Dear SFU: Please make safety a priority this winter season

No one should have to injure themselves coming to class

snow covered sidewalk at SFU Burnaby
PHOTO: Kriti Monga / The Peak

By: Olivia Visser, Opinions Editor

While our campus boasts beautiful mountain views and great sunset-watching spots, it stands no chance against the snowstorms we see every couple of years in BC. Winter can be incredibly dangerous in this province, no matter where you are. Few people want to, or even can, commute up a mountain in a blizzard. Many students without commuter horror stories can remember an accident or near-miss on Burnaby Mountain during the winter months. SFU needs to keep safety a priority for students this upcoming season. 

Burnaby Mountain has an elevation of 370 metres. That might not sound very high compared to other mountains, but it’s enough to significantly lower the average temperature. This means Burnaby Mountain sees more snow than the surrounding areas, and the snow sticks around for longer periods. 

For commuters, heavy snow brings forth a multitude of challenges. Traveling by foot takes longer, and poses safety hazards. Many disabled people simply can’t safely navigate the ice and snow due to blocked ramps, entryways, and ice-covered sidewalks. Buses also face delays, and even suspend their service for safety concerns. This affected students most recently in 2020 and 2021, when commuters were stuck on the mountain with no way home after classes were cancelled too late. That same morning, SFU insisted “operations and classes are proceeding as normal.” It seems to be a yearly occurrence, as the university consistently fails to prepare for the weather and prioritize student safety. These situations can force people to walk their way down the mountain, unless you’re as lucky as I was in 2020 to find a ride with a friend. I remember watching him push a smaller car out of its snow-covered parking spot, with a line of vehicles behind waiting for their chance. It took us over three hours to get home, after a two hour commute to class.

Other students have posted in SFU-related social media groups about their injuries. One person said they “wiped out twice” on campus and their friend sprained their ankle. Some commenters suggested filing a report to facilities services, while others said they allegedly got an insufficient response, or no response, from the university when they tried. 

These types of winter complications are a big part of what led to the Burnaby Mountain gondola project. Hopefully the gondola will increase accessibility and reduce some of the risks associated with winter travel. However, the project was proposed as one of TransLink’s “Transport 2050: 10 Year Priorities” plan, meaning we still have years of waiting before we can use the gondola. In the meantime, there are steps the university can take to protect students’ safety.

On November 8, SFU made a Facebook post about safe walking in snowy conditions. They said to “keep your arms and hands free and steady,” and “take small steps,” among other instructions. This advice certainly helps, especially for those commuting from even worse weather conditions. However, if walkspaces aren’t safe enough on campus — shouldn’t the school be closed until they are? 

I know it was just a pre-emptive post intended to help us, but the university still needs to prioritize student safety in their decision-making heading into December. It takes a lot of work to keep the entire campus cleared and salted during heavy snow, which is why classes should be cancelled or moved online when safe conditions can’t be maintained. While this is technically already the school’s policy, it hasn’t been followed effectively in the past. Let’s stop repeating the same mistakes. Please, SFU: I want to be inside for the next Snowmageddon — not braving the storm.