In the harbour
Yesterday, I gave readers details about which contractors are responsible for clearing the ice and snow off which sidewalks on the peninsula. (This article is behind the Examiner’s pay wall and so available only to paid subscribers. To purchase a subscription, click here.) I hope to publish similar information for Dartmouth and the suburbs later today or on Monday. It turns out this simple question — Who’s responsible for clearing the sidewalk? — isn’t easily answered.
Meanwhile, the city is refusing to pay two unnamed contractors for poor sidewalk clearing this year. Last year, just one year into four-year contracts, the city fired Crimson Contracting and First Class Grass for poor performance in clearing sidewalks on the peninsula and re-tendered the clearing.
In 2013, Brian Walsh slipped on the sidewalk at the corner of Bedford Row and George Street and had to have surgery to place nine pins and a plate in his ankle. With medical bills of $13,000, Walsh filed a claim with the city, but has been told that the city is under no obligation to clear the sidewalks at all, reports the CBC:
In 2013, the municipality took over sidewalk snow clearing across all of HRM and municipal council approved service standards.
For priority one sidewalks, crews have a goal to clear 12 hours after snowfall; 18 hours for priority two sidewalks; and 36 hours for priority three sidewalks.
Prior to that bylaw, some property owners in the Halifax region were required to “completely free” of snow and ice those sidewalks abutting their property within 12 hours after a snowfall.
If this wasn’t done, a compliance officer could issue a notice to the property owner to clear the area. If that failed, the city would send in a crew to perform the task and bill the property owner.
However, since the city has taken over all sidewalk clearing, it now says, “there is no obligation on a municipality to keep its sidewalks completely free from ice and snow as it would be impossible to do so in our climate and would demand much more resources than can be expected of any municipality,” according to an email to CBC.
Between April 1, 2013, to March 31, 2014, there were 16 claims reported with a total of $3,955.83 paid to date.
There have only been three reported claims so far in 2014-2015 and nothing has been paid out.
City government’s duty to properly serve citizens aside, I can’t help but wonder how much the icy sidewalks are costing the city in terms of lost investment. We’re repeatedly told that the primary goal of economic development agencies is to convince companies to relocate to Halifax or open branch offices here, and that the minor details matter — we need a city that plays to egos of the the “creative class,” with walkability and parks and an arts scene, etc., and we can’t have any “negativity” because that will scare folks away. But for over a month we’ve had an ice-bound, treacherous mess, where simply walking a block to get a cup of coffee is taking one’s life in one’s hands, and our city councillors are telling us to “get over it,” “have some patience,” and “this is our climate.” That’s a hell of a message to send the floating army of geeks that is supposedly going to descend on Halifax to take advantage of the free wifi at the new library.
How are the icy sidewalks playing with Megabank, Incorporated, thinking of putting some hedge fund managers downtown?
The ice is a hazard for everyone, but doubly so for people with mobility issues. A group of accessibility advocates will hold a demonstration today at 4pm, meeting at the lot across from the Gottingen Street library and taking to the street to protest the sad state of the sidewalks, on which they cannot travel. Kaleigh Trace, who is organizing the event, explained yesterday:
This event is tomorrow [today, Friday] and we are very excited. Thank you all for your support! It has been hugely appreciated. We really look forward to meeting you tomorrow.
A few people do not support this action and have been vocal about it through out the week. I want to thank you for your feedback too! Everyone is entitled to an opinion, and I am glad we can agree to disagree.
As the host of this event, I have been wondering throughout the week if it is my responsibility to speak to each individual critique. I find online debates exhausting and fairly loathsome, and so I have been for the most part quiet. But at this point, I am having a pretty difficult time remaining diplomatic and I feel like I should say a couple of things, not as a “host” but as a disabled person who has been pretty shocked and appalled by some of the comments posted here.
So I am just going to briefly lay some things out for you.
For people who don’t know, ableism is the systemic oppression of people with disabilities. It is the societally held belief that those of us who are disabled are not as talented, smart, capable, and just generally as valuable as nondisabled people. Historically, this looks like people with disabilities being institutionalized, euthanized, and abused. Today it can still look like that, but it looks different ways too. In my experience, being disabled means that people yell insults at me on the street; it means that I can’t access some public spaces; and currently it means that I have a hard time just being outside. To be clear — this is not because of the weather! But rather, because it is assumed that people are able-bodied and can manage the unclear sidewalks, the needs of those of us who are disabled, who can’t manage the sidewalks, are being ignored. Because so often people with disabilities are invisible to the rest of the world, we aren’t being considered here again in re. to sidewalk clearing.
Some people have said this protest is too negative and we should just be more positive. Well, I encourage you to be positive when you are isolated, in pain, and when it feels like the very place you live is pushing you out.
Others have been concerned that protesting is “bad PR” and have been very worried about the rights of car-drivers who may be interrupted for 15 minutes. I find this especially insulting. Nearly every time I step outside my house my day is interrupted. In the winter, my commute is interrupted by every tumble I take on unclear sidewalks. In the summer, my commute is interrupted by people who want to ask me “what’s wrong with me?!” or suggest that I have been drinking too much. I put up with ableist interruptions quite frequently. I expect people who drive cars can be interrupted once, for roughly 15 minutes.
A few people have suggested we all just get shovels. To this, I remind you that the city took over the responsibility of clearing the sidewalks two years ago. Doing their job for them because they have inefficiently dealt with their problem seems a bit counter productive. I do not want to provide the city with free labour so they can further spend my tax dollars on redesigning the city logo, or building a convention centre. I would prefer our municipal government use our taxes to provide safe streets for our citizens.
And lastly, it has been suggested that we should have city councillors get in wheelchairs so they can see how shitty it is. What?!?! Everyone – I am a disabled person! And there are other disabled people here who use chairs who are telling you – getting outside is shitty! Trust me, my identity does not need to be appropriated by an able-bodied person just so that ya’ll can see for yourselves how ableism works. Just listen to our voices. Help us out by hearing our feedback, rather than thinking we might be making it up or something and pretending to have a disability.
To the suggestion that we call our district councillors and complain. I totally agree. I encourage everyone to call their district councillor and complain about the sidewalks. I encourage people who are able to shovel to shovel, if that feels good for them. And I encourage those of us who are fed up to come to the demonstration tomorrow, where we can rally together to make the issues of people with disabilities more visible. I think a plethora of activities is always a great strategy, so let’s tweet our pictures, call our counselors, and raise our voices.
Thanks all for your support!
I’ll see many of you tomorrow!
Finally, some quick facts related to the clearing of sidewalks in Halifax:
• The city under-budgets for snow removal by about $2 million every year
• By contracting out the service, the cost of sidewalk clearing has been reduced from $6,761 per kilometre in 2006 to $4,602 in 2013, and the total sidewalk clearing budget has been reduced by over half a million dollars since 2008. I argue that the incessant drive to cut budgets is responsible for the present poor service.
• The city still clears the sidewalks along main streets and downtown in house, but the public works department is realizing $1.6 million in “vacancy management” savings — money not spent because positions like drivers of sidewalk plows are left unfilled.
• The former practice of having a list of reserve workers who can step in to give additional support during bad weather events has been discontinued.
Sure, the weather is the, er, precipitating cause of the icy sidewalks, but the determinant cause is a failure of city governance.
More than 80 former residents of Africville and their descendants crammed into a federal courtroom Wednesday to ask a judge to re-certify their lawsuit against the city, reports Hilary Beaumont. This article is behind the Examiner’s pay wall and so available only to paid subscribers. To purchase a subscription, click here.
3. Commuter rail
The consultant hired to conduct a feasibility study for commuter rail in Halifax released its report to an open house held in Bedford yesterday, reports Ruth Davenport:
The feasibility study proposes a route following CN’s mainline, Bedford Subdivision, running from the Via station on Hollis Street as far as Elsmdale.
Eleven locations have been identified for potential stations, all meeting the criteria for accessibility by active transportation modes, proximity to Halifax Transit stops or terminals, as well as arterial or highway networks.
The report estimates the number of weekday boardings between 1,600 to 4000 and suggests the initial cost recovery ratio could be anywhere from nine to 24 per cent.
The capital costs range from $26 million for a low-traffic service going only as far as Cobequid to $130 million for a high-traffic scenario running as far as Elmsdale – though several people said those costs could easily be reduced.
The “several people” are wrong: undoubtedly, the costs will be higher than outlined in the study, not lower. But these aren’t crazy numbers. Ten percent or so fare box recovery rates aren’t out of line with successful commuter rail systems and even, say, $200 million in capital costs is a good bargain compared to the billion-dollar cost of widening the BiHi and Bayers Road. And those are just direct capital costs; ongoing medical and time costs of additional car traffic by not building better transit weren’t considered by the study.
I’ve been somewhat skeptical of commuter rail for Halifax, but if the numbers in the study hold up, I’ll change my mind. I still think, however, that a light rail system that sees trains leave the CN corridor at Mumford and head to stops at the universities, hospitals and downtown would work better than a commuter rail system. The Halifax train station is just too far from most workplaces.
4. NSCC evacuated
A police release from last night:
At 5:15 p.m. police received a 911 call about possible threats to NSCC Akerley campus after the school received a threatening phone call that indicated harm would be done to people if they left the campus. Officers, including Patrol Units from HRP and RCMP as well as members of the HRP Emergency Response Team, flooded the area. They then escorted people from the premises in an orderly fashion and performed a sweep of the building. Responding officers did not find any evidence of a threat to public safety on the campus, and have cleared the scene.
5. Harley Lawrence
Six days before Harley Lawrence was murdered, CBC’s Information Morning aired a piece by reporter Phlis McGregor about the homeless Berwick man.
That piece has been removed from the CBC website — remarkably, Information Morning broadcasts are not archived for more than a week. But it exists archived elsewhere on the internet; here it is:
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“I’m sick of him sitting there,” one woman told McGregor.
Information Morning host Don Connnolly asked McGregor if she had spoken directly with Lawrence.
“I tried to,” responded McGregor:
I was in Berwick on a sunny afternoon, he was sitting around the corner from the Royal Bank, and he was in the shade, wearing a large coat, sitting on a big plastic bag filled with his belongings. His hair was dishevelled and his clothes were dirty. And I walked up to him and I tried to make conversation. I started off asking him about the food he was eating. He had a bag of chips, a large Pepsi and a sausage, but he didn’t want to talk with me. Which is his choice. He swore at me and told me to get lost, so I respected that and I walked away.
Frustrated, MacGregor sent a farmer named Henry Andres to speak with Lawrence. Andres came back and told MacGregor that Lawrence was “making up stories in his mind”:
He does look undernourished, and I would’ve helped him, but he smokes like a fiend, so he has money for the cigarettes. So I wouldn’t give him any money. And I can’t give him a job. I mean, he wouldn’t be fit for a job.
McGregor’s reporting is balanced, and she quotes lots of other people who obviously were worried about Lawrence. But, in retrospect, there are plenty of cringe-worthy moments in the piece, and it’s an interesting look at the social gestalt of Berwick in the days before Lawrence was murdered.
6. Sea level rise
Sea level rise will lead to more dangerous storms in the Maritimes, reports the CBC:
Scientists at the University of Arizona and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in New Jersey looked at tide level records going back to 1920 along the east coast from Key West, Florida, all the way north to Newfoundland.
Researchers divided the coastline into three areas, and the zone north of New York City saw an overall sea-level increase of 94 millimetres during the two-year period of 2009 and 2010.
Halifax saw a sea-level rise of 110 millimetres during that time. Portland, Maine saw the largest increase — 128 millimetres.
A lot of parents need sex education, says Lezlie Lowe.
Richard Starr has a much more nuanced picture of Nova Scotia’s debt load than the sky-is-falling scenario the alarmist Auditor Generals have been portraying:
If the increase in Nova Scotia’s net debt is low relative to most other provinces, it follows that the increase in the other unfavourable metrics will also be relatively lower. Pickup acknowledges that, with the exception of Saskatchewan, the increase in net debt as a percentage of total revenues is being experienced by all of the other “compared provinces.” However when it comes to net debt per capita, Pickup’s report misleads by omission. The report says: “Nova Scotia has had the second highest net debt per capita for the past five years when compared to New Brunswick, Newfoundland and Labrador, Prince Edward Island, Saskatchewan and Manitoba.” That’s true, but what he doesn’t say is that since 2009-10, Nova Scotia’s increase of 13.1% is far lower than than New Brunswick and PEI, whose increases are about 30%, and Manitoba, whose net debt per capita has gone up by about 45%. As for the debt-to-GDP ratio, it increased from 37% to 38% in 2014, putting at its highest level since 2007. However, this ratio was significantly lower than the 47.1% registered in 1999-2000,. And as Nova Scotia (with help from the feds through the offshore gas accord) was reducing its debt-GDP ratio by 20% over that period, Prince Edward Island, New Brunswick, Quebec and Ontario all experienced significant increases while Manitoba and British Columbia, the other resource-less provinces, managed only small decreases.
Now, I’m not saying that everything is fiscally hunky-dory. Far from it. What I am saying is that when you look more closely at the numbers, the provincial trend is much different from that described by out last two auditors-general. Relative to other provinces, Nova Scotia has been fiscally responsible.
3. Cranky letter of the day
The amount of foofaraw about this winter amazes me; this is February in Nova Scotia, after all. While it is good that the media keeps us informed (sort of) as to what to expect weatherwise from day to day, I think they go overboard and get people worried.
Until you’ve lived through winters in Saskatchewan, Labrador or P.E.I., you have no idea. In Saskatchewan and P.E.I., the wind blows all the time and there are heavy snowfalls. When I lived there, the local people knew what to expect and were prepared.
It was the same in Labrador. In the winter of 1956, Goose Bay had 24 feet (yes, feet) of snow. I have pictures of my husband shovelling our walk, and he had to stand on a bench to shovel off the top layer; the snow was over the roof of our Steelox home. With all that insulation, our house was always warm. At that time, the Inuit didn’t shovel their walks; they just packed them down and walked on top.
I grew up in Goffs on the Old Guysborough Road in the 1930s and ’40s. Most kids walked at least a mile to and from school. Back then, country roads did not get plowed; if the logging trucks were not hauling, the snow stayed deep. Being a farming community, if the snow was terribly deep, the men would get out their teams, hitch them to the sleds and break the way to the school. I don’t ever remember missing much school for storms.
Now I am old, and although I still like winter, I no longer shovel snow, or cross-country ski, or skate, although I would if the rain didn’t always come and spoil the snow.
One of the advantages of living in a very small rural community is that everyone knows everyone else, and neighbours make sure all is well. There is always someone to help.
Have Nova Scotians become soft with all the modern-day perks? I hope not.
Frances Brown, New Germany
No public meetings.
Assisted reproductive technology policy (Friday, 12:10pm, Room 104, Weldon Law Building)—Dave Snow will speak.
The phosphinoboration reaction (Friday, 1:30pm,Chemistry Room 226)—Steve Westcott, from Mount Allison University, will talk about a word so long that it won’t even fit on the Scrabble board.
Manly impression (Friday, 3:30pm, Marion McCain Building, Room 1170)—Cynthia Neville will talk about “Making a manly impression: the image of kingship on Sottish royal seals of the high Middle Ages.”
Tom Heinemann (Noon, McNally, Room 227)—the maker of “Carbon Crooks,” a film about the bogus market in carbon credits. Heinemann has interesting things to say about journalism:
Today, it’’s hard to see the differences between reports across the whole range of the media. The fragmented nature of news reporting creates the impression that tenacious, in depth and critical reporting is long gone. My experience is, that only a handful of a few editors are prepared to invest the necessary time in long-term investigations.
A s a self-employed journalist with more than 19 years experience, however, I have specialized in investigative, in-depth journalism – and it works!
Applying for access to public documents – hidden or long forgotten – or the systematic use of CAR (Computer Assisted Reporting) can contribute towards un-covering critical conditions in the society, at home and abroad.
As an independent journalist, I feel that I have an obligation to be like the “”stone in the shoe” – constantly asking penetrating questions about decisions made by powerful public or private institutions and individuals.
Journalism is a privilege, where you can sometimes talk on behalf of large groups in society or get the opportunity to describe the consequences of an individual man or woman, where previous or upcoming decisions have left them without hope, a voice, or any belief in their future.
That´s the, privilege – and that´s what drives me.
I was off working on something and came back to discover that llamas were a thing on Twitter yesterday. I still don’t really understand what that was about, but here’s a map of llama population in the US, by county:
In the harbour
Barkald, bulk carrier, to National Gypsum
BW Leopard to sea
I’ll be at that icy sidewalk protest today.
Forgive my denseness, but how can the cost of clearing sidewalks have fallen from 2006 to 2013, when the citizens themselves were required to clear them before two years ago? We used to provide free labour, now we need to pay for it, but somehow the cost has gone down? What am I missing here?
The city has always cleared the sidewalks in downtown Halifax and Dartmouth, and along all the major arteries in the entire municipality.
Diagonal sidewalk in front of the old SGR Library is bare, sidewalk on the Queen St. side of the new Central Library is ice-covered. Perhaps some of the new staff could be employed clearing the sidewalk, since they prefer that you use the machines to check out your books. I miss the contact I had with library staff when they would get you your holds and check them out.
Here’s a BOLD idea:
Why don’t we use extra money from the overnight parking ban tickets to pay for extra sidewalk clearing?
According to Ruth Davenport in Metro:
“The city said 5,614 tickets have been issued to drivers who have broken the parking ban as of Tuesday morning, compared to 3,346 tickets overall last winter. A parking ban ticket is $50.”
5,614 – 3346 = 2268 x $50 = $113,400 more revenue (so far) that all of last year.
We could spend $13,400 on a truck load of tools and use the rest for labour costs. At $20 an hour, for example, that’s 5,000 hours of employment. That’s a lot of clear sidewalks, and good pay for important work.
Any money left over could buy all those workers a refreshing glass of beet juice when they’re done.
About the growing cult of yaysaying, I enjoyed this in The Atlantic CityLab: http://www.citylab.com/politics/2015/02/is-yimbyism-the-next-big-single-issue-political-platform/386117/
The rail plan doesn’t go far enough. It should go to Truro, and at least as far as Wolfville. That would connect to two major university centres, and help a LOT of people commuting beack and forth from Halifax. I know it’s HRM, but can’t we consider going just a bit beyond our county line?
Not that I disagree, but: The Windsor & Hantsport railway has essentially zero traffic along the line from Windsor to Windsor Jct. Occasionally using it to move in new pieces of railway equipment means the line is just one step ahead of not existing at all. Even one of the plans to get as far as Beaverbank requires extensive track rehabilitation. The CN mainline to Truro is in as good shape as any rail line.
Therein is the advantage of light rail vs. fast ferries (if that is a choice). With FF, once you spend the initial capital budget, its done. Boats past McNabs would simply be slower than taking the bus; NE or SW, you have a lot of water to cover to get to people (at 25kt) that you can short cut overland (at 50km/h).
Light rail has some obvious points of expansion.
It needs running totally new line, 3-4km, but Enfield to HIAA is also an obvious thing to do.
Two comments on sidewalks:
1) by the map, the same contractor does both our small side street sidewalk as well as Jubilee. Strangely, we usually have ours done long before Jubilee, even though our street is barely travelled;
2) the HRM online service request form (which HRM seemed to be encouraging people to use for non-urgent matters) has no category for snow and ice removal. Hmmm.
Thanks for all the great reporting.
Correction – by “done” I mean the first pass by the plow. No where near clear….
Phlis McGregor. Kayleigh Trace.