Wintertime storms prompts accessibility concerns in St. Johns

Covered bus stop
Covered bus stop
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Written by Bruce March & Sanuda Ranawake

St. John’s has a reputation for being fairly treacherous in the Winter time. People here are no stranger to snow, ice, storms and cold weather. However, a by-product of this occupies many concerns in the city amongst students and residents alike. That being winter-time accessibility.

If you stayed or attempted to get around the city between the months of November and March, then you are certainly familiar with the real and dangerous conditions that exist for pedestrians. 

Unshovelled sidewalks, inaccessible bus-stops, mountains of snowbanks, and people forced to walk on the street are just a few horror stories residents have shared. Indeed, the prevailing wisdom amongst many is that if you do not own a car in St John’s then it certainly feels almost impossible to get around. Some students have come forward and shared with The Muse their experiences:

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“I don’t drive so I rely on walking to get to campus. It’s always a nightmare trying to get around after a storm because the sidewalks around campus are almost never cleared for days or they’re full of ice and not bothered to be cleaned,” said Sarah Boudreau

Maureen Malone shared a photo of three people who attempted to walk over to the sidewalks, but amidst the unshovelled snow, decided to walk in the middle of Freshwater Road instead.

Tweet containing photo of pedestrians walking in middle of road amidst unshoveled sidewalks

Accessibility during the winter months is crucial for pedestrians to get places, especially students, many of whom don’t drive. Disabled pedestrians, especially those on wheelchairs, may find it near impossible to navigate city streets without a car. This sets a dangerous precedent that, in order to get around the city, one must own a vehicle. 

“A lot of places around the residence were not cleared until today (Feb 16), and spots end up with black ice that isn’t well salted. Getting around campus as a disabled student can be challenging on its own, let alone icy and snowed in sidewalks,” said Alex.

“The Metrobus door was stuck because of snow and we had to wait for half an hour in the middle of the nowhere,” said Moe Afkani.

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Frozen Metrobus Door

Deputy City Manager of Public Works for the City of St. John’s, Lynnann Winsor, says the timeline following a storm for sidewalk clearing is four to seven days. She says that it is due to the equipment they use. Meanwhile, most, if not all streets are plowed and ready for automobile use usually within 24-48 hours.

This stark contrast between the amount of time taken to clear streets for automobiles versus pedestrians points to where the city’s priorities lie, and nowhere is it more apparent than in their budget. 

In the 2023 budget, the City of St. Johns invested $20,312,897 for snow clearing, a 7 percent increase from 2022 ($18,983,149). As well as $306,000 for ‘enhanced snow clearing’ for pedestrian street crossings.

Additionally, the City uses a priority system for clearing, stating on it’s website: “We salt and plow streets in a priority order that is primarily based on traffic volumes. This ensures emergency vehicle access is always maintained to the greatest number of residents.”

However, many have pointed out the often subpar clearing completed on ‘priority one’ streets. Sonja Boon shared photos of sidewalks cleared, but still full of ice, slush, and some snow drifts.

Elizabeth avenue sidewalk
Elizabeth Avenue Sidewalk
macdonald drive sidewalk
Macdonald Drive Sidewalk
Portugal cover road sidewalk
Portugal Cove Road Sidewalk

It quickly comes to mind, how would a person on a wheelchair, or a blind individual navigate these streets? Not only does this put disabled individuals at a disadvantage, it is also dangerous. 

There is hope however, the city has increased its budget for pedestrian snow clearing, and it has seen constant improvements in recent years. Streets that were once covered in ice and slush, are now cleared albeit days after snowfall. While small, these changes are meaningful, and do make navigating the city at least a slight bit easier.

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Bruce March
Bruce March is a 4th year student majoring in Political Science and Economics. He is passionate about student issues, public policy and our community at large