Accessibility Advocate Stranded After Storm: Calls on Halifax to Improve Sidewalk Clearing

‘We have such a long way to go to make this city better for everybody,’ Brian George says Cassidy Chisholm, CBC News
Posted: Dec 16, 2021

An accessibility advocate who uses a wheelchair is calling on the Halifax Regional Municipality to “do better” after last week’s snowfall left him stranded on the sidewalk by his home.

Brian George said he was trying to leave his apartment on the corner of Robie and Welsford streets on Dec. 10, a day after Halifax had been hit with 30 centimetres of snow.

Although the sidewalks were clear, George said the curb cuts to cross the road were blocked with snow and he couldn’t leave the area without help from someone else.

“It’s demoralizing, to be honest,” George told CBC Radio’s Mainstreet on Friday.

He said when sidewalks and curb cuts are impassable for people with mobility issues, they’re often forced to stay home until the areas are cleared, which can take days.

“It’s terrible that I have to do that, and it’s not just me – there are many people in the city who use wheelchairs, strollers, walkers, canes, someone who’s just elderly who has a hard time getting around and just walks a little slower,” he said.

Clearing snow takes time, city adviser says

Klara Needler, a public affairs adviser for the municipality, said snow removal can take between 12 and 36 hours for prioritized streets and sidewalks after a significant snowfall.

“When crews are out working around the clock, they’re working as fast as they can, and residents are just asked for patience as crews continue to work as hard as they’re able to,” Needler told Mainstreet on Friday.

However, she said one of the challenges with sidewalk clearing is that snow can be pushed back into the curb cuts as plows clear the roads.

“Crews address this by following street plows with sidewalk plows and manually shoveling pedestrian ramps when and where needed,” she said.

“It’s important to note that street plows travel faster than sidewalk plows, which is part of the reason why sidewalks may require more time. However, crews will continue to work until all areas have been addressed.”

Still, George said he’s frustrated because he’s been dealing with impassable sidewalks and curb cuts every winter since he moved to Halifax seven years ago, and not much has changed.

“I do love Halifax. I do. Don’t get me wrong. But every single year, it’s in the back of my mind, ‘Why am I here?’ George said.

“Because this city, to put it bluntly, they do not care about wheelchair users. They do not care about people with disabilities. I’ve always felt that.”

Coun. Paul Russell, who sits on the city’s accessibility advisory committee, said he understands George’s frustration.

He said the municipality has been working on improving accessibility, but that also needs to apply to snow clearing.

“In a lot of cases, we can do a better job. In a lot of cases, we are doing a reasonable job, but there is always room for improvement,” Russell told Mainstreet on Wednesday.

“We are looking to make sure that our facilities, that the roads and sidewalks and the transportation and the buildings and everything else is accessible to everybody, whatever their level of ability is.”‘

He said residents are encouraged to contact their local councillor or call 311 if sidewalks or curb cuts are not cleared after a snowfall and accessibility is an issue.

George said he simply wants the city to better consider the needs of people with disabilities when snow falls.

“They need to just do better, honestly. That’s all it really comes down to. They need to do better, and they can’t just clear the roads and say, ‘Hey, we did our job.’ No, you didn’t,” he said.

“The sidewalks are not clear enough. I can’t get onto a sidewalk or the curb cuts aren’t clear. That’s not good enough. We have such a long way to go to make this city better for everybody.”

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