Why Calgary may need to get tougher on shovelling sidewalks

Coun. Druh Farrell supports a 10-step plan for improving the city's sidewalk clearing policy, which she says is toothless.

We spend less than other cities, and it shows in the number of pedestrian injuries, says councillor

Slippery sidewalks are a fact of life in most of Canada, but for Calgarians the problem is exacerbated by the repeated freeze-and-thaw cycle caused by frequent chinooks. (CBC News)

Between the freeze and the chinook, there's a whole lot of treacherous footing that Calgary pedestrians must endure every winter.

Coun. Druh Farrell spoke to Calgary Eyeopener host David Gray about her notice of motion to city council seeking solutions to create cleaner city sidewalks in winter.

Q: What are the current rules around clearing sidewalks?

A: The sidewalk in front of your own property — it's your responsibility to clear. You have 24 hours to clear. If there's a complaint, then a bylaw officer goes out and gives you another 24 hours in order to clear [it].

So the time lapse as to when it's reported, when there's a complaint, and when the snow gets cleared — whether it's by the city and charged back or the property owner or tenant — can be quite some time.

The city itself, though, has different rules for its own property, and that's where the focus is. I've got a lot of detail in my notice of motion. It's a complicated issue. But the start [of the conversation] is, let's have the city do better for the property we're responsible for.

Q: What needs to change?

A: With snow clearing [bylaws], there are no [actual] fines. What happens is, it's often the same repeat offenders every year, where there are individuals who simply won't shovel their sidewalk. They wait for the chinook to melt it away. The city will [then] have to come out. There's quite a delay, and it requires a bylaw officer visiting more than once, so there' a cost associated with that.

Coun. Druh Farrell thinks the City of Calgary needs to do better keeping sidewalks clear in winter. Farrell says there are 10 ways the city could improve snow clearing. (CBC)

Same people, year after year

The city will then hire a company to go clear [the sidewalk]. And then the property owner gets a bill. But the bill is simply for the labour of clearing. It's not for the work of the bylaw officer. So there's no cost recovery and there's no fine.

And we have, year after year, the same people who don't clear the sidewalk, and rely on the city to do it. In some cases, it's an apartment building — and it's simply cheaper for the city to do it because they don't get caught every time.

We don't have clear rule for clearing of wheelchair ramps, or the no-man's land — sidewalk crossings of lane ways.

Q: What do you suggest?

A: It's a clunky process to call 311, so let's create a mobile app to report. Let's have better co-ordination between [city] departments, because there is more that we can do if we co-operate between departments. 

Q: Do any other councillors support you?

A: We never know until the vote is cast, but this is a perennial issue. I don't know why we haven't solved it. We continue to throw money at clearing our roads, but the injuries are happening with pedestrians. Our slip and falls and injury-related slips are higher than any other province next to Saskatchewan, and it's clear why — we spend less.

Q: What about the argument that we simply have more freeze-and-thaw cycles in Calgary?

A: Certainly that doesn't help. When you have thawing, and you had a big snow like we had in December and January, then you'll have ice seeping underneath the snow. What we need is people to take responsibility and be a good neighbour — and that includes the city for our own property. I've listed a whole number of ways we can improve. Other cities manage to do this. I'm not sure why we can't. We continue to underfund pedestrian infrastructure in our city, although we declare that it's a priority. Let's do better.

With files from the Calgary Eyeopener