British Columbia

3 things Vancouver needs to do better when the snow falls

When snow hits the Lower Mainland, the region has a habit of shutting down, and while Vancouver's snow removal plan is reviewed every year, approaches to public transportation, parking, and sidewalks could be improved.

Public transportation, parking and sidewalks among ongoing issues

Coast Mountain buses struggle to drive up a hill during snowy conditions in Vancouver. (@winnieyeo)

Engineering staff at the City of Vancouver frequently note that there was a 1,000-day absence of snow before the 2016 winter season.

But when snow does hit, the city has a habit of shutting down. 

Jerry Dobrovolny, Vancouver's general manager of engineering services said the city updates its snow removal plan every year, but some recommendations haven't been adopted.

Other measures are not well enforced.

Public transportation

When winter weather hits the Lower Mainland, buses often lose traction and slip around hill-laden city streets.  

Coast Mountain buses currently do not use winter tires, but employ all-season tires, better suited for wet conditions, according to a representative from the bus company.

According to Vancouver's snow removal plan, written in 2013, city staff approached the bus company about using winter tires following a 2012 snow storm, but were told it was not financially feasible.  

An articulated bus fishtails in Vancouver. (@shanparmar)

The union representing TransLink drivers says it wants winter tires to make the rides safer and more reliable for passengers.

"You can see by all the stuck buses that are out there that we're trying," aid Steve Sutherland, union president for Unifor Local 111.

"We're out there trying to drive the bus and trying to get people where they want to go, get them to work, get them to school, whatever it is.

"But when you just can't get there, you just can't get there."

However, Sutherland said the bigger problem is getting municipalities to clear the streets where buses run and putting down salt and sand. 

Parking

Cities like Toronto, Montreal, Saskatoon, Winnipeg, Edmonton, and Calgary have seasonal parking bans in effect to allow ploughs and service vehicles access to clear, salt, and sand roadways.

Cars that remain on these streets under parking bans may receive tickets or friendly tows.

Cars occupy the shoulders of a residential road. (David Horemans/CBC)

Vancouver does not use temporary parking restrictions to facilitate access for snow ploughs and salters. City staff say these kind of restrictions could affect businesses and residents. 

Nola Kilmartin, an urban planner in Edmonton who developed the city's winter design guidelines, said it would be worth it for Vancouver to look at parking restrictions to speed up the process of street cleaning during heavy snowfalls. 

According to Dobrovolny, Vancouver does make use of temporary parking bans for street cleaning of leaves. In the future, it would consider temporary parking restrictions as part of its snow removal strategy. 

Sidewalks

Snow removal from sidewalks is a joint responsibility of municipalities and residents, with municipalities like Vancouver providing snow and ice treatments to those with no abutting property owner. 

Taking responsibility for those sidewalks appears to be a problem. The BC Fire Fighters Union said slippery conditions on streets and sidewalks this season have caused an increase in falls.

"We are waiting an hour on the side of the street with someone wrapped in blankets," said Dustin Bourdeaudhuy, vice-president of Vancouver Fire Fighters' Union local 18.

A senior walks over an icy sidewalk near Hillcrest Park in Vancouver. (Cory Correia/CBC News)

Vancouver bylaws require owners and occupiers to remove snow and ice every day, no later than 10 am. If they don't comply, the city will send someone to remove the snow at their expense.

Dobrovolny says warnings usually do the trick, but they may follow up with fines if needed. 

Another approach is education, according to Kilmartin, who says the culture around snow in Vancouver is not as strong as in other Canadian cities.

"I think the first step would be a bit of a public awareness or education campaign that would highlight to residents ... the risk it poses to people trying to do their job or provide services, such as the mailman, or kids doing a paper route, or anybody doing deliveries or garbage collection," Kilmartin said.

"I think that that's an important message to get across, that there's a community aspect to it."

now