Freeze-thaw cycle reignites public efforts to clear bike lanes
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Down a stretch of Assiniboine Avenue, a bike lane switches from being underwater to a sheet of ice and back again, depending on the time of day.
It’s a brief but dangerous time of year to be using active transportation in Winnipeg, caused by the freeze-thaw cycle of layers of unplowed snow and warmer temperatures zig-zagging with cold ones.
It’s the city’s responsibility to ensure bike lanes and sidewalks are usable, but Hillary Rosentreter knows how it feels to take matters into her own hands. The Winnipeg resident was the organizer of several public snow- and ice-clearing efforts — initially under threats of fines — earlier this winter.
When she fell while cycling a few days ago, and later saw a pair of older women struggling to support each other while navigating an icy walkway, she knew it was time again to pick the shovel up.
“For me, although I’m young and able-bodied, I know that at some point, I’m going to be there, my mom is going to be there, all the people I love are going to be there, in a position where the city’s just not treating us to the kind of standard that we all deserve,” she told the Free Press on Monday.
“And for a lot of people, that’s already the case.”
Rosentreter took to social media looking for allies to help clear a bike lane along Assiniboine Avenue, which she said experiences a lot of use but had gotten dangerous to traverse.
By Sunday afternoon, she and six other people were working, shovels and ice-breaking tools in hand, to clear the pathway to the pavement. The group even drew in the efforts of a passer-by.
“Losing that really crucial corridor, that just makes it that much more difficult at this time of year to actually avoid using your vehicle to get around, which shouldn’t be the case,” Rosentreter said.
It feels a bit like déjà vu.
Just months ago, Rosentreter was warned by the city of a potential financial penalty for clearing bike lanes. (After being publicly questioned, officials quickly said it would not happen.)
It’s not a fear she has this time around, and Rosentreter is actively trying to ensure streets maintenance workers know where and when organized ice-clearing efforts are being made.
“I think it’s kind of important to keep the city in the loop when we do intend to go out and do this kind of thing. I have no intention of cutting the city out of the picture, in fact, I would love if they would take over, so that we didn’t have to do it,” she said.
“But the problem is the policies are what they are, and it’s just not conducive to the freeze-thaw cycles that we experience.”
Communications co-ordinator Ken Allen said the city is still not considering issuing fines to vigilante ice clearers, adding early spring is a typically treacherous time for pedestrians and cyclists.
“The next-day thawing temperatures causes more water to accumulate and again refreeze overnight, which causes icy conditions to reoccur on almost a daily basis.”–Ken Allen
“Under such conditions, plowing the ice that refreezes onto sidewalks each night is problematic, given that the ice is firmly adhered to the pavement surface, and the fact that there are over 3,000 kilometres of sidewalks and pathways across the city,” he said in an email.
“Plus, the next-day thawing temperatures causes more water to accumulate and again refreeze overnight, which causes icy conditions to reoccur on almost a daily basis.”
However, that explanation isn’t good enough for some at city hall.
Coun. Matt Allard (St. Boniface) has put forward a proposal for a pilot project testing the feasibility of clearing sidewalks all the way to the pavement (by clearing one in each of the city’s 15 wards) but said the idea has been consistently shot down.
Currently, only downtown sidewalks are required to be plowed to pavement. Sidewalks along major routes, non-regional bus routes and collector streets are required to be cleared to a compacted snow surface, following about five centimetres of snow.
Allard said considering the efforts of winter cities such as Edmonton, where service level requires many roadways be plowed to bare pavement within less than five days, Winnipeg should create a civic report to see if it would be able to do the same.
“I struggle to understand why we wouldn’t ask for a report. It doesn’t mean that we’re doing it, it means the public service would write a report saying, ‘If we were to do it, this is what it would look like.’ There’s zero expense,” he said.
At a council meeting March 23, Mayor Scott Gillingham said he was firm on his stance on the idea, but looked forward to debate on the motion.
“I think that the councillor has brought the motion that’s about to be introduced, to refer it to public works, he’s brought it several times,” Gillingham said last week.
“My position has been clear on that: I don’t think clearing snow on sidewalks to pavement is realistic across the entirety of the city… We have a very strong snow-clearing policy, as it is already.”–Mayor Scott Gillingham
“My position has been clear on that: I don’t think clearing snow on sidewalks to pavement is realistic across the entirety of the city… We have a very strong snow-clearing policy, as it is already.”
Allard, however, plans to persist: the motion will be discussed at the standing policy committee on public works April 11.
“I want to look at the snow-clearing bylaw to find out if it’s providing the right level of service, and from what I’m hearing from the community of those who use sidewalks is that it’s not to the right level of service,” he said.
Malak Abas is a reporter for the Winnipeg Free Press.