Sidewalk snowclearing is a hot subject in St. John’s, and a city councillor wants to bring the heat — literally.
Coun. Sandy Hickman is suggesting the city look at installing heated sidewalks.
“We’ve got to start thinking a little bit outside the box,” he told the other councillors during Monday’s regular council meeting.
Hickman asked city staff to look at whether it would be feasible to install heated sidewalks on a part of Water Street during the next phase of the sewer upgrades.
He said the next phase involves tearing up the sidewalks, so it would be a good time to install the heating technology.
Hickman said downtown is the focal point of the city, and he supports anything council can do to make it safer and more accessible, as well as inject life into the area that has drawn concern in terms of retail and office space vacancies.
"Can we try something that could be valuable to downtown? And then if it really works, we can expand on it maybe to other sections of the city, as well." — Coun. Sandy Hickman
The next phase of the Water Street Infrastructure Project begins in the spring as soon as all of the snow is gone.
“I would like (city staff) to look immediately at this to see if they can incorporate heating tubes, or whatever would be the technology, in this phase so we can learn something over the next winter,” he told reporters.
Hickman’s idea is now in the hands of the city’s engineering staff to consider. He said they’ll likely have to do some research, look at heated sidewalks in other jurisdictions, see what technology is used and talk to the consultants who are currently working on the Water Street project.
“Can we try something new?” he pondered.
“Can we try something that could be valuable to downtown? And then if it really works, we can expand on it maybe to other sections of the city, as well.”
Hickman acknowledged he has no idea what it might cost.
“It may totally preclude this ever happening,” he said.
“But it might save us a bit of money in snowclearing, in snow removal, and of course if it enhances safety then it just makes downtown more attractive.”
He said if city staff deem it feasible, he sees it going ahead as a pilot project that could be reviewed over the course of next winter, or the next couple of winters, to see how well it works.
Hickman got the idea from an article in Runner’s World magazine. The article called Holland, Michigan, a “running mecca” because it boasts downtown sidewalks and roads that are heated with underground tubes that circulate hot water.
The city of about 33,000 gets about 75 inches of snow per year and installed the snowmelt system in the 1980s so the downtown core could compete with the surging popularity of shopping malls at the time.
The snowmelt system was an unprecedented undertaking at the time, according to the article.
Today, Holland boasts about its award-winning downtown on its website, where it highlights its heated sidewalks and streets.
“Downtown stays active year-round thanks to our snowmelt system, the largest municipally-owned system in the country. Snowmelt keeps downtown sidewalks and streets snow- and ice-free, allowing people to stay active during the winter weather,” reads the city’s website.
Hickman couldn’t give an exact timeline, but said the city will know for sure whether or not the system will get the green light by April, when Phase 2 of the Water Street Infrastructure project is set to get underway.