Vancouver's 'Snowmageddon' does not bode well for 2010

Post by Daniel Fontaine in ,

3 comments

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Despite everything you've read about global warming, the last time I checked, Canada was still a northern country. You know, things like snow and ice are a fact of life in our cities. So if that’s the case, why are some cities so ill prepared to handle winter? Please pardon the rant that follows, but have cities in Metro Vancouver seemed more unprepared than normal when it comes to handling a winter snowfall?

For all of you reading this outside the Metro Vancouver area, you must understand that despite what your relatives and friends have told you about the mild climate here, we do get snow every winter. I know because I've lived here for 20 years and it's snowed every winter, without exception.

Yet despite the regular snowfalls, most cities along the southern coast of British Columbia are ill-equipped to handle even a few centimetres of the white stuff. They call it the British California syndrome or zonal denial. I call it just plain stupid and I'm mighty frustrated with having to live through it every year.

Take for example the most recent bout of winter that Metro Vancouver was hit with in the last couple of weeks. Admittedly, even by Canadian standards we did receive a lot of snow. However, does that excuse the fact that not a single street in my whole neighbourhood was plowed five days after the snow began to fall?

I’m beginning to think that the City of New Westminster (my hometown) doesn’t even own a plow. What else would explain how the act of a simple snowfall transformed our quaint streets into something reminiscent of an end-of-the-world Hollywood film?

For heavens sake, days after the storm, there were still cars abandoned everywhere. And I mean literally everywhere. Sidewalks were impassable while back alleys were complete no-go-zones unless you owned a Hummer or a snowmobile.

I did try to venture out of my back lane once, only to get stuck there for three hours before my neighbour got home and used his truck to set my car free. When I finally did make it out of the back lane, I realized I had damaged the undercarriage of my car due to all the snow left on the streets. Did I mention New Westminster doesn’t own a snowplow?

The streets were in such poor condition that I was even forced park my car about 5 blocks away in our neighbourhood shopping district where one main drag was at least somewhat passable.

After my experience this week, I find it hard to believe that I am actually living in Canada. Understandably, I was not alone in my frustration in how poorly this region handled the most recent snowfall.

I tuned in to a few hours of talk radio and dozens of callers were phoning in outraged at how they were losing a day of pay, missing a critical medical appointment or had their vehicle damaged due to bad road conditions.

When will the people operating our cities on the West Coast realize that we live in Canada, and not California? This region needs to purchase more snowplows, sanding trucks and other snow removal equipment. They must also mobilize them as quickly as possible and not simply wait for warmer weather and a bit of rain to melt the snow away.

Before all of you reading this in Toronto think you've gotten off the hook, I am hearing reports from friends out there that you referred to a 15 cm snowfall there last week as "snowmageddon". Please, call out the troops, it's snowing in Hogtown.

Vancouverites need to collectively remove the smugness we've acquired from living in a relatively milder climate compared to the rest of Canada, and come to grips with the fact that we get winter in Metro Vancouver. That means we shouldn't be outraged when our civic officials put aside some of our tax dollars to make the necessary purchases to keep our cities running during and after a snow storm.

Just imagine what would happen if it actually snows in this region when Vancouver plays host to the world in 2010? How embarrassing would it be for Metro Vancouver to be paralyzed by a bit of snow when we are hosting the “winter” Olympics. We could very well become the laughing stock of the world.

I can see the headlines now: “Winter Olympics Delayed Due to Light Snowfall in Metro Vancouver”. Or how about this: "Light Snowfall Shuts Down Transit - Winter Olympic Fans Left Stranded"

Given how poorly our cities coped with the snow and cold last week, we better hope and pray that it doesn't snow when Vancouver hosts the Winter Olympics. A tad ironic don't you think?

3 Comments

Daniel, i have many friends who work for the COV public works dept. Here is some insider info on why the COV did not plow.

- workers were called in, given cash to take time off, COV managers did not want to pay overtime to have the plows running 24/7.

- of the approx 80 trucks that can be fitted with plows and salt spreaders, only 17 were deployed the entire snow duration. Operators were told to NOT plow side streets, as there was no money budgeted for detailed plowing.

"do as little as possible" they were told.

- as soon as the snow stopped and the rain started, ALL the plows were pulled off the road by the managers.

Then fire those managers. Even today the streets are not plowed and generally impassible, an ever-shifting zone of guesswork as to where the next lump will grab your car.

This city REQUIRES citizens to shovel their sidewalks. A great many do. It can bloody well get out there and clear the roads. It is a safety issue, a bicycle issue, a health and welfare issue (HandyDART and emergency vehicles get stuck, too; one cab in our neighbourhood today spent six hours stuck at Alma & 28th).

Living in Ontario, there were perennial budget issues when there were too many (not too much at once, but frequency) snowfalls. They lived with it, plowed, and sorted out the money later. We can do the same.

Or we can keep firing politicians until they force the city staff to wise up.

We also live in New West, and I found the reaction to the first snowfall timely and appropriate, but when the real dump came our streets were also unplowed for days. We had a home repair emergency when a pipe burst in the basement suite due to cold. It was two days before Christmas, with 15 family members due to join us ... and no running water (we had to shut it off to stop the flooding). The roads were so bad that the plumber couldn't get through, and he called to cancel on us. We had to go fetch him.

All this, and I read in the paper that our snow removal budget was already well in the red. I suppose council had budgeted for winter as usual (a few days of snow here and there) and not the full-on White Christmas!

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