Q&A

Should Ottawa adopt Sweden's gender-balanced snow-clearing policies?

Stockholm and other Swedish municipalities have adopted a "gender equal plowing strategy" that prioritizes sidewalks, bike paths and bus lanes ahead of streets frequented by cars when snow falls.

The vice-mayor of Stockholm says they wanted to change the way people get around and it's worked

Should Ottawa prioritize sidewalks over streets when it comes to plowing snow? (Marc-André Cossette/CBC)

Stockholm and other Swedish municipalities have adopted a "gender equal plowing strategy" that prioritizes sidewalks, bike paths and bus lanes ahead of streets frequented by cars when snow falls.

It's an attempt to spend more public dollars on women, who are more likely to travel by foot, bicycle or public transportation.

Also, to reduce the city's carbon footprint by putting emphasis on more environmentally-friendly transportation options.

But is it an approach that would fit Ottawa? Should the city use a gender lens to tackle issues? 

Daniel Helldén, vice mayor of Stockholm, spoke to CBC Radio's All In A Day about why his city plows sidewalks before streets. 

What was the driving force for changing the snow-clearing system?

We are trying to change the traffic system in Stockholm in a way that [gets] more people to walk, cycle and go by public transportation because we want a nicer city, a cleaner city and we want to reach our climate goals.

That's the first point.

The second point is that we want to have a gender equal city. And we know that women are more seldom driving cars than men.

Men are sitting in the cars and the women walk, cycle and go by public transportation in much higher amounts. So we're trying to change it so women get more of the public spending.

We know with numbers that there are more men sitting in cars here, at least in Stockholm, than out walking and taking public transportation.

How does it work?

When we get to two or four centimetres of snow, we start to clear the pedestrian lanes and cycle lanes.

Then when we get to about six and eight centimetres, they start with the streets.

So it's supposed to work in that way that … it will be easier to walk than take your car, as the first priority.

But you've also broken it down as far as where you clear first.

Yes, and we clear the snow at bus stops, [daycare] centres, schools and such places where there are more people walking, cycling and such.

So if you're a child or elderly, or something like that, it will be easier to make your way when it's snowing.

There are more people today biking in the winter and walking.- Daniel Helldén

We know if you sit in a car and if there's 10 centimetres of snow, it's no problem driving your car.

You'll maybe have to have to drive your car at a lower speed, but it's no problem.

But are you walking in 10 centimetres of snow? It's more difficult. That's why we prioritize those walking, cycling or taking public transportation.

Did this cost more at all? Did you have to buy different plows?

We had to buy some different sort of plows … Of course we know how to clear the pedestrian lanes.

We want them to be really clean, so we have some new types of machines, which we call sweep and salt.

So we sweep the cycle lanes, put out some salt and it will be a clean cycle lane or pedestrian street.

Don't you have to clear the snow for the buses?

Yes, we do, and we also prioritize the streets where the buses are driving.

We also have different types of buses … longer buses where a lot of people are going.

We start with these lanes and then we take the other bus [lanes] in the city, and last we take the car lanes.

What has the reaction been like in Stockholm?

I would say that reaction is good. Today people like it. They are angry if it doesn't work.

If it's snowing and if the streets are cleared it shouldn't be before the pedestrian lanes … They want it to be cleared for those walking or cycling.

If in other cities the majority of people take the car or use the roads, shouldn't the priority go there?

It depends on … how you want your city to be.

We have done this prioritization because we want to change the traffic system.

We want more people to walk, cycle and go by public transportation.

If we don't do this, people would go by car in the winter … There are more people today biking in the winter, walking and going by public transportation.

Everything, it turns out, according to officials in Stockholm Sweden. The thinking is that the traditional priority of plowing roads first favours mostly men. While sidewalks, bus stops and areas around daycares, which are more often used by "vulnerable groups," including women, children and seniors, are cleared later. 7:49

With files from CBC Radio's All in a Day

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