Nova Scotia

What Halifax might be able to learn from Stockholm about snow clearing

The mayor of Halifax admits the city needs to do a better job of clearing sidewalks of snow after it took the better part of a week to make some ice-clogged areas passable. And he's not opposed to looking across the Atlantic for inspiration.

Scandinavian city has similar weather to Halifax, but different approach to snow

Halifax sidewalks remained packed with snow in some neighbourhoods well into the week. (Nina Corfu/CBC)

The mayor of Halifax admits the municipality needs to do a better job of clearing sidewalks of snow after it took days for some ice-clogged areas to become passable.

And he's not opposed to looking across the Atlantic for some inspiration.

Mike Savage said he's intrigued by the approach Stockholm, Sweden has taken to make snow clearing an issue of gender equality.

The Scandinavian city found that in general, more women use sidewalks and public transportation and more men drive, so its policy is to clear sidewalks and bike paths before it clears roads.

It's a novel approach to a perennial problem that's caught the eye of other Canadian cities as well.

Halifax mayor Mike Savage says the municipality has fined snow plough contractors this year for not doing a good enough job. (CBC)

"I was very interested in the way that [the Stockholm official] characterized that as a gender-neutral policy. I hadn't heard that before when it comes to snow and ice," Savage told CBC's Information Morning. 

Savage said he's spoken with mayors in Nordic countries like Norway and Denmark who deal with similar winter weather. He believes there are things Halifax can learn, especially as it tries to become a greener city with more bike lanes. 

What's clear, he said, is that things need to change. 

"I think the best defence maybe is no defence at all and just say we have to do a better job," he said. 

Stockholm's approach to snow

Like Halifax, Stockholm hires contractors to clear snow. They start their work after a few inches have fallen.

Malinda Flodman, who works with the city's transport department, said while their policy gets a lot of attention for being gender-balanced, it's also just practical.

"Driving through three centimetres of snow is rarely a problem if you take it easy. But walking can become difficult and pushing a pram or using a wheelchair can become difficult," she told CBC's Information Morning. 

Snow is cleared outside of the Stockholm Royal Palace. In 2015, Stockholm brought a gender analysis to its snow-clearing policy, which ultimately helped make it easier for pedestrians, mainly women, to move around the city after snowfalls. (Associated Press)

"When people walk on the sidewalks the snow becomes compacted and can become slippery really quickly. So that's why we prioritize and start with sidewalks and bicycle lanes," she added. 

After the sidewalks are cleared in Stockholm, roads are then ploughed based on a priority system — high-traffic roads are first and suburbs last.

"I think it's working overall quite well," said Flodman. "However, everyone expects it to work very well. So the only time people talk about the clearing of the snow is when they're unhappy with something."

Residents unhappy in Halifax

People have certainly been unhappy in Halifax this week.

Residents and municipal officials alike have demanded answers as to why sidewalks remained dangerously packed with snow days after back-to-back storms on Saturday and Monday.

Savage said the safety of people with mobility issues getting around the city is "a big concern."

"Obviously there have been a lot of complaints," he said."The councillors particularly in the downtown area ... have reason to be concerned about the sidewalks and the streets."

Halifax Regional Municipality's policy is to clear busy roads and emergency routes first, with the goal of having them safe within 12 hours.

Savage said the next priority is sidewalks. High-traffic areas are cleared before more remote areas, but that can sometimes take 12, 18 or 24 hours.

"I think the standards are fine but the standards are no good unless you hit them, and we have to make sure that we do," he said. 

The standards are no good unless you hit them, and we have to make sure that we do.- Mike Savage, Mayor of HRM 

The problem this winter, said Savage, has been the mix of snow, rain, then freezing conditions.

He pointed to several other Canadian cities, like Ottawa, Montreal and Calgary, that are also coming under fire for how they've handled post-storm cleanup. 

"It's all around this weather, so you can only say that you have to react to the new normal enough. You can't keep saying it. You have to do something about it. So we have to have a look at it."

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With files from CBC Radio's Information Morning

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