California Curbs are causing problems on Hamilton streets.

The 'California Curb' design is the slant feature built into sidewalks that cut through Hamilton driveways.

For drivers, the slope allows their cars to get in and out of the driveway without scraping the bottom of the cars on the curbs.

For pedestrians, however, the dip creates a slipping hazard in winter when it collects water and forms ice buildup. There's been plenty of that this winter.

On Monday, Hamilton's public works committee asked staff to reconsider the city's sidewalk construction policy to come up with safer designs.

Coun. Brian McHattie's motion on the issue notes that residents have complained to him about California Curbs and at least one person has slipped, injuring a knee.

Gary Moore, director of engineering services division, said California Curbs become a bigger concern in winter when the sidewalks are covered in ice or snow and pedestrians don't necessarily see the dip coming.

Compromise between homeowner, pedestrian

City staff have to consider several factors before making changes to the California Curb feature, Moore said. 

For example, if the sidewalks are too flat, drainage problems could occur. If half of the sidewalk is slanted, that means only half of the sidewalk has a flat surface, which might be too narrow when there are multiple pedestrians. 

“It's a compromise between giving the homeowner the access that doesn't take the bottom of their cars off and maximizing the width the pedestrian has to walk on,” Moore said.

However, if the council approves the changes, they would only apply to new sidewalk constructions, he added. The city does not have the resources to retrofit existing curbs.

“We can barely keep up now with the streets that need to be reconstructed, let alone go back and reconstruct a perfectly-good street simply to change the sidewalk.”

For residents who are already struggling with slippery slant, Moore called it an “unfortunate” situation and suggested residents exercise care.

“There's no optimal solution in any compromise situation,” he said.

'An anomaly'

The committee has also asked staff to report back on options to enhance the city's sidewalk snow clearing program and how much they would cost. The last time a report like this was done was in October 2008.

A significant increase in sidewalk snow clearing cost is expected in the next report, according to Gerry Davis, general manager of public works, due to factors like inflation, higher fuel cost and extra sidewalks built since 2008.

“I would easily say it's going to go up 20 to 30 per cent,” he told CBC Hamilton.

Sidewalk safety took centre stage in Monday's public works committee meeting, as councillors echoed complaints from residents about slip and fall incidents after this year's raucous weather events. 

Coun. Terry Whitehead, who chairs the committee, said there's no simple answer to mother nature's work. 

“I'm not looking for the perfect solution, I don't think there is one,” Whitehead said during the meeting. "I think it's the circumstances we have little control over. Having said that, it is leaving people in dire need."

Sam Merulla, vice-chair of the committee, described this year's weather events as “an anomaly.” He said the city should look at historical data instead of going with "knee-jerk reaction."