How Halifax copes with a wild winter

Driving, walking, bus transit — a look at transportation in Halifax during the winter months

This winter has been an unpredictable one for Halifax. How do you get to where you’re going when sidewalks and streets are caked in snow and ice? Whether it’s driving your car, walking or taking a bus, Haligonians face issues with mobility every winter season; however, this year has been significantly worse.

Driving

Joel Barkhouse, a security guard at Casino Nova Scotia on Upper Water Street works night shifts from 9 p.m. until 5 a.m. He says he struggles to park his car for work during the winter months because of the overnight parking bans.

Parking bans are enforced in Halifax only during declared snow and ice events from 1 a.m. to 6 a.m. Those who violate the ban are either ticketed or have their vehicle towed.

Meters on College St. covered with snow from Sunday's storm. (Photo: Delaney MacKay)
Meters on College St. covered with snow from Sunday’s storm. (Photo: Delaney MacKay)

“Since the meters stop after 6 p.m. and start at 6 a.m. I usually don’t have to pay for parking. But since the parking ban, I have to park in the parkade. It’s $3.75 but it all adds up since this winter has had so many storms,” says Barkhouse.

Jennifer Stairs, a spokeswoman for the Halifax Regional Municipality, says so far this season, the municipality has enforced the overnight parking ban a total of 33 times, including the ban overnight on Monday.

Stairs said in an email that the city has towed 63 vehicles that were in violation of the ban. To compare, in 2013-14 the overnight parking ban was enforced a total of 14 times during the entire season and the city towed 33 vehicles.

Car buried in snow late Sunday evening. (Photo: Delaney MacKay)
Car buried in snow late Sunday evening. (Photo: Delaney MacKay)

Barkhouse holds out his hands with two bandages on them. Recently, he fell on an icy sidewalk as he went to work, resulting in cuts on his hands and bruises on his shins.

He says even when the ban is not in effect he finds it challenging to park in front of meters because of the road conditions and high snowbanks.

“I feel like the city should do a better job removing snow on roads, every lane is like cut in half. When you’re driving it’s almost like a one-way street you’re sharing with oncoming traffic.”

Darin Borgel, a meteorologist with Environment Canada, told Metro News the storm that hit Halifax on Sunday was one of the worst the city has experienced this winter season.

Sunday’s storm began late Saturday evening with snow then ended with ice pellets and freezing rain. The storm brought gusts of wind 90 km/h coating Atlantic Canada with as much as 59 centimetres of snow.

In 2013, HRM appointed performance-based contractors to provide sidewalk snow and ice removal for all sidewalks in the region. Residents were no longer responsible for clearing sidewalks close to their properties.

For the first time, Halifax, Spryfield and Armdale would see their sidewalks cleared like other neighbourhoods.

The change in 2013 added another 200 kilometres of sidewalks to clearing operations, bringing the total to almost 1,000 kilometres of sidewalks that the city is responsible for.

HRM set service standards stating the clearing of snow and ice should occur within 12 to 36 hours after snowfall based on street priority levels. The rapid weather changing conditions have made it challenging to remove snow and ice this year.

Salt and sand are applied to sidewalks to create a degree of traction; however, the issue lies beneath the surface of snow. Thick layers of ice have formed on city sidewalks.

According to the Halifax Regional Municipality’s website, during the month of February the municipality received more than 10,000 calls to the 311 phone number regarding snow and ice removal—a 700 per cent increase in calls over the same period last year.

Walking

Davita Harris, student at the University of King’s College, says she thinks HRM made a mistake making snow removal the responsibility of contractors rather than tenants.

“There are endless sidewalks in Halifax and with constant snowfall, it’s hard to stay on top of the problem. I’m empathetic to the people in charge of snow removal; it’s not their fault that it’s too much this winter. It’s an abnormal winter,” says Harris.

Davita Harris stands beside a snowbank on Dalhousie campus. (Photo: Delaney MacKay)
Davita Harris stands beside a snowbank on Dalhousie campus. (Photo: Delaney MacKay)

Harris says, with storms hitting almost every week, she feels there hasn’t been enough chances to enjoy snowy activities this year.

“With erratic temperatures there has been so much ice and slush, and that’s brought my enthusiasm about it (winter) down to record lows,” she says.

According to the Government of Canada website, the coldest month of the year in Halifax is January with an average low of -10.7 degrees Celsius.

Harris says she travels by bus transit to avoid the sidewalks and hasn’t encountered many problems with getting to school.

“I won’t be sad to see sidewalks again! I think we have all had our fill of winter this year,” she says.

Bus transit

Josh Weatherbey, a student at Mount Saint Vincent, sits on his boyfriend’s couch taking off his hat and backpack, his ears and nose a rosy pink. He took the bus, and it was late.

Weatherbey says public transit is his only way around Halifax, with the exception of his friends’ cars sometimes.

He says winter transit in Halifax only differs from other seasons because buses are frequently late. Weatherbey doesn’t like waiting for buses when it’s cold and fears for his safety as a passenger during winter months.

“I’m always a little nervous that you might end up swerving or tipping when making fast turns. Winter tires should be added to buses, especially with all these snowstorms we frequently have,” he says.

The No. 90 Metro Transit bus drives down Robie St. (Photo: Delaney MacKay)
The no. 90 Metro Transit bus drives down Robie St. (Photo: Delaney MacKay)

Halifax Transit uses aggressive tread all-season tires designed by Michelin. Jennifer Stairs says the Nova Scotia Utility and Review Board ensures that Halifax Transit is following the regulations and legislative requirements that ensure the safety of vehicles, including tires.

Stairs says the board inspects HRM transit vehicles twice a year and follows the provincial Motor Carrier Act, which sets out the regulations around tires for transit.

“Like we saw this past weekend, on-duty supervisors implement this plan after assessing the weather and road conditions. With Sunday’s storm, we saw high winds and blowing snow, which meant poor visibility for drivers,” says Stairs.

As a result, of Sunday’s storm the buses went on a service pause for about an hour, where they pulled off the road until conditions improved. Once they were back in service, many routes operated on the snow plan to detour around icy or poorly cleared areas. This is regular practice during bad conditions.

Environment Canada issued a statement Monday warning a potential snowfall event for late Tuesday and Wednesday.

What now?

While most of the Maritimes is still recovering from Sunday’s storm, if you’re planning to travel in the peninsula area, stay alert for weather warnings and always be prepared for harsh road and sidewalk conditions.

What mode of transportation will you trust to get you where you need to go safely?