One day after a Saint John boy suffered a nasty fall while trying to navigate his neighbourhood’s icy sidewalks, the city’s Winter Management Plan is back on the Agenda.
Patrick Beamish, strategic advisory to the mayor’s office, confirmed that Mayor Don Darling has asked staff for a report on the plan to be presented during Monday’s meeting of common council.
Beamish confirmed Darling did speak with Tina Jensen, Brayden Jensen-Knox’s grandmother, but said Darling’s request was not directly because of Jensen-Knox’s fall. Instead, he said, it was a response to constituent feedback he’s received over the last several weeks.
Beamish added that staff would not be made available to talk about the plan until after the meeting Monday, but two councillors were willing to weigh in.
John MacKenzie, councillor for Ward 2, said he never likes to hear stories of people getting hurt from falls, but the city simply does not have the resources to service every sidewalk.
“I think the reason we’re doing 61 per cent is to try to do as good a job as we can with the resources we have,” he said. “We know we can’t do 100 per cent of sidewalks. We just don’t have the resources, so we cut it at 60 per cent, 61 per cent, and we try to do the best job that we can on those 60 per cent.
“Having said that, there’s always room for improvement, and whether it’s a child, an elderly person or anybody in our community, it’s a terrible thing when an accident happens.”
City spokesperson Lisa Caissie says there are 14 routes serviced by sidewalk plows, covering approximately 240 km, which represents about 61 per cent of all public sidewalks. Saint John’s 2019 budget for snow and ice removal is $1,102,170.00.
“While the most ideal plan would include daily maintenance for all sidewalks across the City each winter, resource limitations make it impossible for the City to provide full snow removal service to all areas,” Caissie wrote in an email.
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In cash-strapped Saint John, additional snow removal resources are a tough sell. MacKenzie says that any improvements to the current Winter Management Plan would likely involve shifting resources from one place to another.
“I think that there’s always an opportunity for priority shifting,” he said. “Right now we have a plan, so when the storm hits we have a plan. We have priority streets and sidewalks that we do and, you know, that has to be revisited from time to time.”
Blake Armstrong, councillor for Ward 1, says it’s impossible to please everybody with a limited snow removal plan, and that council is faced with hard choices on where exactly the resources are allotted.
“I think it’s coming to a point where we have to do something and, like I said, it’s always down to money,” he said. “But you gotta pick and choose and unfortunately, when you’re picking and choosing someone loses out.
“Uptown is an economic engine of sorts. So you have to keep the streets cleared and the sidewalks plowed… because it’s an economic [necessity]. People have got to go to work, people have got to spend their money.”
Both MacKenzie and Armstrong threw cold water on the system used in many municipalities across the country that makes residents responsible for the sidewalk bordering their property line or face a fine. Armstrong said he wouldn’t support a similar proposal for Saint John.
“To shovel the sidewalk in front of your residence and halfway down, that’s a courtesy. That’d be a nice, good neighbour,” he said.
“But would this councillor ever enforce fining anybody? Absolutely not.”
MacKenzie says he wouldn’t rule anything out, but said enforcement of a citizen-led snow removal system would be too difficult to enforce to ever be practical.
“I’m all for putting a bylaw in place that makes sense, that can be enforced, but if you’re going to have 15 people on different streets, you’re going to have somebody full-time going door-to-door handing out fines. I don’t know if you could do that,” he said.
“I would look at it. Maybe there’s some sort of program that we could put in place, like a reduction in some sort of tax if you pitch in, but you would need everybody on the street to buy into because otherwise you’d have a bare spot and then snowbanks.”
Council will meet Monday, January 14 at 6 p.m. where it will hear a report on how the current Winter Management Plan is working.
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