Spring may have officially sprung, but the District of North Vancouver is putting homeowners on notice that they’d better be ready with those snow shovels before next winter arrives.
District council recently voted to amend its street and traffic bylaw to include new snow clearing requirements, which could see homeowners who don’t get busy clearing sidewalks in front of their home by 10 a.m. face fines of $150.
Municipal staff indicated, however, they won’t be in a rush to hand out fines and will aim to educate and warn homeowners first.
The new snow-clearing requirements were adopted March 21.
Until now, the District of North Vancouver has been one of only two municipalities in the Lower Mainland without a legal requirement for homeowners to shovel snow from sidewalks in front of their properties.
Shaun Carroll, manager of engineering operations for the municipality, told council during discussion March 7 that snow clearing isn’t a big problem in the district. Sidewalks on main arterial roads, along with accesses to schools, bus stops and parks, plus bike lanes and multi-use paths, are cleared by district crews, she said.
Beyond that, “Most sidewalks do get cleared,” said Carroll. “It’s a social obligation most people do take on quite readily.”
Carroll said staff have taken a preliminary look at what it would cost to expand snow-clearing of sidewalks by municipal crews and determined it would be expensive.
Coun. Jordan Back noted according to a staff report, having district crews clear more sidewalks could potentially double the district’s snow-clearing costs.
Bringing in a bylaw making sidewalk snow-clearing a legal obligation of homeowners sends an important message, said Back: “We all have to do our part.”
Couns. Megan Curren, Jim Hanson and Mathew Bond all agreed with that message, saying sidewalk clearing is an important accessibility issue.
“If we’re serious about active transportation, we need to be serious about clearing sidewalks,” said Hanson, adding, “It’s an issue of social equity.”
Bond said having to navigate snow-filled sidewalks impacts some groups of people – like children and their caregivers, seniors and those who have mobility challenges – more than others.
Not all council members agreed with the need for a snow-clearing bylaw.
Coun. Lisa Muri worried that some seniors might take unnecessary risks and jeopardize their health if a snow-clearing bylaw is put in place, noting she knows of a person who died of a heart attack while shovelling snow in another municipality. “Our snow is heavy and our community is aging,” she said.
Muri noted one of the biggest complaints about snow clearing received by the municipality is snow plows that dump snow back on sidewalks after residents have shovelled it. “We’re working against ourselves in many of these cases,” she said.
Coun. Betty Forbes agreed, calling the bylaw “another sign of over-reach by government.”
“I think we’re trying to find a solution to a problem that doesn’t exist,” she said.
Mayor Mike Little also didn’t support the bylaw, saying it was unfair to people who live in certain areas of the district. “We have people in the lower areas who would never have to [shovel sidewalks] and others up in higher areas of Lynn Valley where they get multiple dumps of snow for days, sometimes weeks at a time.”
Little said during the last big snow storm over the holidays he decided to spend Christmas morning with his kids instead of leaping up to shovel the sidewalk. When he did get around to shovelling it the next day, “The plow came along and fired all the snow back on the sidewalks again,” he said.
“I don’t know this is going to add to public safety in our community,” he said, adding in his opinion, “Most of the time proper footwear would solve the issue.”
Little also told Hanson, “I look forward to you exercising your social equity by coming down and shovelling my sidewalk. That would be very much appreciated.”
The vote on the bylaw passed, with Little, Muri and Forbes opposed.
Council also directed staff to come back to a future meeting with a report on further snow-clearing options, including the possibility of signing up with a third-party “snow angel” non-profit group that matches people who need their sidewalks cleared with volunteers willing to do the heavy lifting.
The owners of businesses and multi-family properties in the District of North Vancouver are already required to keep their sidewalks clear of snow and ice within 24 hours.