Drifts of despair: complaints rise as city sidewalks remain snowed over
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This article was published 01/03/2022 (337 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Snow-swallowed sidewalks have forced parents to walk their children to school along icy, rutted roads and to clamber over snowy banks. Others trudge through deep snow; and many with mobility issues are simply stuck indoors.
Winnipeg sidewalks this winter are the worst Daniel Guenther has seen. As the head of a residents association in the Garden City neighbourhood, he said complaints have flooded in.
“I would say it’s progressively gotten worse,” Guenther said Tuesday. “There’s the general feeling that looking around, there’s been major cutbacks in the snow clearing operation.”
Guenther pointed to a host of issues also noted by residents around the city, primarily in the northwest. Among them, the footpaths near R.F. Morrison School are blown over.
“There’s been a lot of these major pathways of sidewalks that have not been cleared once this winter, and now we’re into March,” he said. “Even when they do come and clear it, there’s been times were I’ve seen the sidewalk clearing equipment just stop because they’ve let it pile up — five, six snowstorms worth.”
That’s meant towering snow piles left at those locations.
Guenther said he’s called the City of Winnipeg several times, but it seems the city is overwhelmed and unable to respond.
City data support that hypothesis, at least in the northern region, where zero per cent of P3 sidewalks and pathways have been cleared. P3 sidewalks are the lowest priority, but comprise much of the residential areas. However, 74 per cent of P3 sidewalks in the city’s eastern half have been cleared.
“It’s just disappointing,” Guenther said. “It’s showing the city’s lack of commitment and a lack of support for pedestrians, and it shows a prioritization of other areas.”
Of efforts to clear the snow, city spokesman Ken Allen said in an email: “In response to multiple and back-to-back snow events with high accumulations of snow and ice, our crews, which are comprised of a combination of city staff and hired contractors, are working around-the-clock continuing to plow sidewalks and active transportation paths by priority.”
In late February, Winnipeg manager of street maintenance Michael Cantor said city policy states priority 1 and 2 sidewalks should be cleared with 36 hours of a snowfall and priority 3 within five days, but heavy snow and cold weather has caused plows to break down and delayed clearing.
Garden City residents are far from the only ones with complaints.
Patricia Evans, who lives on Valour Road, said she doesn’t think sidewalk plows can even get through to her because street plows have deposited huge chunks of ice and packed snow onto the footpaths.
Rachel Rempel said she’s had to help her child battle stacked snow all winter on Granville Street in North Point Douglas, just to get him to the school bus.
For people with mobility issues, uncleared sidewalks can mean the difference between getting out of the house and complete isolation, said David Kron, spokesman for Barrier-Free Manitoba, a non-profit that advocates for disability and accessibility issues.
“They’re locked out of life,” he said. “There’s no safe way for them to get around.”
Kron said seen and heard about an increase number of people resorting to driving their scooters or wheelchairs along slippery roads. However, particularly for accessibility advocates, this is an old issue, he said.
“We have this conversation every October after the first snow. But this year’s been a record breaker. It’s gotten worse and worse.”
Kron said the city needs to develop a system to better system to inform people of when their sidewalks will be cleared.
While city policy states sidewalks are to follow street clearings, this year has proven the delay between the two can be unexpectedly long. Kron wants improved communication, so people who depend on cleared paths to participate in the community can plan their lives.
Coun. Ross Eadie (Mynarski) said malfunctioning sidewalk plows have been an issue during his entire time as city councillor. There’s always been winters with heavy snow, and the city needs to pony up and buy new equipment if these problems are going to persist, he added.
Coun. Devi Sharma (Old Kildonan) said calls about uncleared sidewalks have poured in to all councillors, and in response, the public works committee will be issuing a report on snow and ice control policy later this year.