Ten centimeters of snow fell Sunday, followed by five millimeters of rain, and then temperatures dropped below freezing Sunday night---a perfect recipe for icy sidewalks. The storm was also the first serious test of the new arrangement for the city, rather than property owners, to clear peninsular sidewalks.
By all evidence, ice removal crews failed. All day Monday and Tuesday 464 people complained to the city’s 311 call line about icy sidewalks, and hundreds of people posted photos of iced-up sidewalks on social media. All day Monday through to 4pm Tuesday, the QE2 and Dartmouth Hospital emergency rooms reported a total of 93 people with “slip and fall” injuries. (Full disclosure: This reporter was one of them; he slipped on the ice in a crosswalk Monday evening, and broke his wrist.)
City crews are responsible for clearing the sidewalks downtown, but contracts out for the service elsewhere, says city spokesperson Jennifer Stewart. Contractors are held to service standards, but “the standards were not met,” says Stewart.
The standards say that sidewalks along arterial streets and downtown must be cleared within 12 hours of the end of the snowfall. Sidewalks along bus routes are to be cleared within 18 hours. All other sidewalks are to be clear within 36 hours, but bus shelters don’t have to be cleared for 48 hours.
“While the objective is to maintain sidewalks to a bare condition, many factors are key to achieving success,” reads the standards. “Wet snow packed to ice, freezing rain and sudden freezes after rain can produce a heavy ice build-up on sidewalks. Sand will be applied to provide a degree of traction.”
It doesn’t appear that sand was applied to any sidewalks in the north end.
In tight spaces, where the plows can’t maneuver between trees and porches, for example, the plows push the snow as far as they can, but the plow drivers are not required to get out and shovel, says Stewart. When homeowners were responsible for clearing, those spots were usually addressed.