Homeless in Vancouver: Why the north side of the street is better after it snows in the city

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      Since Sunday afternoon (February 18)—following the snowfall of the night before—the north and south sides of West Broadway have been poles apart. And I expect that the striking north-south divide along this east-west arterial cutting through the Fairview neighbourhood is replicated on east-west streets all across Vancouver.

      What I’m referring to is the disproportionate accumulation of snow and ice.

      The entire north sidewalk of West Broadway has been almost 100 percent free of snow since Sunday afternoon, while the south side is still quite covered in a slippery coat of hard, icy snow.

      This difference in snow retention is entirely due to the position and path of the sun at this time of year. After rising in the sky southeast of Broadway, the sun proceeds westward through the day at a relatively low position in the sky—relative to the horizon (and compared to the summer months).

      Thanks to the tilt of the earth’s axis, today (February 19) the sun has an “altitude” (or angle from the horizon) in the Vancouver sky of only 33°. This is up from an average of 25° in January but it is far below June, when the sun will rise to a high of 64°.

      The relative position and low height of the sun at this time of year means that only the north side of West Broadway can get any sunshine.

      Almost feels like spring on the sunny side of the street

      A panoramic photo of the snow-free north side of West Broadway and Alder at 1:36 p.m. on Sunday, with long shadows indicating the low sun angle.
      Stanley Q. Woodvine

      Skies were clear on Sunday and constant sunshine melted all of the accumulated snow on the north sidewalk before midday. At the same time though, the south sidewalk has stayed covered in shade and (as a result) snow.

      Nearly two days after our snowfall, there are some cleared portions of sidewalk on the south side of West Broadway between Oak Street and Granville Street but arguably the majority of the exposed concrete is due to fixed awnings catching and deflecting the falling snow, and subsequent foot traffic trampling clear paths through the white stuff.

      This is not to say that there are not some property managers and business owners and staff along both sides of West Broadway who take the responsibility to shovel the snow—there are some and that’s the problem: only some ever bother to shovel.

      Lucky for everyone on the north side of the street, the sun took care of removing the snow but someone had to actually shovel it on the south side. Evidence on the ground suggests that multi-unit residences were much more willing to do this for their residents than retail businesses were for their customers.

      The difference seen here likely has to do with job descriptions.

      Snow and its removal are both eventualities that building managers are paid to take care of but—assuming that a store even has the necessary snow removal supplies—salting and shoveling are not, by definition, part of a low-paid, retail employee’s duties. 

      Stanley Q. Woodvine is a homeless resident of Vancouver who has worked in the past as an illustrator, graphic designer, and writer. Follow Stanley on Twitter at @sqwabb.