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St. John’s, N.L., artist ranks icy downtown streets in ski hill map design

A man clears the sidewalk on Water Street in St. John's on Monday, January 6, 2020. An artist's imagining of St. John's, N.L.'s downtown streets as a ski hill map has resonated with winter-weary residents recovering from the year's first major winter storm.
A man clears the sidewalk on Water Street in St. John's on Monday, January 6, 2020. An artist's imagining of St. John's, N.L.'s downtown streets as a ski hill map has resonated with winter-weary residents recovering from the year's first major winter storm. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Daly

An artist’s imagining of St. John’s, N.L.’s downtown streets as ski hills has resonated with winter-weary residents recovering from the year’s first major winter storm.

Sophie Harrington’s map of the city ranks the neighbourhood’s narrow streets, often slicked with ice and snow during winter months, based on difficulty level from green to the challenging double black diamond.

The artist and skier said she rated difficulty levels based on her experiences on the slopes and as a pedestrian in the snowy Newfoundland capital. She’s not surprised her design struck a chord with people who have suffered the same feelings of dread and terror looking down one of the neighbour’s slick, steep declines on a winter day.

“Anyone who’s walked down Prescott in the last two weeks, it’s just like a sheet of ice at times,” Harrington said by phone.

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Since sharing her art on social media last winter, Harrington has sold prints to skiers and other neighbourhood residents. Downtown boutique Johnny Ruth also reached out to stock prints of her design.

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Inspired by her annual frustrations with the city’s dangerous sidewalks, Harrington said she hoped a lighthearted, creative take on the issue would get people talking and spark change.

“We shouldn’t be a city that’s just for cars,” she said. “Whether you’re a student walking to school, or you’re elderly or you have mobility needs, you should be able to walk in the city, and that’s just not the case for literally half the year.”

Her piece took on fresh relevance this week as St. John’s responded to a heavy snow dump of 40 centimetres overnight last Sunday, weeks after an earlier heavy snowfall in December.

It’s a predictable issue in the capital city of Newfoundland and Labrador. An estimated 335 centimetres of snow falls on St. John’s each year, according to the city’s website.

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A budget of $16 million per year is reserved for snow and ice clearing, but snow is often pushed onto sidewalks where it can take days to be removed, forcing pedestrians onto the roads.

The colourful but narrow streets characteristic of the city’s historic downtown leave little room for parked cars, snow plows and pedestrians, especially in already busy areas like the Rawlins Cross roundabout that has been criticized as confusing for drivers and risky for those crossing the street.

Outside of the city’s downtown, it’s common to see pedestrians sharing the road with cars on busy roads like Elizabeth Avenue near Memorial University of Newfoundland, where students walking to campus are forced to avoid sidewalks covered with high snow drifts.

Heavy snow blankets Nova Scotia, prompts widespread closures
Heavy snow blankets Nova Scotia, prompts widespread closures

Harrington said she appreciates the challenges of snow clearing in a cold city, partly designed before the advent of cars, but she thinks winter pedestrian safety is important to tackle head on.

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“The main purpose of the piece is to draw attention to a problem that is very dangerous for people in the city,” she said. “Hopefully a little bit of satire and art can motivate a bit of action.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 11, 2019.