Opinion: Did Burnaby really do a ‘terrible’ job of snow removal?

Chris Campbell

Burnabarians are breathing a little easier today after surviving a mighty winter storm without having to resort to cannibalism.

We’ve been pounded by snow and sub-zero temperatures, but now the forecast is just for some flurries before the rain arrives to wash this all away. Things might hit a balmy 7C by Sunday – perhaps I’ll go for a walk in my shorts.

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With life getting back to normal (hard sheets of rain), now is a good time to assess the performance of the City of Burnaby and its snow-removal efforts.

Also known as the recriminations.

Kidding…sort of.

I use the word recriminations because there are people on Burnaby social media who are upset at the city’s snow-clearing performance.

“The city can’t prepare for the snow conditions properly,” read one comment on the Burnaby NOW’s Facebook page. “That’s the city’s fault for terrible management.”

snow plow

“City needs to get it together,” said Ace Entson, in another post. “Clean up the roadways.”

I could fill this entire post with dozens of angry recriminations I’ve read in the past few days, but those two comments pretty much sum things up. The main complaint is that while the main streets in Burnaby were (arguably) managed at an acceptable level, not enough attention was paid to side streets, especially those on hills.

Things were so bad on Wednesday that the city had to close portions of Royal Oak, Delta and Beta avenues for much of the day due to heavy snow and ice.

The city says that it has a priority list that goes 1, 2 and 3 – when the priority 1 roads have been addressed, the 2 and 3 priorities get city attention. (You can check out the city’s map here to see what priority your street is.)

The problem was that there was so much snow on some days, like Wednesday, that the lower-priority roads were left to wither.

My street on Burnaby Mountain was still an icy mess this morning when I left for work. I have no idea when or if it will get cleared, or if the city will just wait for the rain to do the job.

So, did the city really do a “terrible” job of snow removal, as some residents allege?

Well, it’s complicated. This is the third-biggest city in B.C. There are a lot of roads to cover, especially ones with hills. Burnaby has an undulating terrain, which makes for more hills than many other communities.

What people also have to remember is this kind of snow doesn’t happen often. It’s been a few years since it was this bad. The city only has so much staff and equipment available because snow removal isn’t something Metro Vancouver communities have to deal with on a regular basis. Expecting Burnaby to be on the level of, say, Edmonton feels unreasonable.

burnaby snow snowstorm
A man pushes a snow blower across an icy Burnaby street. Jennifer Gauthier photo

So, yes, technically the city didn’t do what I would call a “good” job of snow removal because there were so many roads that weren’t driveable since last Saturday. Maybe you could even say the city did a “terrible” job.

But context matters. Considering how much snow the city received since Saturday - and the fact Burnaby isn’t used to seeing this kind of storm on any kind of consistent basis - the city did the best it could under the circumstances.

Now, of course, it’s all over and life will return to normal, although it’s possible another snow storm could hit the city before winter is through.

And not everyone is unhappy with the city’s performance.

“From what I've seen, Burnaby City workers are doing an awesome job in getting me to and from work,” wrote Sheryl Foster. “Thank you, you are all truly appreciated.”

Follow Chris Campbell on Twitter @shinebox44.

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