Icy sidewalks create shut-ins, city told
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The mounds of ice and snow that can bury sidewalks in winter too often put people with mobility issues at risk of isolation or dangerous slips and falls, multiple delegates told council’s public works committee on Tuesday.
Any effort to clear more sidewalks to “bare pavement” would mark a good first step to ensuring active transportation routes are accessible throughout every season, they argued.
Marika Prokosh, who is visually impaired and not able to drive, said the condition of sidewalks is declining, making it increasingly difficult to get around on foot and by bus.
“Every year, it’s getting a little harder… It has an effect on how often I choose to go out (and so) it limits the scope of my life,” said Prokosh.
Unexpected dips and inclines created by uneven snow clearing can be tough to avoid, she told reporters. Prokosh said she understands many factors, including cost, influence snow-clearing policies. But she stressed the city must also view the service through a disability lens.
“What I’m looking for, ultimately, is for the city to figure out a way logistically, economically to ensure that, the majority of the time, the pavements are clear enough that wheelchairs and strollers and people with canes and walkers can pass them with minimal difficulty,” said Prokosh.
Sidewalks covered in ice and snow can prove daunting to seniors, said Connie Newman, executive director of the Manitoba Association of Senior Communities.
“Many seniors become shut-ins in winter because venturing out onto the sidewalks is just too dangerous,” said Newman.
She told the committee the matter is a human rights issue, as mobility should be possible for people of all ages.
“We should all feel safe to walk on our sidewalks… For many, six months of icy sidewalks limits us from getting to the grocery store, to the drug store, to exercise. Access to food is a basic human right,” said Newman.
Coun. Matt Allard is making his fourth attempt to have the city explore clearing more sidewalks to bare pavement; three previous motions failed.
Allard’s latest recommendation calls for city staff to report on options for a pilot project that would clear snow off sidewalks to a “bare pavement” standard on one street that connects to a bus stop in each council ward. He wants that report to review several options to achieve that, including: testing various de-icing material; plowing efforts specific to snow drifts and windrows; and reducing snow banks at intersections and crosswalks.
Allard told the committee Tuesday the matter is an urgent human rights issue.
“Do we need someone to bring the City of Winnipeg to the Manitoba human rights tribunal to demonstrate that their human rights have been violated… because they were not able to participate in society like any other able-bodied person could?” he asked.
Under city policy, downtown sidewalks adjacent to major routes and collector streets are plowed to a paved surface “whenever conditions allow,” while such sidewalks outside downtown are maintained to a compacted snow surface. Plowing on all sidewalks on major routes and collector streets should be completed within 36 hours after an average storm ends.
Sidewalks on residential streets should normally be maintained to a compacted snow surface, with plowing completed within five working days after it begins, the policy states.
Some council members stressed work is underway to improve snow-clearing on active transportation paths.
Mayor Scott Gillingham said a neighbourhood action team, whose tasks will include sidewalk snow clearing, will be hired by the end of this year.
He noted city staff will report back in June on more options to improve snow clearing.
“We need to do all we can to assist people to navigate our sidewalks and our streets. I want to see people able to get around,” said Gillingham.
When asked if the city could pursue the bare pavement pilot project, the mayor suggested it could come at a significant cost.
“We don’t know the price. I think the average person could … (imagine) what it may cost to clear snow to (bare pavement) on all sidewalks across the city,” said Gillingham.
Coun. Janice Lukes, chairwoman of the public works committee, said she expects the June report to help enhance winter sidewalk clearing.
“When you are harnessing Mother Nature… you’ve got to use many tools in your toolkit to get to the end result… The public service is looking at all kinds of things. New technologies emerge, new machines emerge, new approaches emerge. Winnipeg really leads the way in snow and ice removal,” said Lukes.
Last year, council approved $3 million to buy 15 additional sidewalk-clearing machines to ramp up the city’s resources. Due to supply chain delays, those are expected to arrive around June and help improve clearing next winter.
The public works committee voted to receive Allard’s motion as information, which means taking no immediate action on it.
Council will cast the final vote on the matter.
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.