Accessibility Advocate Calls on Winnipeg to Prioritize Sidewalk Snow-Clearing

Councillor says motion would have cost city about $60M a year Arturo Chang, CBC News
Posted: Jan 31, 2024

At least one Winnipegger is taking issue with a recent comment by a city councillor suggesting residents have been “spoiled” by sidewalk snow-clearing.

On Tuesday, the city’s standing committee on public works voted against recommending a motion put forward by Coun. Matt Allard that would have required clearing of sidewalks and active transportation pathways in the city at the same priority as roads.

Some councillors on the committee voiced concerns about how the city would pay for that work. Coun. Janice Lukes, the committee’s chair, said the bottom line is everything “comes with a price.”

“Honestly, we’re a snow city, and I think we’re doing incredible work and I think sometimes we get a little spoiled from the incredible work we’re doing and we want it instantaneously,” Lukes said during the meeting.

That comment didn’t sit well with Melissa Graham, who said she definitely didn’t feel spoiled recently when her power wheelchair got stuck four times on the way to an appointment, in what would’ve been a 20-minute walk.

“Thankfully, I have neighbours comfortable pulling over and helping me out. Not everyone lives in that kind of neighbourhood in this city,” she said.

“The councillors that were making this decision saw sidewalk clearing as kind of a privilege, when in reality it’s a barrier for many folks and prevents a lot of folks from leaving their home in the winter.”

Graham is the executive director of the Manitoba League of Persons with Disabilities. It and other organizations are running a campaign to raise awareness about the barriers people with disabilities face due to a lack of snow-clearing.

“We are a winter city, which means we are tough about winter, but that also means we have a responsibility to make sure everyone in this city has the ability to go about the city at wintertime,” Graham said.

Sidewalks and active transportation paths marked as being top priority under the city’s three-tiered system must be plowed within 36 hours after more than five centimetres of snow accumulation.

Areas under Priority 3, which is made up of residential streets and adjacent sidewalks and active pathways, are only plowed within five days of more than eight centimetres of snowfall.

Graham said the current system discriminates against people based on where they live.

She said the committee should reconsider its position as a matter of public safety.

“What really just hurt me is they failed to see sidewalk snow-clearing as an accessibility issue that not only impacts people with disabilities but people without disabilities as well,” Graham said.

City would have to raise taxes, councillor says

Coun. Lukes told CBC News Wednesday that, by saying Winnpeggers were spoiled by the city’s snow-clearing work, she was referring to the fact many cities across Canada do not plow sidewalks or residential roads.

“I know people want instantaneous snow removal. But considering other cities across Canada, I think we do a stellar job,” she said.

“For sure, there are tiny little bits and pieces that may not get addressed during a large snow event, but a simple call or an email, we’ll get people out there to address it.”

Lukes said removing all that snow, as well as the mounds that would form if the city clears both street and sidewalks, would mean higher taxes and a bigger impact on the environment.

She said the committee rejected the motion because it could cost the city an estimated $60 million a year.

The motion would also have required contractors to remove snow that’s pushed onto sidewalks as a result of clearing operations.

The Manitoba League of Persons with Disabilities is asking people to share photos and stories of snow not being cleared properly or at all in Winnipeg this winter, which they plan to submit to the city.

With files from Zubina Ahmed

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