Hey there, time traveller! This article was published 6/4/2018 (860 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
City hall’s failure to produce a much-anticipated report on how snow-clearing procedures can be improved didn’t stop several residents (including one councillor) from spending Friday morning at a committee meeting, urging Winnipeg to live up to its claim of being a livable winter city.
For almost two hours, residents from varied backgrounds urged councillors to make snow clearing for those not behind the wheel of a vehicle a priority.
"It’s all about ethics," said Anders Swanson, executive director of Winnipeg Trails Association. "Fundamentally speaking, this is quite simple, and there’s no reason why we can’t do it."
It’s been more than two years since St. Norbert Coun. Janice Lukes, then-chairwoman of the public works committee, requested the department to prepare a report reviewing the city’s winter maintenance strategy, as it applies to its sidewalks and network of cycling and pedestrian pathways.
However, the department has requested an extension on the work eight times. It happened again Friday, when public works director Jim Berezowsky promised the committee the report would be ready for its May 1 meeting.
Lukes, who appeared as part of a delegation, said Winnipeg may have a reputation for its snow-clearing policy, but it’s too often not implemented and has a poor record of cracking down on private contractors and city crews who don’t live up to the public’s expectations and don’t comply with city policy.
After the public presentations, Berezowsky defended the city’s snow-clearing policy as being recognized across the country, but did admit the March 5 snowstorm proved a "challenge." While Winnipeg had a relatively mild winter, its sidewalks remained impassible for weeks following that storm, even when its streets were cleared within hours.
Berezowsky said sidewalks were cleared promptly along collector routes, but they ended up as dumping grounds when plows hit the streets.
"The sidewalk plow cannot come back and replow that out because of the volume of material in that narrow space," Berezowsky told the committee.
"Council has approved one of the top service levels across Canada, we’ve proven that time and time again," he said. "Our challenge is to ensure that we are meeting the policy that you approved. That’s our job, to try and find ways to ensure it’s adequately delivered. In this last event, it was a challenge."
Cheryl Anderson, the acting manager of street maintenance, said the March 5 storm was a combination of a heavy, wet snowfall followed by plunging temperatures.
"It became very hard for our equipment to move it," Anderson said. "It was very challenging. We’re going to go back to the table and take a look at what happened and how can we move that snow quicker."
However, those who appeared at the committee meeting calling for change didn’t share Berezowsky’s opinion.
Osborne Village resident Alexander Ashton said his neighbourhood is known as one of the city’s most walkable, but in the winter it’s sidewalks become obstacle courses.
"It’s not just about cycling, it’s about people’s mobility issues, it’s about people with strollers, people with wheelchairs," Ashton said.
Wheelchair users Allen Mankewich and Libby Zdriluk told the committee about how even a little bit of snow on sidewalks can prove insurmountable for those unable to walk, let alone when plows fills up the sidewalks with snow.
Swanson said cities throughout Europe understand the importance of proper snow clearing, yet it hasn’t penetrated decision-makers at Winnipeg city hall.
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Politicians regularly boast about the record investment on street maintenance, Swanson said, yet a large segment of the population is trapped inside their homes during the winter because of the city’s inability to properly, promptly and regularly clear its sidewalks and cycling and walking paths.
Swanson brought a slide show to the meeting, showing how one city in Finland ensures its sidewalks and cycling paths are cleared every morning at 7 a.m. throughout the winter.
In contrast, Swanson showed photos of Winnipeg sidewalks and bus stops that were impassible this winter.
Swanson said public works staff is capable of making Winnipeg a liveable city for all residents, they just need to be told to do it.
"You have a well-trained, highly skilled, passionate, dedicated people in public service willing to help with this — all they need is an open door," he said.
Then and Now
Winnipeg Mayor Brian Bowman offered encouragement to residents who want improvements to the city’s sidewalk snow-clearing practices when he said in mid-March he was going to investigate if crews complied with the city’s policy, adding he was open to implementing improvements.
What Bowman said March 14:
"I’m open to making changes if we can improve the quality of service for those who rely on our sidewalks to get around our city… The question that I’ve raised with the public service, whether or not the (sidewalk snow-clearing) policy as directed has been followed and to what extent, over the last week… We all want it to be a lot quicker, but the complaints I heard there were some citizens who felt that policy wasn’t being followed."
What Bowman said April 4:
"My understanding is (the sidewalk snow-clearing policy) was (followed) but I have to double-check with public service on any follow-up since then. We haven’t been advised one way or the other since that time.”