WEATHER ALERT

State of sidewalks challenged Visually impaired Winnipegger considers launching human rights complaint against city

A visually impaired St. Vital man is considering filing a human rights complaint against the city over the state of its snow- and ice-packed sidewalks.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 24/02/2022 (342 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

A visually impaired St. Vital man is considering filing a human rights complaint against the city over the state of its snow- and ice-packed sidewalks.

Raymond Slipetz, who lives alone, is legally blind and uses a cane to walk in the winter, said the city’s refusal to clear sidewalks in a timely manner has affected his quality of life. Getting his groceries delivered and accessing a taxi are also difficult because the plowed snow blocks his driveway.

“If you’re in a wheelchair or you’re in a situation where you need to use a cane or a walker, you’re not going anywhere on the sidewalks,” the 69-year-old told the Free Press Thursday.

Slipetz said he’s now considering making a complaint with the Manitoba Human Rights Commission on behalf of Winnipeggers with disabilities. He said they’ve been denied their basic needs because the city doesn’t make sidewalk clearing a priority.

Raymond Slipetz, who is legally blind and uses a cane to walk in the winter, said the city’s refusal to clear sidewalks in a timely manner has affected his quality of life. (Jessica Lee / Winnipeg Free Press)

“But the fact of the matter is that if you’re in a wheelchair, use a walker or a cane, or are a legally blind person, you don’t have any rights at all,” he said. “You rely on what other people are willing to hand you down.”

The city has three priority levels for snow clearing. Typically, the priority level of a street and a nearby sidewalk are the same (for example, some sidewalks near schools get a higher priority than nearby streets). Priority is determined by several factors, including the amount and type of traffic. First and second priority streets and sidewalks are plowed after five centimetres of snow fall, while third priority streets and sidewalks are plowed after eight centimetres.

City taking more time to clear residential streets

Residential streets will likely continue to be plowed beyond end of the Friday evening parking ban, according to the city’s streets maintenance manager.

A parking ban has been underway for most of the week, affecting different residential zones in 12-hour intervals, and is set to end by 7 p.m. Friday.

Michael Cantor said by that time, residential streets will likely be about 80 per cent complete and snow clearers will have to keep working past the parking ban.

“We come back and plow,” Cantor said.

Residential streets will likely continue to be plowed beyond end of the Friday evening parking ban, according to the city’s streets maintenance manager.

A parking ban has been underway for most of the week, affecting different residential zones in 12-hour intervals, and is set to end by 7 p.m. Friday.

Michael Cantor said by that time, residential streets will likely be about 80 per cent complete and snow clearers will have to keep working past the parking ban.

“We come back and plow,” Cantor said.

“When the contractors are finishing their third shift today at seven, they will continue for at least for 24 to 48 hours to plow deficiencies and re-plow until it’s complete. We’re not leaving anything. We’re just taking longer, that’s it.”

Mayor Brian Bowman said he couldn’t remember a winter with so much snow and asked Winnipeggers to be patient as snow clearing goes “a lot slower than any of us would have liked.”

“It is going to take some time to remove the snow from not just the streets, but from the curbs and sidewalks, and I would just urge everybody in the city right now to be really careful around the curbs that are out there clearing the streets,” he said Thursday.

There won’t be any additional parking ban beyond what’s already in place, but plows will continue to work around parked vehicles and in spaces between cars.

“I’ve heard from one of our contractors that this is the most challenging plow he has ever encountered for the last 30 years,” Cantor said.

While corresponding streets and sidewalks are supposed to be cleared at the same time, that isn’t happening. On Thursday afternoon, Priority 2 streets in the south end of Winnipeg were considered 100 per cent cleared, while their sidewalks and pathways were listed as nine per cent complete.

“We start the same time, but sidewalks take much longer than streets,” said Michael Cantor, Winnipeg’s manager of street maintenance. “Usually, you’ll see streets at 100 per cent after 24, 36 hours, while the sidewalk stays much longer. Although the policy states 36 hours, this year, it was very hard to meet those timelines.”

City policy also states that Priority 1 and 2 sidewalks should be fully cleared within 36 hours of a snowfall, while Priority 3 sidewalks should be plowed within five days. That hasn’t happened this winter, Cantor acknowledged.

“What limits us, usually, is the amount of equipment to finish our inventory within 36 hours. And with this long winter and cold temperatures, we have a lot of equipment that is down,” he said, adding the city is also behind on clearing Priority 3 sidewalks because of excessive snowfall this winter.

Cantor said his department is closely monitoring its sidewalk clearing this winter, with a report on snow clearing to be presented to the city in July to determine gaps in service.

Slipetz says an ice-grip attachment on his cane helps him walk but if he didn’t have it, it would be much more difficult. (Jessica Lee / Winnipeg Free Press)

However, Cantor defended the city’s response.

“In other cities, they don’t plow sidewalks of residential streets at all. Winnipeg has, I think, one of the best policies, we just sometimes struggle to facilitate it if we don’t have the adequate resources to do that. And we’re working on it. But otherwise, the policy itself is a very good policy,” he said.

But Slipetz, who said he’s reached out to the city with little to no response, said the city’s priority system isn’t working.

“To me, it’s ridiculous that they would be following this old policy and not giving any consideration to those who are disabled,” he said.

“We’re in an area that’s not of high income… and it feels like that we have been ignored this winter. It just seems like roads and higher income areas seem to get priority.” – Elmwood resident Adam Johnston

Elmwood resident Adam Johnston agrees.

Johnston, who was hit by a car in October, said he finds it difficult to navigate the city’s snowy sidewalks with his injuries. The need for accessible pathways is vital in lower income neighbourhoods where more people walk and take public transit, he said.

“We’re in an area that’s not of high income… and it feels like that we have been ignored this winter. It just seems like roads and higher income areas seem to get priority,” he said.

Johnston said he gets anxious about scaling the piles of snow that line city sidewalks.

“Often I’m jumping over snowbanks to walk on the street where it’s been cleared, where the cars go, and obviously that’s not the greatest, but it’s often the only alternative,” he said.

malak.abas@freepress.mb.ca

Malak Abas

Malak Abas
Reporter

Malak Abas is a reporter for the Winnipeg Free Press.

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