Byron Hackett is the Managing Editor of the Red Deer Advocate.

HACKETT: Let it snow, but not too much

I’ve never really been into race cars, but the past week I sure have felt like one of those rally car drivers.

You know the type – guys ripping through the desert or at least difficult terrain, with a passenger calling out the direction of the approaching turn and its sharpness. They’re wearing helmets and have cross-body seatbelts. In short, it looks intense.

Unfortunately, due to Mother Nature’s early and larger than typical-for-this-time-of-year dumping of snow, I’ve felt like those men driving on residential streets in Red Deer.

Before we dive too deeply into that and my attempt at a solution, I’d like to digress for a second with a story.

Slight humble brag: one time I did get to race an actual race car. No, it’s not what you think. There was a dirt race track in a small town called Taylor, B.C. and as the lone sports reporter in the area, I almost always went out to cover races when they happened. At some point in my coverage, the owner of the track asked if I wanted to get behind the wheel for a race. Being the enthusiastic young journalist that I was, I said of course.

I jumped behind the wheel of a beat-up old Honda Civic that had to be automatic because I was nowhere near confident enough driving stick to attempt that. I ripped around the course going probably 60 kilometres an hour (could have gone faster but I was nervous), drifting around corners with dirt flying everywhere. It was a thrill, to be sure, but an experience I would have liked to leave as a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

But back to the situation at hand.

The roads are bad in Red Deer. They have been bad, residentially anyway, for about a week now. This is not news.

The city’s strategy to clear main roads and important areas like hospital routes makes complete sense. Logically, the most vital areas of the city be cleared for emergencies.

I think we can all agree that more snow fell in that 24-hour period than we anticipated.

Yet, the fact that residential streets, at least a lot of the ones I’ve driven on, are not clear and still slippery is a failure.

A budget is a budget and I’m sure the city wasn’t keen to blow the snow-clearing budget on the first storm of the year, but people are still getting stuck on side streets that haven’t been cleared more than a week after a storm. That shouldn’t happen in Canada.

Where there isn’t snow, ice is a huge problem, with fishtailing at intersections becoming the norm for many drivers. Out front of some schools, there are still icy roads, making it dangerous for children and parents walking into schools. That is simply unacceptable. That should have been rectified by now.

In 2020, then Red Deer Mayor Tara Veer penned a column in the Advocate outlining the city’s goal to make “annual improvements” to snow clearing in the city. According to the piece, nearly 120 centimetres of snow fell in the course of a couple days back in 2013, much more than we had last week. That event exposed some “shortfalls” of the city’s snow and ice program and improvement yearly was the solution.

Improved traction and improved timing for clearing roads on green routes (collector roads in neighbourhoods) were two “improvements” she pointed to.

If last week was improved from 2013, I would have hated to see what the roads looked after that storm. My car wouldn’t have left my street for weeks.

Again, I get that good, quality service costs money and takes time. City council, the mayor and all the employees at city hall have to drive the same roads we do, so I’m sure they have noticed too.

Listen, I’m not a logistics expert or a city planner. I can’t imagine the scale and the scope of these decisions.

But I feel like living in Canada, we should be more prepared for winter snow storms. We should have a better solution than wait a couple weeks and your kid can be safe walking across the street at their school. Or at least you shouldn’t be worried about getting stuck in ankle-deep snow tire tracks while you and another car pass each other on a residential street. I don’t think those requests are unreasonable, especially more than a week after the snow fell.

On the city’s snowfall information chart on its website, it says it can take up 15 days for residential streets to be plowed after a storm (5-10 cm snow pack or 30-40 cm accumulated snowfall). We’re still within that timeframe.

Typically, the city only has to clear residential streets once a year, in part due to the freeze and thaw cycle. They may have been hoping that was the case this year, but it wasn’t.

For sanding and salting, that happens depending on the temperature and happens on those same busy routes first, before residential areas. During the storm last week, they could have sanded for traction, only to grade it to the side hours later with the amount of snow we got.

But now, more than a week later, a number of intersections around the city are still slippery. It’s winter in Canada, so of course some amount of slippage is expected, that’s why everybody should have a good set of winter tires.

Reading the city’s snow and ice program, it looks absolutely fantastic. Detailed, carefully planned and well thought out. For whatever reason, and maybe I’m just impatient, the roads simply haven’t been taken care of right during this first storm and that’s unnerving.

I hope the city is able to look at its plan, look at its execution this time around and notice what worked and what didn’t and make the proper adjustments.

There will be a portion of people that will never be happy with how the clearing goes. That’s inevitable, but I think there is a good portion of reasonable people that want a little bit better execution on the plan next time around.

Byron Hackett is the Managing Editor of the Red Deer Advocate.

centralalbertaRedDeer

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