Councillor seeks first step to bare winter sidewalks


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Once winter conditions set in, Tom Jones rarely leaves home, unless he’s headed to work.

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Once winter conditions set in, Tom Jones rarely leaves home, unless he’s headed to work.

If sidewalk snow and slush threaten to trap his wheelchair in place, the Winnipeg resident prefers to avoid the risk of travel.

“I stay home all weekend. I just won’t venture out because you just can’t take that chance of getting stuck. If I wanted to walk over to the store, half the time I can’t get there because the sidewalks aren’t cleared properly,” said Jones.

Friends and family regularly help him run errands during the winter; however, if the city could clear sidewalks right down to the pavement, getting around independently would be much easier, Jones said.

“(Then) I could still travel without having to worry. If it was complete concrete, I would have no problems. I could go out in -20 C weather because I could just dress for it.”

Ideally, he would love to see the city raise its snow-clearing standards to that level for all walkways, all winter. Jones believes any added cost would be worth the benefit for all Winnipeg pedestrians to travel safely.

“Even a healthy person (without mobility challenges), with the way sidewalks are, you even see them slip and slide. Everybody has fallen or slipped on this ice,” he said.

Lori Ross, who also uses a wheelchair, said snow- and ice-covered sidewalks create a major impediment to getting around with any kind of mobility device.

“The reality is that this is one of the barriers to people with disabilities functioning in the community,” said Ross, noting even crossing the sidewalk outside her condo to reach a Transit Plus stop can prove challenging on some days.

A Winnipeg councillor hopes a new pilot project could mark the first step toward making the city more accessible for anyone who uses sidewalks.

If council approves, Coun. Matt Allard’s motion would have city crews clear one sidewalk per council ward to bare pavement next winter then report back on the benefits, challenges and costs of doing so. Allard also wants city staff to then provide options to expand the pilot project using city equipment and staff.

“Currently, the standard for streets is (snow clearing to the) pavement. I would like to see a city where a person can safely walk on a sidewalk all year round, without fear of slipping and falling,” he said.

The St. Boniface councillor said convincing more Winnipeggers to walk instead of drive could pay off through improved health and reduced vehicle emissions.

Allard began to call for a higher standard of sidewalk clearing a few years ago after some of his own walks proved treacherous.

“I don’t have a mobility issue and I was making the choice to walk on the street more often than not because the snow-clearing bylaw wasn’t being respected,” said Allard, who believes sidewalks are often cleared long after city policy dictates.

“In terms of level of services, if we want people making choices other than driving, then we need to create the conditions in which it’s desirable to not drive.”

The former public works committee chairman noted conditions can become even more treacherous following freeze-thaw cycles that lead compacted snow to melt into odd, uneven layers before refreezing.

Allard said he believes his request for the small pilot project can be funded within the city’s existing budget. “This would be a special assignment per ward that I believe the public service could handle internally.”

Last year, Allard proposed a pilot project that would have had city crews clear all sidewalks deemed to be in “good” condition to bare pavement. That motion was rejected.

Winnipeg policy calls for sidewalks along major routes, non-regional bus routes and collector streets to be cleared to a compacted snow surface following about five centimetres of snow. Such sidewalks in the downtown are cleared to a paved surface whenever conditions allow.

Snow-clearing officials declined to weigh in on the feasibility of Allard’s new motion Tuesday, deeming it premature to comment on the impact or cost of the potential pilot project.

The proposal would require full council approval.

Twitter: @joyanne_pursaga

Joyanne Pursaga

Joyanne Pursaga

Born and raised in Winnipeg, Joyanne loves to tell the stories of this city, especially when politics is involved. Joyanne became the city hall reporter for the Winnipeg Free Press in early 2020.

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