Meanwhile in other cities…

A section of the sidewalk snowclearing map for Halifax, showing that almost every street in the city is cleared.

St. John’s’ approach to sidewalk snow clearing is not the norm. Of the five comparison cities in St. John’s’ own consultation, four aim to clear all or nearly all their sidewalks and the fifth has a goal of 62%. St. John’s does about 10% and also takes much longer to get them done. Not that other cities are perfect but at least they have higher goals and allocate more resources. I’m going to share a few here for comparison, a couple from the consultation and some others that seem relevent. People often compare St. John’s to Halifax so let’s start there. In terms of snowclearing, Halifax gets about half as much snow yet they invest about twice as much per km in sidewalk snowclearing. They also clear bike lanes with the same priority level as sidewalks: Priority 1 within 12 hours, Priority 2 within 18 hours and Priority 3 within 36 hours.  They have a lot of the same challenges we do (hills, freeze and thaw cycles, old buildings and infrastructure) and were one of the comparison cities in the St. John’s’ 2014 snowclearing consultation.

Photo of a Toronto sidewalk plow operating in a very narrow area, with a statement on the policy described below.

Toronto is a less obvious comparison than Halifax but it’s of interest because until recently the city cleared suburban sidewalks but not the downtown, on the grounds that downtown sidewalks had so many obstacles and narrow areas that plows couldn’t get through (an excuse we often hear in St. John’s). However, it changed its policy recently and now clears all sidewalks, with preliminary clearing done within about 13 hours and further clearing as needed over the next few days. They bought special small articulated plows that can get past obstructions. Areas they still can’t do are manually cleared.

Screenshot of Québec City’s Priority 1 policy, as described below. Their plan was so detailed it couldn’t all fit into a single screenshot.

This is just Priority 1 for Quebec City (also a comparison city in St. John’s’ consultation of 2015, with a similar snow load, many hills and narrow streets). Top priorities include school routes, designated active transportation routes, routes used by high numbers of vulnerable residents, steep streets and stairs, and tourist areas as well as main arteries. Note school routes, not just a drop off area in front of the school as in St. John’s. They plan for children to walk to school safely. They aim to have all Priority 1 sidewalks clear to bare pavement within 4 hours of 0-15 cm snowfall and 8 hours of 22 cm+ snowfall. Although these are their top priority, they also aim to have every sidewalk in the city done within the same timeframe, but to a lesser standard.

Map showing a section of Moncton’s sidewalk snowclearing program, with virtually all sidewalks cleared.

This is an enlarged section of Moncton’s sidewalk snow clearing map. You can see that they clear nearly all the sidewalks in the city. Moncton is a comparable size city to St. John’s with similar snowfall levels and plenty of freeze and thaw cycles yet they aim to have all Priority 1 sidewalks cleared within 24 hours and to finish all Priority 3 within 3 days. Priority 3 are residential and cul de sacs, streets St. John’s would never dream of clearing at all.

Screenshot of Waterloo’s policy as described below.

This post is a version of a thread I put on Facebook a few days ago. A commenter on the thread added the city of Waterloo with this image and statement: “I walked to work Friday morning near Bowring Park/Cowan Heights and the walk was disgustingly treacherous. I’m amazed the city has a timeline of 4 to 7 days. I looked up what my home city of Waterloo has as their timeline and their website states 24 to 48 hours which really isn’t that great even compared to some other cities. It made me really realize what I took for granted during my university years and this combined with the low-density living are big reasons why I am planning to leave soon.”

Sidewalk snowclearing by-laws

One huge challenge to walkability and accessibility in winter is the way property owners and private contractors dump snow cleared from driveways and parking lots onto sidewalks. This was discussed recently at the St. John’s: The Winter Unfriendly City Facebook group. I’m going to summarize the discussion here so it can be found again later.

According to Councillor Maggie Burton in this thread, this is permitted as long as the sidewalk isn’t part of the City’s sidewalk snowclearing program. This means it’s permitted on about 90% of sidewalks! However, it’s also very common on sidewalks that are part of the program, as in this photo, showing a huge mound of snow on the sidewalk between 56 Queen’s Rd. and 46-54 Queen’s Rd. where the building owners on both sides have cleared their parking areas onto the sidewalk between them.

Yes, I know. It doesn’t look as though there’s a sidewalk there at all but this is actually a sidewalk that the city is supposed to clear and actually does usually clear within a day or two of a snowfall. But then this happens and pedestrians are forced to walk in the street where that truck is.

People frequently complain to the city about this practice and are told that nothing can be done unless they can prove who did it, as in not the property owner but the actual person who put the snow there. So the onus is on the complainant to either track down the property owner and find out who did their snowclearing (if they can be tracked down and are willing to share that information) or to see the person in action and photograph them or get their license plate if they happen to have a vehicle. It also requires constant monitoring, documenting and complaining to the city on the part of sidewalk users, as well as the unpleasant possibility of confrontation.

So, what are the by-laws that apply here?

At the city’s snowclearing priority page it says, “St. John’s Snow Removal regulations require properties adjacent to designated downtown streets to keep their sidewalks clear of ice and snow.” So “properties,” not “persons.” But the actual by-law (1098) does use the word “person” in some places and “abutter” in others. An “abutter” is defined as a lessee, owner or occupant of a property and, on some specific downtown streets, abutters are required to clear snow from sidewalks in front of their properties. But in the case of people depositing snow on sidewalks, the word used is “person. The same by-law states, “No person shall deposit snow or ice upon any street or sidewalk which street or sidewalk is cleared of snow or ice by the City” and “No person engaged in removing snow or ice from any property or other premises shall do so in any manner that obstructs vehicular traffic on a street or pedestrian traffic on a sidewalk.” So “abutters” are responsible for removing snow in certain areas but “persons” are responsible for not blocking sidewalks. Can this wording be changed? Councillor Burton said on the Facebook thread that she would look into it so I’ll update later when we have an answer.

The bigger question is why these by-laws aren’t enforced, considering that these piles of snow force people to risk life and limb by walking out into busy streets. An ATIPP in 2020 revealed that between 2016 and 2020 not a single fine was levied to enforce by-law sections 7 and 8 against blocking sidewalks. Still, changing the wording of the by-law would at least mean the city would have to think about the law, and would no longer be able to use this particular excuse for doing nothing.

The Climate Crisis, Active Transportation, and the St. John’s Election

Updated Sept. 27: It’s too late to mail in your ballots but it’s not too late to vote! Tomorrow, Sept. 28, is Election Day and you can either drop off your ballot at a designated site or register to vote in person at the site. All the information you need is at this link.

If you’re concerned about climate change and/or getting around the city without a car, here are my thoughts:

First, the number one thing an individual can do in response to the climate crisis is to go car-free. Using active transportation is even better than using public transit. One of the most important things cities can do is to create safe accessible active transportation networks for people to use.

There has been surprisingly little discussion of the climate crisis during this election, although plenty about active transportation, especially bike trails and sidewalk snow clearing. In fact, Ward 1 candidate Jill Bruce said the topics she heard most about as she canvassed were transportation and bike trails! Actually both Bruce and fellow candidate Jenn Deon also said that sidewalk snow clearing is a huge issue for the people they’re talking to, and that many said they’d be willing to pay more in taxes for that specific purpose. As Deon noted, “When you’re hearing people talk about snow clearing on 30 degree days when you’re knocking doors, you know it’s important.”

Mayor Danny Breen and Deputy Mayor Sheilagh O’Leary have already been acclaimed so I won’t discuss their records here except to say that I think they will work collaboratively with a council that is really committed to responding to the climate emergency that the City has declared.

I’m kind of glad I don’t live in Ward 1 because I think there’s a difficult choice there with three candidates who are all supportive of active transportation. You can see their responses to questions on climate change, transportation and other issues here. However, I would support Mark Nichols if I lived in the ward because he has focussed his entire campaign on mobility justice. As part of that, he has a very clear understanding of the role of active transportation in addressing the climate crisis: “Decentralize the car. As we’re trying to get emissions down, it would improve health outcomes because people would be outside, engaged in active transportation.”

I do live in Ward 2 and I’m supporting Ophelia Ravencroft. How could I not when her number one priority is to fix our “horribly uncleared sidewalks in the winter that are wildly unsafe, wildly inaccessible, and that badly exacerbate our city’s inequalities”? Like Mark Nichols, she really gets the key role of transportation and has been very explicit about that. You can see her responses and those of two of the other three candidates to questions on climate change and transportation as well as other things here. (Art Puddister did not respond but last time he was a councillor he did his best to turn bike lanes into parking so I think that’s all we need to know about him.)

Sidewalk snow clearing was also a key issue in Ward 3. However, none of the three candidates seem to understand the central role of transportation for climate and none of them seem very supportive of making real improvements in enabling people to get around without a car. I can’t recommend any of them. See for yourself what they said in response to questions about these issues from the Independent. Here’s a sample: Jamie Korab said he was aware of what he called “the climate change thing” but he was vague on the details, saying only that “eventually we get to that zero net emissions which I believe we set for 2050. I can’t remember exactly—it was a couple of months ago we did that.”

Ward 4 incumbent Ian Froude has already been acclaimed so there’s no need for more discussion but he has shown in the past that he is a very strong voice for accessible active transportation and climate. He and Maggie Burton were the only two members of Council who, last winter, voted against a budget that did not support improved sidewalk snowclearing. He has also taken a lead on building active transportation infrastructure as well as on the city’s declaration of a climate emergency.

Sidewalk snowclearing was also a key concern in Ward 5. Actually it is huge right across the city as we hear from survey after survey. Why the City still doesn’t take it seriously I have no idea (well, yes, I do: they are blinded by car culture but anyway…) In terms of the climate crisis, Scott Fitzgerald seems the most likely to make it a priority, stating in response to a question about the main issues facing Ward 5 that “the decisions St. John’s makes have to be through the lens of climate change and climate adaptation.” I am not so familiar with the candidates in this ward but, based mainly on their responses to the Independent interviews, FitzGerald really has by far the most in-depth understanding of the need for systemic change and the importance of infrastructure.

There are many candidates for the four at-large positions but I didn’t really hesitate on who to vote for here as there are four candidates who really stand out and whose records I’m already familiar with. They are Maggie Burton, Jess Puddister, Anne Malone and Meghan Hollett. Here’s a short summary of my reasons for supporting them.

Maggie Burton responded to a budget question from Bike NL with “On budget: I want to make decisions using an equity lens. And that’s considering climate justice, racial justice and economic justice.” She is an incumbent and her past record also shows that she is serious about this—for example, in her constant support of better sidewalk snowclearing and her understanding of climate and justice aspects of that. She has already spoken articulately and fought hard for these issues. I so hope she is re-elected to continue her good work!

As a geo-environmental scientist, Jess Puddister probably has more professional expertise on the climate crisis than any other candidate. She has years of experience working with municipalities and other organizations on climate change solutions. Her response to questions on transportation was: “The City has an obligation and responsibility to make it possible for people to have a good quality of life in St. John’s without having to own or use a car, and to mitigate climate change by reducing the number of cars and car trips needed to get around the City.” She also noted that “Taxpayers often don’t realize but they’re subsidizing car culture through planning and budget choices at the Council table. We need to make a culture shift.”

Meghan Hollett has stated that “Active transportation is one of my highest priorities, as it promotes healthy populations and sustainable cities. It is excellent preventative medicine, promoting mental and physical wellbeing in a province that is currently grappling with many healthcare system concerns. It is one of the easiest ways for many people to reduce their carbon emissions.” She too has shown in the past that she is committed to this with her leadership roles in Conservation Corps NL and Critical Mass. You can see her profile here and her responses to the Independent questionnaire linked above.

Anne Malone‘s position is that she wants to be the accessibility councillor so she has really focussed on that issue but I know her quite well and feel that she would support any initiatives to address climate change. She has worked for many years on making St. John’s more accessible with a particular focus on sidewalk snowclearing. Anne is absolutely a mobility and climate justice candidate. She was an invited speaker at the last Fridays For Future climate strike along with the other three at-large candidates mentioned above so they obviously think so too.

If we elect the candidates I am recommending, I believe we will see a massive shift at City Hall towards climate justice as a framework for decision making and accessible active transportation as an essential aspect of responding to the emergency.

Sanctuary and the St. John’s Bike Plan

Description: Cathedral skylight with sunlight shining through. Photo by Tony Hisgett from Birmingham, UK, License: CC BY 2.0 , via Wikimedia Commons.

The summer before Covid hit I had the chance to re-visit the Catholic Cathedral in Liverpool, England–one of the most beautiful buildings I’ve ever seen. I’d been wanting to go back ever since I first saw it in 1975 when I went with a friend who was studying architecture at the University of Liverpool. We had a heated discussion about whether the Cathedral, then almost new, should ever have been built. He argued that the money should have been spent on public housing. I said there was value in a sanctuary that anyone could go to for rest and spiritual sustenance. As I walked around it again so many years later, through shafts of sapphire, crimson, green and gold as the sun pierced the stained glass, listening to the soft voice of the elderly Irish-accented guide explaining what it meant to his community, how everyone contributed what they could to build it, the symbolism of this place of solace on the site of the Victorian workhouse where so many Irish immigrants to Liverpool lived and died, I still thought I was right.

That was a year and a half ago. Last summer at the same time we were all staying home and finding solace in our own communities. I started out doing a lot of hiking along our spectacular coastline but then I got plantar fasciitis and it was too painful to walk very far. However, I could still cycle as the injury was on my heel, and so my bike became my mobility device and the Waterford River Trail my sanctuary. I rode there almost every day: along the waterfront and into the woods where I could feel free and happy away from cars and the noise of the city. The river and the trees opened up vistas of delight: I stopped here and there to picnic or watch small birds and animals, as the wild raspberries and apples gradually ripened, the river flowed through woods and meadows to the harbour, and the leaves changed with the seasons from pale to brilliant green and then to the golds and reds of fall.

Description: Sunlight on birch trees, yellow flowers (coltsfoot) and water running over stones. Photo by author.

What does the idea of sanctuary have to do with the St. John’s Bike Plan? Last week I attended a focus group on the Kelly’s Brook Trail, the first project in the bike plan. I can’t quote people directly because of confidentiality but the group included participants with many different perspectives, some for the trail and some against (though apparently more strongly opposed to the proposed future projects involving the Rennie’s and Virginia River trails). One person, who seemed averse to the bike plan, said that the fundamental problem was car culture: the fact that the city makes no provisions for safe cycling and very few for getting around, especially in winter, by any means other than a private vehicle. Another spoke of how the Rennie’s River trail is a sanctuary that should not become a commuting corridor.

I support the Bike Plan because we have nothing else, because we desperately need ways to get around outside the car–both for commuting and for sanctuary. I don’t think those things are necessarily separate. For example, someone mentioned in a social media thread recently how aggravating it is that the paths through Bannerman Park are cleared yet the sidewalks aren’t accessible. Someone else responded that children walk through the park to school as a safe off street route. I would add that it also gives them a peaceful and beautiful aesthetic experience every day as they travel back and forth, and they need that as well as basic safety. Active transportation is kind of a utilitarian term but part of its value is that commuting can be good for the soul as well as the body.

We need routes and trails that are accessible to all: where someone with a guide dog can safely walk without the dog being traumatized because there is no safe clear route to lead them on; where a person using a wheelchair or a modified bicycle can enjoy the kind of sanctuary I found last summer along the Waterford River; where children can travel safely to school.

How do we balance these things? We need much more than a bike plan. We need an overarching vision and concrete objectives for all forms of transportation. We need to prioritize active transportation because it is good for the climate as well as for our health and happiness. We will all need to make compromises: to find ways to make the river trails accessible to mobility devices; to consider whether parts of these trails might be developed into commuter zones while other sections are not; to accept that some cycling routes will be along protected street corridors, which won’t be so peaceful but will leave some spaces for slower enjoyment. We need a whole network of active transportation commuter routes and recreational trails, and we need to think about how they will all fit together, how to ensure they are accessible, and how to maintain them year round. We need this because mobility is a human right; because we have to protect our planet; and because now, more than ever, we need sanctuary.

Kelly’s Brook Trail

After the Council decision on sidewalk snow clearing to, as Emily Deming put it, “force whole segments of the population into isolation for months of the year” (or into life threatening situations when they venture out), we needed some good news so here it is. I took photos last summer for a post about the Kelly’s Brook Trail but then never had time to write it. Since it was announced last week that the trail will go ahead, this seems like a good time to do it. The photo above is of the short section of the actual brook that is above ground, near St. Pat’s Ball Park. Most of it is underground in culverts, roughly parallel to and just north of Empire Avenue, between Mundy Pond, where it begins, and Rennie’s River where they join near Portugal Cove Rd. The rusty colour is presumably from the culverts. I’ve always felt sorry for this neglected and ill-treated little brook. However, this post is about the trail so I’ll leave that topic for later.

The proposed trail–which mostly already exists but will be upgraded to a multi-use one–will run 4.9 km. from King’s Bridge Rd. to Columbus Dr. It’s a very significant first stage in developing a network of cycling trails around the city as it passes near several different neighbourhoods and workplaces. It’s also wonderful news for active transportation in general. It will make it possible and even enjoyable for people to commute safely by bike, wheelchair, or with a stroller. Running east-west, it’s almost flat with just a very slight incline as you head west, easy pedalling for cyclists in that direction and then you can practically coast all the way back. I think I said the same thing about the Waterford River Trail but that’s because, despite all the hype about how impossibly hilly our city is, it isn’t at all when you go east-west.

I started the trail at Portugal Cove Rd. This is one of the prettiest sections as it runs along the open part of the brook, through birch woods. However, it isn’t very easily accessed by bike as it has stairs at both ends of that section–which obviously makes it completely inaccessible by wheelchair. I should also mention that it isn’t yet designated as a cycling trail but I rode it anyway. There were very few people on it, probably because it isn’t the prettiest of trails and it’s also quite chopped up with some sections hard to find. However, it was fun to explore, it runs mostly through green spaces, and once it’s developed it will be a fantastic way to get across the city.

I took a lot of photos, thinking they’d help me map the route for this post (a couple of the photos are even of maps!) but I still can’t remember all the twists and turns well enough to give instructions. So here’s a set of pictures to give you an idea what you’ll see along the trail but I suggest you just explore it someday when you have lots of time and be prepared to get lost occasionally. It is part of the Grand Concourse so you can also find a map there. Just click on the map at this link and then click somewhere near Portugal Cove Rd. and Empire Ave. They call the route the Riverdale to Mundy Pond Link but it is essentially the Kelly’s Brook Trail.

Exit the first section at Carpasian Rd. Cross the road and enter near the Elk’s Club then through the valley to Bonaventure. The brook runs underground from here on.
Follow the trail past that white bubble tent thing on the other side of Bonaventure. Cross Newtown Rd. and enter the trail again. There’s actually a Kelly’s Brook sign on this bit. Also note the “candlesticks” marking the ill-fated Covid extra-space-for-social-distancing experiment of earlier in the summer. I’m not even sure if they were meant to be for pedestrians or cyclists, or both, but I do know they didn’t work. The new trail will be a million times better!
The trail passes countless playing fields and little wildflower meadows tucked in between residential areas.
Through little laneways and more playing fields then via Graves St. to the Farmer’s Market at Freshwater (note bike racks–they are popping up all over the place!)
And yet more playing fields on the other side!
I can’t even begin to give clear instructions for the part after you get past the last of the playing fields and cross Stamps Lane. You go through a series of parking lots and little laneways, cross at old Pennywell Rd. and Empire Ave, more of the same on the other side and end up at Mundy Pond if you’re lucky. The new trail will go to Columbus Dr. but this one connects Mundy Pond to the Waterford River Trail from here so that’s what I did. This is already a pretty long post though, so I’ll save that for another one. Have fun exploring!

City Staff Recommend Doing Absolutely Nothing

Audio version of the post:
View on Vocaroo >>.

When I first read City Staff’s recommendation on sidewalk snow clearing, I thought I must have misunderstood. I read it again more carefully and realized I had not. They looked at six different options for improving service and then made the recommendation to do absolutely nothing. In their words:

“that Council maintain the status quo. Given future anticipated budget challenges, enhancing the level of service for sidewalks is not recommended. The minimal cost option to produce a noticeable difference to residents is 700k per year which is not budgeted.”

You can see the full document prepared by staff and the details of the options on pp. 15-19 at this link.

In response, Councillor Ian Froude told council that he had heard from people with disabilities and from the Human Rights Commission about people’s experiences in winter and that “those things weigh on me heavily.” He commented that access and accessibility are human rights and also noted that the comparison cities in the KPMG Report (commissioned by the City in 2014) spend more per kilometre, despite less challenging conditions in some cases. He introduced a motion not to follow the staff recommendation but instead to make significant changes based on some of the options staff proposed and then rejected. After discussion, the single motion was broken down into three separate ones, which I summarize here with the vote results in brackets:

The first motion had four bullet points:

  • Staff to review priorities/efficiencies and put forward a plan
  • Address quality of clearing
  • Enforce existing by-laws re not blocking sidewalks, etc. (It was noted that this would be a “quick fix.”)
  • Re-prioritize and free up resources and funds from side roads to sidewalks (Carried)

The second motion was that during budgeting for winter 2021/2022, the City would consider implementing Option 6 from the staff recommendations–confusing, I know. They presented six different options for things that could be done, with the sixth one being the most expansive and expensive ($800,000 capital, $450,000 operating) but then recommended not doing any of them. After discussion, this motion was modified to considering all six options during the budget process next summer. (Carried)

The third motion was that for the coming winter, options 2 and 4 would be implemented. These combined options would have cost less than option 6 but still made a significant difference in the quality of sidewalk snow clearing. (Defeated) (Note that, as shown in the screenshot at the beginning of this post, this motion was supported by Councillors Froude and Burton and Deputy Mayor O’Leary.)

To backtrack and give some context, the meeting began with a presentation by Dr. Dan Fuller, Canada Research Chair in Population Physical Activity, about the BEAP Lab research that found fourfold economic returns on $3 million annual investment over ten years, using a model based specifically on St. John’s. He also highlighted health benefits and noted that currently only about 4% of our citizens walk (this includes just walking to the bus stop) and recommended that we set a target. Some cities have 10-12% as a target. (See Asia Holloway’s report on this research at this link.) Council seemed very supportive of the idea that walkability is important. Sample comments:

Creating density and walkability is “good for business development,” “good for the city and good for the population.”

Mayor Breen

“To attract people we have to make the city more walkable and more accessible.”

Councillor Hanlon

In winter, crosswalks, intersections and bus stops “need to be clear with open spaces for access.”

Councillor Hickman

Yet they all voted against increasing the budget, as did Councillor Stapleton, who is Team Lead for Inclusion. Other councillors who voted against also seemed supportive during the discussion. Councillor Lane noted how fundamental mobility is and that “a pedestrian friendly city can help solve a lot of problems.” He recommended that the city “shift funds from mechanized access on side roads to better pedestrian access” (this was one of the bullet points in the first motion, which was carried.) He also emphasized that we should follow the recommendations of the KPMG Report. Councillor Korab asked “Do we need to increase the budget for sidewalk snow clearing?” and answered his own question: “In all likelihood, yes.” He said that he was “open to an increase.” Councillor Collins added, “It would be fairer to do all the sidewalks in the city.” Yes, he did actually say this, though I’m not sure he truly thought that was a realistic option. I think his point was that the downtown gets better clearing than elsewhere in his opinion. However, four of the five comparison cities in the KPMG Report actually do clear all their sidewalks and the fifth does 62%. St. John’s does 23%. All five comparison cities also start clearing sooner and have higher standards in general.

A few other things to note about the discussion and vote: Councillor Burton and Deputy Mayor O’Leary spoke strongly in favour of increasing the budget, with Councillor Burton emphasizing that, “Active transportation is a must have, not a choice or a nice to have.” She also mentioned that people without access to cars currently endure injuries, loss of opportunities and income, and inability to access transit. Clearing snow for pedestrian access has been severely underfunded for many, many years. The City currently has a surplus of $22 million and this was achieved in some part at the expense of pedestrians. Some have lost their lives or become severely disabled because of it. There was also an important exchange between Deputy Mayor O’Leary and Councillor Froude about the need to find ways to work more effectively with the province, since the cost of snow clearing is borne by the city but the savings in health care would come to the province. I plan to write a future post about the role of the province in this. Meanwhile, though, the City does have a mandate for sustainability and healthy communities.

One final quote from the mayor, with reference to the successful motion that some funding for clearing side streets be shifted to sidewalks and the failed motion to increase the budget this year:

“It may end up that that amount gets spent.”

So… we must hold them to their commitments in the first motion and make sure that “that amount of money gets spent.” I also challenge the Mayor and councillors (or anyone else who doesn’t think sidewalks are important) to travel everywhere on foot and public transit for a week after a major storm and then report back to the public on their experiences. Even better, do it with a baby in a stroller and another small child by the hand.

Fighting City Hall

After a brief summer during which many of us enjoyed the downtown pedestrian mall and all the beautiful hiking trails, we are already back to fighting City Hall for basic justice and accessibility in the winter. Here is my letter to City Council about the staff recommendation on sidewalk snow clearing for the coming winter:

City Councillor Maggie Burton recently asked for comments on social media about the value of evidence based decision making. If there has ever been an issue in the City of St. John’s with compelling evidence to support changes, it is sidewalk snow clearing. There have been numerous surveys, studies, public engagements, media reports, discussions, petitions, protests and consultations. All of them have essentially said the same thing: the situation is dire. It is unjust, unhealthy and dangerous. Most of them have also made specific, clear and detailed recommendations about what we need to do to change this.

In 2015, Dr. Sharon Roseman and I presented the results of our ethnographic research on sidewalk snow clearing in St. John’s. At the invitation of Mayor Danny Breen, we showed our film, Honk If You Want Me Off The Road, to staff and councillors at City Hall. Our research showed that the lack of adequate sidewalk snow clearing had a very serious negative impact on peoples’ mental and physical health for up to half the year with ramifications for the rest of the year as they tried to recover and build up strength for the next ordeal. Our research also showed that this impact was largely on the most vulnerable people: children and young adults, single parents, people with disabilities, seniors, new Canadians and people with low incomes. There is an assumption that people choose to walk. On the contrary, people choose to drive. Most of those who walk have no choice.

More recently, just a few weeks ago, Dr. Daniel Fuller and the BEAP lab presented the findings of a larger scale quantitative study, also locally focussed and specific to St. John’s. Their research revealed that investments in walking would have major health and economic benefits. For example, if we invested $3 million annually over a 10-year period, the economic benefits would outweigh the costs fourfold. This investment would also prevent premature deaths and improve many health conditions. If there is one single thing we can do to make this happen, it is to make the city safely walkable and accessible year round through proper snow clearing of sidewalks, intersections and bus stops.

In the City’s most recent public survey, 92% of citizens and businesses supported prioritizing winter walkability and large majorities also supported investing more resources in sidewalk snow clearing. The survey found that more than half of respondents have to limit their activities because of inadequate sidewalk snow clearing and almost three quarters have been forced to risk their lives in the vehicle lanes. The condition of priority sidewalks was rated 3.6 out of 10 on average with post-secondary students (a group that is most affected) rating it 2.99. These are failing grades. 67% of citizens would agree to at least a small tax increase to improve these conditions with a further 17% being willing to consider it. Very substantial minorities also supported much higher increases.

The staff recommendation to be discussed at COTW is to change nothing. The same old excuses are given. I don’t need to list them. You all know them. “There is nowhere else like St. John’s.” Yet the City’s own commissioned report on snow clearing services in 2014 found five cities that faced similar challenges. Of those five, all but one cleared all or virtually all their sidewalks. That one (Saguenay) cleared 62%. St. John’s cleared 19% and now, six years later, clears about 23%. All of the comparison cities also started clearing earlier, removing snow during storms as well as after. Much of the limited clearing that is done in St. John’s is still useless because of lack of regularity, connectivity, ice control and coordination with street plows. The report had recommendations on how to deal with these problems but many have not been followed.

Last year, my colleague, John Shirokoff was killed because there was no cleared sidewalk on a major street in St. John’s with many pedestrians. Numerous others were injured, some with life altering consequences. Children cannot walk safely to school, a greater concern this year than ever with the challenges of Covid-19. People who do not drive cannot get safely to work, to the grocery store, to the doctor, to religious services, to visit friends and family. They become isolated, angry and depressed. We know this. And we know it does not have to be this way.

How much more evidence do you need?

Elizabeth Yeoman

By Bicycle Along the Waterford River

As we work ever so slowly towards getting some active transportation infrastructure here in St. John’s and around the province (or trying to prevent roads being built over what does exist), I retweeted this tweet with the comment “My dream is that somebody would be posting this about *our* NL!”:

“Before I moved to NL I knew they cycled a lot but I didn’t realise how much. It’s part of everything! And it’s amazing. I can’t begin to tell you how much having an integrated network of cycle paths improves your quality of life.”

Of course, the original tweeter was referring to the Netherlands, not Newfoundland and Labrador, and I immediately got a response that “it won’t ever happen because you can’t ride a bicycle up steep hills and you can’t get downtown and back without numerous steep hills. No hills in the Netherlands.” A couple of cyclists came to my defence and I replied myself as well, that I am 66 years old and I cycle up and down those hills. I’m aware that not everybody can, but many people can and want to. Why do car drivers have the right to go wherever they want but not people using active transportation? Also west-east routes are almost flat in St. John’s (very slight uphill grade heading west, which means you can gently coast all the way in to town heading east). And this isn’t only about St. John’s but about the whole province of NL. I’ll write about some of these issues later but this post is about the Waterford River Trail, an existing multi-purpose trail that can be used to commute by bike between the west end and downtown, or from further west as there are also access points in CBS, Paradise and Mount Pearl. It’s a very easy ride, and it is so beautiful your daily commute is guaranteed to lift your spirits if you take this route. You can see a map and access points here.

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Past the fascinating time warp of the Apothecary Hall on Water St. west, formerly O’Mara’s Drugstore and now a museum of the history of pharmacy.


Cross the street and continue along the waterfront through some protected sidewalk. Lots of graffiti and litter as well as a variety of wild plants breaking through the concrete. Even with the litter, you immediately feel a marked reduction in stress when you get away from the busy vehicle traffic along that stretch.


Enter the trail behind the old railway station, now a museum (actually, this whole stretch of Water St. is a bit of a time warp). The railway, sadly, is no more. In fact, this trail follows the railway bed from here right across the island of Newfoundland. The statue is The Maid of Industry, erected about 120 years ago by Charlie Henderson, a stonemason for the railway, in honour of his co-workers. See map and information here.


At the entrance to the trail is a little park with a more recent monument in honour of poet, author and activist Helen Fogwill Porter, who grew up nearby and writes about the Southside neighbourhood.


Bridge to the other side of the Waterford River and view from the bridge back towards the city and drydock.


A series of storyboards with a wealth of information about the flora and fauna along the river.


Along a hard packed dirt and lightly gravelled trail through trees…

Across an intersection and along Southside Rd. for a short stretch…
Past rocks and rapids…
A peaceful meander through meadows…

To Bowering Park and pause for a break by the duck pond and the Peter Pan statue (detail in this photo) erected in memory of Sir Edgar Bowering’s three year old granddaughter, Betty Munn, who died in the wreck of the SS Florizel in 1918.

The trail continues west all the way across the island but I stopped here.

Active transportation route from Rennie’s River to Torbay Road Mall


(I’ll have more to say about bicycles in the next couple of posts.)

Plenty of people in St. John’s get to work, school or appointments using active transportation, by choice or because they have no choice, but I’m not sure how many think of our wonderful network of trails as possible commuting routes. Following my Jane’s Walk on a Grand Concourse trail route from Downtown to MUN along the Rennie’s River and Long Pond, I’m going to do a series of posts about possible commuting routes using trails. I will look at the beauty and pleasure of these routes but also their practicality, potential and accessibility. Please note that I am not at all an expert on accessibility but I have noticed that some trails are advertised as accessible when they obviously aren’t so I hope to start a conversation. If you know more about this than I do or have personal experience, I’d love to hear from you in the comments and will correct any errors I might make and add updates.

Here is the second in my series, starting at the point where the Rennie’s River Trail meets the Prince Philip Parkway. (Please see previous post for more detail). I had an errand at the Torbay Road Mall to pick up a small parcel and decided to do it on foot from downtown. The first part is the same as my Jane’s Walk. When I got to the Parkway, instead of heading to Long Pond and MUN, I took the path to the Confederation Centre.


Behind the government buildings, the trail follows the parking lot and then heads into the woods towards Kent’s Pond.



There are a couple of places where the path forks but it’s very well marked. You really can’t get lost. I’m not sure how wheelchair accessible this path would be but, unlike the Rennie’s River Trail, which claims to be accessible, there aren’t any stairs. It seems to me it would be quite good for cycling too but that isn’t allowed.


People have been hiding painted stones along all the trails for children to find and rehide if they have hand sanitizer or take photos of if they don’t. My grandchildren love this. The older one calls them “coupa stones,” referring to something in a video game I think, and the little one calls them “coupa eggs” because he’s a bit confused between Easter egg hunts and regular hikes with painted stones. I saw this one by Kent’s Pond and it’s one of the nicest ones I’ve seen.


View of Kent’s Pond from the trail.


Spruce tips along the trail. This was a couple of weeks ago and they’re just about over now but here’s some information about foraging them and a recipe for spruce tip ice cream. I made a spruce tip cake from the fabulous Two Whales Cookbook from the café in Trinity East, which you can order at this link and it was delicious.

Exit the trail at Portugal Cove Road, cross the road at the intersection, turn right and enter the trail to Kenny’s Pond behind the Holiday Inn, continue east along Kenny’s Pond. I stopped taking photos at this point because I needed to be at my destination before 5:00 and realized I had to hurry. I did take a couple at the very end though, so here they are:


Guerrilla pathway and sign of the times.


Reached my destination just in time to pick up chocolates for Father’s Day and a delicious and very welcome café latte before they closed!

Jane’s Walk 2020

For the past few years I’ve been wanting to do a Jane’s walk. This year, with all the pandemic complications, I finally did one. The focus is active transportation and I walked, mostly by trail, from home to work. This was a few weeks ago. I tweeted it out at the time but here it is again for the record, with the tweets presented as a photo essay.

Commuting by active transportation

skatestrollerFirst, choose your mode of transportation.


You can use my map or go to for a digital one and much more.


1. Rawlin’s Cross, it’s surprising how relaxing it is walking through this little car free stretch. (This is what I tweeted at the time but now this little stretch is gone and the traffic lights have been replaced. I think they needed to be replaced, for safety and accessibility, but felt sad to lose that space and wondered if there couldn’t have been a better option than either of the ones that were tried.)


2. Wondering how accessible the rest of the route will be. Curb cuts on Rennie’s Mill Rd. intersections are good for wheelchairs and strollers.


3. My walk is from home to MUN – about 30 minutes via Bonaventure and Elizabeth (mostly clear sidewalks in winter!) but today I’m trying an off road route using the wonderful Grand Concourse trails. Entering Rennie’s River Trail from Rennie’s Mill Rd.


4. Lots of useful information on the sign. It indicates that the trail is accessible for wheelchair users.


5. But there are stairs in a couple of places…


6. Entering part 2 of the trail north of Elizabeth Ave. Such a beautiful walk, and right in the heart of the city!


7. There are several beautiful waterfalls and rapids along the trail. In fall you can see trout jumping up them–amazing to watch!


8. Where this section ends at the Prince Philip Parkway you can walk to the government buildings by this path. No crosswalk on the Parkway though, unfortunately.


9. Cross Allendale to Long Pond. No crosswalk here either. Note guerrilla path making. As Jane Jacobs wrote “There is no logic that can be superimposed on the city; people make it, and it is to them, not buildings, that we must fit our plans.”


10. Entering Long Pond Path to head along the south side behind the campus. No curb cut for wheelchairs on either side of Allendale.


11. Sign of the Times: We are so lucky to be able to walk freely here.


12. Interesting to see how the community gardens evolve over a season of walking commutes! Another Jane quotation: “Cities have the capability of providing something for everybody, only because, and only when, they are created by everybody.”


13. Research finds people have lower levels of stress hormones after walking in woods than in urban or clinical settings. Also improved mood/ability to concentrate and sleep; reduced blood pressure/stress; better immune system/energy levels.


Association of Nature and Forest Therapy Guides and Programs, 2019.

Ioannis Bakolis, Ryan Hammoud, Michael Smythe, Johanna Gibbons, Neil Davidson, Stefania Tognin and Andrea Mechelli, Urban Mind: Using Smartphone Technologies to Investigate the impact of Nature on Mental Wellbeing in Real Time, BioScience, 10 January, 2018.

Chorong Song, Harumi Ikei, Bum-Jin Park, Juyoung Lee, Takahide Kagawa and Yoshifumi Miyazaki, Psychological Benefits of Walking through Forest Areas. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 15(12), December 2018.

Qing Li, Effect of forest bathing trips on human immune function, Environmental Health and Preventive Medicine, 15(1): 9-17, 2010.

Shinrin-yoku (Forest bathing)


14. Exit the trail at the flume tank, where the storm at sea scene in The Shipping News was filmed.


15. From here you can either walk on to Health Sciences or enter the northwest end of the main campus. It only took me 40 minutes, about ten minutes more than my normal walking commute. I should do this more often!