Residential Snow Plowing Needed, Disability Advocates Urge

Sammy Hudes
Originally Published on: December 29, 2017

Lori-Ann Ellis, who must rely on a scooter to get around, demonstrates how easily she gets stuck in a couple inches of snow near her Aberdare Rd NE Calgary street on Friday, December 29, 2017. Ellis must use her scooter on the road as there is no sidewalk in front of her house, but unless the roads are plowed or packed flat, she gets stuck and is unable to navigate in her community.

For Lori-Ann Ellis, five centimetres of snow could be the difference between whether or not she goes outside for a week.

Bound to a scooter because of diabetic foot pain, overcoming a snowfall isnt a matter of simply slipping on a pair of boots.

With no sidewalks on her street in the northeast neighbourhood of Abbeydale, the snow on her road must be cleared if she has any hope of reaching the nearest bus stop two and a half blocks away, or even accessing a Calgary Transit Access bus if it pulls up outside her home, due to her scooters five centimetre clearance.

Any snow that is above, youre not going anywhere, said Ellis, 57. When I leave my front lawn and enter onto the road, the middle of that road is the only way that I can get anywhere.

The City of Calgary does not remove snow from residential streets, according to roads department spokeswoman Tara Norton-Merrin.

Any snowfall of two centimetres or more activates the citys seven-day snow-clearing plan. Within the first 24 hours, the city clears priority one roads those that see about 20,000 vehicles per day, such as Glenmore, Sarcee and Macleod trails.

In the first 48 hours, it also clears priority two roads, which include key bus routes like Kensington Road and Acadia Drive. The city focuses on ramps and residential intersections and playgrounds on Day 3, while knocking down ruts and laying traction material in residential neighbourhoods in the remaining days.

If residential roads are impassable, Norton-Merrin said residents should call 311.

Our roads crews will go out and they can look at how big the problem is, she said. We will go out and help knock down those windrows (snow piles created by plows) with our equipment.

But Ellis called the system ineffective, especially when fresh snowfall interrupts an ongoing seven-day cycle, forcing the city to start from scratch.

Ive waited as long as nine days, after the first three days, for them to come clear my street, she said.

Winters are particularly challenging for seniors and those with limited mobility, according to Michelle Rhode, executive director of Accessible Housing Calgary.

A lot of our residents and clients live in homes in a community, and they work and they have doctors appointments, Rhode said. They have lives that they want to live, just like the rest of us, and it is very challenging. You cannot get through this snow. Its physically impossible.

Jason Nicholson, who uses a power wheelchair because of his multiple sclerosis, says he takes extra precaution in deeper snow to make sure he doesnt get stuck.

Going anywhere across a major road is pretty much impossible with a wheelchair, said Nicholson.

Hes seen the consequences of unplowed snow on residential streets such as his own, as his Access paratransit bus once got stuck.

Its a safety issue. If I get stuck in the snow and its -25 C like it is today, I could be in real trouble. Unfortunately, that means I choose to stay inside more, said Nicholson, 46. You dont want to be a shut-in, you want to go out and do stuff. Yes, Im in a wheelchair, but Im not dead.

Norton-Merrin said community-based snow removal programs are available for seniors and others in need of assistance clearing the sidewalks, but theyll also help in some cases with clearing windrows in front of homes. She said residential road plowing isnt in the citys $38-million snow budget as a means of ensuring the plan is cost-effective.

In Calgary, our weather patterns are sort of all over the place, so were not like a city, say even like Edmonton or Montreal, where when it snows, that snow will stay for the entire season, she said. Were very fortunate in sort of having chinooks and we take advantage of that in our budget planning.

But Ellis said snow removal should be treated as a necessity, not a privilege. She wants the city to create a list of Calgarians in need of snow clearing, lest they be trapped indoors due to disability, so that their streets could be plowed after priority one and two roads are taken care of.

Why is 311 being inundated every time the snow falls when it can be a simple computer program that says after you do this, then go do this, she said. I have to beg every day just to be let out of the jail that I live in, in my house, when they wont clear my street.

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