My colleague Trevor Dineen was telling me today that people have been calling him on the traffic line this week and starting the conversation by saying, "this is ridiculous."
They are referring to the driving conditions on some of the city streets after last weekend's storm. And so, I thought, it begins. Or more accurately for this winter, it continues.
I am referring to our seasonal conversation about whether or not the city is doing a good job clearing the snow and making Winnipeg driveable after stormy days.
Notice that I said driveable but I could have substituted liveable. In a winter city, this is what it's all about.
I would like to acknowledge up front that Winnipeg really is in a category of its own when it comes to snow clearing. We have literally won awards for our methods and efficiency.
Now, as I write this I can hear Trevor's traffic callers screaming at my blog saying, "Who cares? It's still not good enough!"
However, I would suggest that figuring out what our standard should be has been tricky this winter.
In the past month I have had two opportunities to speak to the man in charge of street maintenance for the City of Winnipeg.
The first conversation was after a mid-December storm when many listeners criticized the city for being slow to clear residential areas. This created the dreadful ruts that turned our vehicles into real-life bumper cars.
If you were lucky you would get caught in the ruts and they would carry you straight forward past parked and oncoming cars.
If you were unlucky or, as some of you have suggested — driving poorly — you would get spit sideways out of the ruts and hit parked or oncoming cars.
There was even a street in the city where repeated rut-related accidents happened and drivers suggested that they shouldn't be held responsible because there was no such thing as "driving safely" through the kinds of ruts that they were navigating.
So why didn't the city get to the scraping sooner?
In that first interview the city's head of maintenance said that they were expecting a second storm system within 48 hours of the first, so they delayed scraping the residential streets.
He suggested they were trying to make a good fiscal decision and not pay for two widespread operations back to back.
I suggested that I've never heard a Winnipegger complain that we spend too much money on snow clearing.
Then came storm number two, last weekend.
Cue the 'ridiculous'
Did anyone out there drive Osborne Street and try to turn through the westbound yield at River Avenue? I thought my tires were going to fall off! It was like driving over icy little hills where Smurfs live. (Three apples tall, right?)
It's time to cue Trevor's traffic callers: "This is ridiculous."
The city's head of street clearing was on the show this week. This time he suggested that the clearing was pretty much business as usual and they were getting through their schedule of scraping and sanding as quickly as they could.
I couldn't help but notice however that Polo Park's lot was beautifully clear on Tuesday morning yet I was still driving over an icy, bumpy "Smurf village" on Portage Avenue at Sherbrook Street when I tried to turn.
It will come as no surprise to you that this all comes down to cost.
My question is this: Do we need to put more money into our snow clearing budget?
We need to scrape up the answer to scraping down the streets or it's going to be a very long winter.