestrians of St. John’s…

…Or it was just another winter of dodging cars with drivers shaking their fists as they whizz by pedestrians walking in the street.

Whatever the case, after much public outcry last year, the city was out to make the sidewalks safer for winter walkers this year. With a $175,000 boost to the snow clearing budget, they expanded their plowing routes in an effort to keep snow off the sidewalks, and, hopefully, pedestrians off the roads.

The verdict on whether or not it worked depends on who you talk to.

Joshua Thompson, a student on scholarly hiatus was walking home from work on Freshwater Road right after that late January storm turned the sidewalks to slick, impassable glaciers. He took a dive by the intersection near Planned Parenthood.

“That intersection is strange, and I didn’t want to be walking in the road, so I was walking on the sidewalk,” he says. “Well, I slipped and fell right on my knee and ended up at the hospital.”

On the city’s sidewalk plowing priority list, found at, Freshwater gets a 2 out of 3.

“The plowing didn’t do any good,” says Thompson. “The sidewalks were more dangerous than they ever were with snow on them, and I’d end up walking on the road anyways.”

According to Laura Woodford, communications manager at Eastern Health, emergency rooms anticipate an increase in slip-related ankle and wrist fractures each winter when the snow melts and the ice remains. The pilot project hasn’t changed that, and it doesn’t seem to have made a dent in the number of injuries.

Back out on the streets, people’s opinions about the success, or lack thereof, of the pilot project were all over the map. One lady, who was navigating a mound of ice on Empire Avenue (plowing priority 3), said the whole situation was an outrage.

“I wasn’t aware of a very big difference this year,” she said, adding that the issue goes beyond public safety. “You want to talk about sustainable communities, well, this only encourages people to drive. People have to have a car to get safely to where they’re going!” She wants to see the city salting or sanding the sidewalks, and is intent on making it an election issue.

On the other hand, lots of folks were pleased. Mathematics professor Dr. Marco Merkli and his wife, Nancy, wouldn’t dare walk to MUN on the sidewalks or roads last year, opting instead to drive every day. This year, they say that the plowing made walking safer and that they used their car less.

“We found we could often actually walk on the sidewalks,” he says. “I hope that the improvement is not just due to natural fluctuations [like this milder winter], but to the effort of the city.”

Ward 2 Councilor Frank Galgay says that he received tons of positive feedback about the sidewalk clearing.

“I believe there is considerable support to continue in future years,” he says. “I will be lobbying for expanded sidewalk clearing for the 2010 budget, particularly for my ward. Whether or not it will gets funded will depend on what priority it is given by council in overall city spending, and also on available revenue to fund the programs.”

He also agrees that there is a need for salting and sanding. Right now, the city salts some pathways, like the one leading from Circular Road across Kelly’s Brook Valley, by hand. To do the sidewalks, they’d need to invest in some machinery.

“Again,” says Galgay, “this increase in service level will be part of the 2010 budget considerations for next year.”

Council has already asked Public Works to look into the cost and viability of a program that included salting.

Some Canadian capital cities, like Quebec City, plow and salt every inch of their downtown sidewalks. Some provide centrally located “sandboxes” filled with free sand for people to use on the sidewalks.

But will salting put a stop to the angry letters to the editor from unhappy winter peripatetics? Probably not. Salting sidewalks and streets is not exactly environmentally friendly—runoff water from the sidewalks gets into groundwater and increases its salinity, causing all kinds of problems. And pet owners aren’t too thrilled by the idea of salty walkways.

“It’s bad for the dog’s feet,” pointed out one lady as her dog bounded by.

Stay tuned for more headaches next winter.

Illustration by Ricky King.


  1. Mark Galway · February 6, 2013

    It’s fun to read articles on subjects that are very debatable.
    Great illustration.

  2. Dennis Rice · February 6, 2013

    At the beginning of the winter, I was very impressed with how clear the sidewalks were (I walk to and from work each day). However, as the season wore on, I realized that a) it was hardly snowing, so I couldn’t really tell if a pat on the back was warranted, and b) while they were cleared of snow, the sidewalks were instead covered in ice, which was not touched.

  3. JP · February 6, 2013

    Back in March almost a day after a snowstorm with ~15cm of snow, I walked from the Avalon Mall to the University Centre and it was nearly impossible. The sidewalk on O’Leary Avenue (rear entrance) was covered in a foot of snow, I had to walk along the side of O’Leary and got a few greetings from the friendly neighborhood drivers, then walking down Thorburn Road to the Columbus Drive-Prince Philip Drive, the sidewalks were somewhat clear but I almost slipped like 5 times going down the hill thanks to the ice on the sidewalks and walking on the road would have probably been better if it didn’t mean I’d get ran over by the Avalon Mall traffic. I didn’t expect O’Leary and Thorburn to be top priority but I assumed conditions would improve somewhat when I got on Prince Philip Drive.

    I couldn’t have been more wrong. I ended up walking through rather deep snow for 15 minutes from the Thorburn Road/Kenmount intersection to Westerland Road, then things got better quick. I turned into Clinch Crescent there and Arctic Avenue and the rest of the campus was great. Why can’t St. John’s clear the rest of the sidewalks like MUN does on their campus?

    I hope sidewalk clearing is made a priority in the next budget. The thing I hate the most about this city, and I love St. John’s (most of the time), is how car-dependent it is. I don’t own a car and transportation by foot in the winter seems to be near impossible. As for biking, it isn’t that easy any time of the year.