Citizen shovelers want clear paths, better city response
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For some who recently watched the city threaten to fine Winnipeggers who took clearing snow from bike lanes into their own hands, it feels like history repeating itself.
When the water rose and froze over the Omand’s Creek footbridge in 2019, Chris Beauvilain and others felt they were forced to clear the snow- and ice-covered bridge themselves. The city had blocked off the pedestrian link and said it wouldn’t be clearing it until spring, despite repeated requests for service from Wolseley community members.
“The city had made a choice at that time… which we thought was unacceptable, given that’s our toboggan park, my kids used that trail to get to their grandparents’ house,” Beauvilain said Thursday. “And so we went and did it.”
At the time, the public works department said the job was too dangerous to complete, due to thick ice blocking off machine access.
After Beauvilain and Brad Hignell spent hours chipping the ice off the bridge with hand tools on a December Saturday, the city eventually plowed the entire trail leading up to the bridge on either side.
It didn’t come with a thank you, however — rather, the city said through a spokesperson the pair’s efforts “did not mitigate the public safety risk” and the unsanctioned cleaning, luckily, hadn’t affected the bridge’s structure.
The idea of fining the shovellers was brought up but eventually discarded; internal emails obtained by the Canadian Taxpayers Federation through a freedom of information request and shared with the Free Press described their work as “reckless.”
“It was a pretty frustrating experience to do that, and then be threatened with fines,” Beauvilain said, adding people were fed up with slow-moving response to snow-clearing. “And I just felt like the city was being kind of a bully and aggressive, and I didn’t really understand it.”
Beauvilain said he feels “inspired” by residents who have been clearing icy paths across the city in recent weeks after complaints to the city’s 311 service reportedly went unanswered.
Last month, a group took matters into their own hands and dug ice and snow from a bike lane on Westminster Avenue. They were given a warning of possible bylaw fines. Undeterred, they later cleared a lane in the Exchange District.
A City of Winnipeg spokesperson clarified it had no plans to fine anyone.
Beauvilain said he was a little surprised the city was quick once again to jump to threatening fines before backing down.
“It seems so ridiculous, but it is not uncommon for me to see these kinds of situations happen and the response is typically quite defensive and aggressive,” he said. “I’ll give credit to the city this time, the spokesperson was very clear… but then also kind of surprised that we’re still dealing with the same issues as a winter city.”
Hillary Rosentreter, who has been organizing groups to clear ice and snow from lanes, didn’t live in Winnipeg in 2019, and hadn’t heard about the Omand’s Creek incident until recently.
“I’m not surprised… I’m certain that this has been a longer-standing problem than any of us could imagine,” she said.
Like Beauvilain, she acknowledges the city has been making efforts to streamline its snow-clearing processes, but said until it moves faster, people will continue to be inclined to take the work upon themselves.
“I’m not necessarily concerned about them learning from their mistakes. More so I’m more concerned about… the amount of time it takes before policies are changed, the amount of time it takes before 311 gets to a trouble spot, that kind of thing,” Rosentreter said.
A motion from Coun. Matt Allard to update bylaws to remove the possibility of receiving a fine for clearing snow off of public sidewalks and bike paths was met with interest at city hall last week.
Malak Abas is a reporter for the Winnipeg Free Press.