A Winnipeg city councillor is fed up with how long it's taking city officials to respond to a request she made more than 1½ years ago for information on ways the city can improve how snow and ice is removed from sidewalks and pathways.
South Winnipeg-St. Norbert Coun. Janice Lukes made the motion in March 2016, when she was chair of the city's public works committee. The motion asked the public works and transit departments to meet with stakeholders to work out a strategy to improve the service, and to report back with how much those changes would cost.
Lukes said the groups have since met but she's still waiting to hear about the details from city staff.
"They haven't come back with answers," she said. "It didn't ask them to go out and do it. It just said let's study it; let's find out if there's cost implications, bring it back to the committee and then we could go from there.
"People want this. They want to be mobile in the winter and they want to be able to get out."
Lukes said city staff have asked for an extension from the public works committee several times since she made the motion, and she was frustrated to see it come up again on the agenda for the committee's meeting Tuesday, once again with no report attached.
"The public works department will come forward and say they need another 30 or 60 days, or 120 days, who knows."
The task of clearing sidewalks is currently handled by the same contractors hired to clean the regional street they run along, Lukes said. She thinks having two separate crews — one for streets and another for sidewalks and the city's active transportation networks — might be a solution.
And with snow removal contracts coming up for renewal next year, she thinks now is the time for the city to start looking at making changes.
"We didn't have any changes in snow removal last year. We're not going to have any changes to snow removal this year, because snow removal has started," she said. "Maybe in the winter of 2019, maybe we'll see changes, but there's a lot of maybes in this."
Room for improvement
While navigating uncleared sidewalks can be tricky for everyone, it's especially difficult for Winnipeggers living with disabilities, said Allen Mankewich, who uses a wheelchair and is an advocate for people living with mobility challenges.
The city can do a better job clearing snow and ice from sidewalks and pathways, he said.
"We had some pretty big dumps last year and after those snowfalls, it was pretty difficult to get around. Even after they'd cleared it, there was still some narrow passageways where they didn't clear it wide enough and it still made it difficult to get around," he said. "We live in a winter climate and I think we have to accept that and put some resources into making our city more livable during the wintertime."
Mankewich said he lives and works downtown because downtown streets are a priority, meaning they'll be cleared sooner, but he has lived in the suburbs, where the sidewalks are cleared less regularly and not as quickly after major snowfalls, he said.
Lukes said the city has already increased and improved snow removal from sidewalks around schools, and she wants to find a way to expand that level of service to other areas of the city, including the suburbs, especially around community centres and seniors homes.
Connie Newman, executive director of the Manitoba Association of Senior Centres, said poor sidewalk conditions in winter leave seniors with two options — getting out and risking a fall or staying cramped up inside their homes until the thaw.
"When you get stuck in your house because the public sidewalk is too slippery to walk on, what are we doing to the citizens?" she asked.
Newman is just as frustrated as Lukes by what she sees as a lack of action on the issue by city staff.
"The conditions of our sidewalks in lots of places in this city leave a lot be desired when it comes to safe and stable walking, no matter how old you are," she said. "To have a motion from last March still not dealt with, I have a problem with that."
Public service working on report
City spokesperson Lisa Fraser said the report is still being worked on, and will be given to council "in the new year."
"The City is always looking at innovative ways of delivering services," she said. "As part of the review all aspects of snow clearing will be considered."
Fraser noted that in 2008, Winnipeg won the American Public Works Association (APWA) Award of Excellence for snow and ice control.