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John Ducker: Collective approach a must for future weather 'events'

Are you debriefing the latest winter storm in order to do better next time?
A pedestrian walks in the snow on Tyee Road and Bay Street in Victoria on Dec. 20, 2022. In the first couple days of last week’s snowstorm, notable losers in the plowing contest were: north Douglas; Boleskine; Burnside; most of the downtown core; and Bay Street, writes John Ducker. DARREN STONE, TIMES COLONIST

Whether or not our streets were plowed effectively seems to be a matter of opinion these past two weeks. We’ve had big(ish) dumps before. Somehow this time seemed different.

If you go by the media releases from local municipalities, crews were hard at it all through the latest dump which, though a big one, still rates a distant second to the great snow tsunami of 1996.

The anecdotes, emails and social media from citizens tell a different story and I have to mostly agree with the peeps on this one.

On Dec. 20, I had to drive to Royal Jubilee Hospital for an appointment — medically necessary, otherwise I would have stayed home. Bay Street was abysmal. Maybe a plow might have gone through once early on as the snow fell, but that was it. The snow, however, kept coming.

If Bay had been plowed a second time, you wouldn’t know it. A one-car slide out would have blocked everything. Good thing Bay Street isn’t a major route to a hospital …

At the hospital the doc said it had taken him 45 minutes to get to in from Fairfield. I hope ambulances were faring better.

He also said that there’s a 50% no-show rate for his procedures during weather events like this one, presumably because many can’t or won’t drive. Not what you want to hear in a time when the health system decries near collapse.

Two days passed. OK. By now it should be good to head out for some last minute festive, relaxing mall time. Surely a full court press of plowing and sanding would have been laid on, at least for the main roads.

Nope. In some respects it was worse than the two days before.

Notable losers in the plowing contest were: north Douglas; Boleskine; Burnside; most of the downtown core; and, as mentioned, Bay Street.

It was particularly irksome to watch transit riders trying to climb through our own winter versions of the Great Wall of China, plowed perfectly it seemed, to block access between shelters and an awaiting bus.

I can’t reconcile this one. On the one hand, city halls are saying it was all hands on deck, non stop, round the clock etcetera, yet many roads, main roads at that, seemed nearly untouched well into this weather event.

I do have to commend Esquimalt, though. They had the best plowed and maintained streets — even cutting into the piles in front of bus stops, allowing people to get on board.

It’s not all on city hall though. These dangerous conditions are always compounded by drivers who aren’t prepared or don’t care.

On north Douglas I saw a Toyota SUV plowing southbound through the powder and the ruts at a good 55-60 k’s. Do you understand that you have an absolutely zero chance of stopping or swerving out of danger as you would under normal conditions?

I watched a Chevy Malibu stuck on a speed bump in the mall lot because its smooth low profile summer tires couldn’t handle one inch of slush.

Then there were the ever classic 18-inch snow piles on top of at least two cars that passed by. It’s taken a half hour to dig yourself out but there isn’t two minutes to spare for clearing off your roof — or worse — your windshield?

To be fair, I also saw a lot more courtesy. Drivers gave way when they didn’t strictly have to. Most people had slowed right down. No tailgaters. Several sightings of drivers or passersby jumping out to push a stranded car. Echoes of ’96.

Looking out the window now, at bare streets and our usual drab grey December, you can feel some sympathy for city officials who have to contend with a major weather problem they pretty much know will disappear in a week.

But these weather “events” seem to be getting worse. If we have learned nothing else from COVID, it should be that resiliency now has to be baked into our collective thinking. Saving money by running on a “just enough to get through the year” mentality is no longer working.

In terms of snow storms, more planning, readiness and (God forbid) a collective approach to deploying regional equipment more effectively seems to be required. If there’s a crew shortage, have other workers been cross-trained to work snow equipment when needed?

Most importantly, are you debriefing this last one in order to do better next time?

No one is expecting perfection here. Small side streets and cul-de-sacs are going to have to wait and possibly not get plowed.

Our own role is to avoid travel if possible, have proper equipment, including snow tires and drive responsibly.

Clearly, winter no longer cares about La La Land.

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