For the first time in over 20 year, the City of Fernie is looking to revamp their snow and ice removal policies.
While reviewing the current policy on snow removal in Fernie, the city highlighted several shortcomings of the current system and decided that a significant change needs to be made moving forward. Zabrina Pendon, the city’s director of operational services said that “the city’s current snow removal practices put a strain on municipal resources” and are no longer sustainable.
In an effort to improve the snow and ice removal system, the city announced a pilot project and public engagement campaign that is set to start on February 18.
During an assessment of the current snow removal policies, City of Fernie staff have identified several key issues with the current system. One of those issues is the sole focus on roads and not sidewalks or other commuter routes. Another is that there is no clear prioritization of different driving routes based on use or need. Currently, all areas within the city are plowed sequentially and not according to vital services or road usage.
Now, there will be five different priority levels, with roads and streets in Fernie being divided by importance into those five categories.
Another significant finding from the review is that current practices rely heavily on overtime work to finish the plowing and snow removal. The city noted that not only is this expensive, it has a negative impact on the health and safety of city employees.
Finally, the City of Fernie acknowledged that the manpower needed to enact a full plow response is currently pulling staff away from other vital duties, including maintenance work in other services areas.
“The intention is to rethink the way we use our existing resources, and shift the way we deliver the service to match what we are resourced to provide,” said Pendon. “One of the outcomes of this policy review will be determining whether additional resources are required.”
With a general review of the current policies complete, the city will be moving forward with a snow removal pilot project next week. They outlined key changes to the system at a meeting at City Hall on February 3.
One change to existing services will be the focus on pedestrian routes. The city noted that the community can expect to see a higher level of service for sidewalks and other commuter routes with the pilot project. Designated sidewalk routes will be prioritized, additional sidewalks routes will be added, sidewalk route diversions will increase safety by directing pedestrians to signalized crossings and there will be additional services to commuter pathways like the Fairy Creek Pathway Extension.
According to Pendon, this shift in focus to include pedestrians is part of a larger plan for Fernie.
“Putting an emphasis on prioritizing the clearing of designated sidewalks is part of a larger effort by the city to focus on multi-modal transportation opportunities,” she said.
Although the new plan strives to make Fernie more pedestrian friendly, it also brings changes for snow removal on roads.
Community members can expect to see neighbourhood on-street parking not cleared until the second day after a snowfall, although according to the City of Fernie website, “all residential areas are prioritized the same and opening roads for safe passage will be done before parking lanes are cleared.”
While this change will see an improvement in services for some, others will experience a decrease in services in hopes of creating an equitable system.
Residents who receive windrow removal services will also notice a change, with the service being moved to the day after a snowfall.
“As parking lanes will not be cleared until day two after a snowfall, the windrows will be significantly smaller until the parking lanes are cleared,” explained Pendon. “Windrow removal will still be done to coincide with the clearing of parking lanes.”
Business owners will also notice a change with the new pilot project. Although there will be no reduction in services to the downtown area, businesses outside of downtown can expect to see an increased priority of business areas. Main business areas are now classified as Priority 2 out of the five possible priority categorizations.
According to the City of Fernie, business owners who operate outside of the downtown core “can also expect to see a shift in the practice of centre plowing, with the practice no longer being used outside the downtown business area.” Parking clearing in these areas will also be delayed to the second day after a snowfall.
One other proposed change is a reprioritization of critical operational facilities within the city, as well as fire hydrants being cleared sooner in case of emergency.
Although the pilot project begins on February 18 and will continue until April 15, there are several additional phases to this policy development plan. The next phase will be from May 1 to August 31 and will give the city time to review, assess and summarize their findings from the pilot project and take public input into consideration.
The final phase of the project will be to adopt a new snow removal policy sometime between September 1 to October 15, with the hopes of having the policy in place for the 2020/2021 winter season.
“Public and stakeholder feedback will be collected throughout the entire process, and new policy recommendations to council in the fall of 2020 will be drafted based on operational observations and quantitative metrics, and public and stakeholder feedback,” explained Pendon.
Since community input will be a vital part of this project, there are several opportunities for residents of Fernie to provide feedback on the pilot project and proposed policies. On February 25, there will be a public open house to learn more about the current practices and proposed changes.
There is also a dedicated project email address (email@example.com) that residents are encouraged to email with feedback and suggestions. Finally, the public will have the opportunity to fill out a survey on this topic, starting in mid April.