It really was the winter of our discontent: slippery sidewalk complaints up 40 per cent

If there’s any way to measure the lengthy winter of 2017-18, it could be in the number of complaints the city received about Edmonton’s snowy and icy sidewalks.

Tickets to property owners rose 26 per cent in the same period

The number of complaints related to snow-covered sidewalks and cases of slip and falls jumped to 11,232 this winter from 7,984 last year. (CBC)

If there's any way to measure the lengthy winter of 2017-18, it could be in the number of complaints the city received about Edmonton's snowy and icy sidewalks.

Complaints spiked 40 per cent between this winter and the last one, according to city data. 

From Oct. 1, 2016 to March 28, 2017, the city received 7,984 complaints about neglected sidewalks and incidents of people slipping and falling on ice or snow.

For the same period ending March 28, 2018, that number jumped to 11,232.

According to Kaila Tipton, a co-ordinator of enforcement with the city's citizen services branch, the higher numbers can be partly attributed to the fact that complaints started coming in a full month earlier than usual — in November rather than December.

"We started getting heavier snowfall earlier," Tipton said.

Three bad days

Emergency Medical Services had three particularly busy days this past year, said Alex Campbell, public education officer with Alberta Health Services.

EMS gets an average of two to five calls a day related to falls on ice and snow.

But on Nov. 23, 2017, they got 25 calls. On Jan. 17, 42 people called about slip and fall incidents.

And between 1 p.m. and midnight on Feb. 13, EMS received 89 calls for help about ice-related falls and injuries.

Paramedics can't recall another single day they had so many calls, Campbell said.

"Keeping sidewalks clear has been a bit of an ongoing issue," he told CBC News on Friday. "This has been a particularly long winter." 

The worst days, Campbell said, are when Edmonton is hit with a freeze-thaw cycle — and there were plenty of those.

There were no warning signs out, there was no salt put down, nothing.- Deirdre St. Luke

"The two worst days were freezing rains, and the other ones have been where we've had a warm spell and then it freezes overnight," he said. "So then first thing in the morning we're seeing a whole bunch of slips and falls."

The spike doesn't surprise Don Voaklander, the director of the Injury Prevention Centre at the University of Alberta.

"Certainly the anecdotal information about slips and falls this year, it's been a particularly bad winter," he said. The centre doesn't have any specific statistics as yet, he added.

An avid walker himself, Voaklander can attest to the inconsistent clearing of sidewalks in the university area.

"I've noticed this year a lot of places where I traditionally go, I've been doing a lot of, how it's called, penguin walk," he said. "More so than in the past couple of years, for sure. They're very very treacherous."

Deirdre St. Luke says there was no sand or salt on the ice when she slipped and fell on a downtown sidewalk in January. (Deirdre St. Luke)

'That explosive kind of pain'

Deidre St. Luke experienced that firsthand in January as she navigated the cobblestone-style streets close to Jasper Avenue between 101st and 105th Streets.

She slipped on ice, fell and hit her elbow. She was diagnosed with a radial  fracture.

"Which is a special kind of pain," she told CBC News. "It's like hitting your funny bone times 500, it was just that explosive kind of pain." 
Deirdre St. Luke thinks the city doesn't do enough to keep sidewalks safe, especially around bus stops like this one in Westmount. (Deirdre St. Luke)

St. Luke was in a sling for a while, went to several physiotherapy sessions and continues to have problems from her shoulder down to her wrist, she said.

She believes the owner of a building, which she wouldn't identify, as being negligent. "There were no warning signs out, there was no salt put down, nothing," she said.

St. Luke said she's consulted a lawyer and has a lawsuit pending. She believes it is important that businesses, as well as the city, are ensuring sidewalks are safe.

Voaklander thinks the city does a "pretty good job" at keeping public areas clear, but agreed it's a good idea to communicate what property owners are responsible for.

26 per cent more tickets issued

The city also issued 480 more tickets this winter compared to the previous one — a 26 per cent increase  — to home and business owners who neglected to keep sidewalks clear.

That includes complaints about snow and ice coverage and incidents where people slipped and fell.

Oct. 1, 2016-Mar. 28, 20171814
Oct. 1, 2017-Mar. 28, 20182294

The fine for neglecting to clear a sidewalk bordering private property is $100.

Tipton believes the amount is reasonable.

"There's the two sides — you know, there's the citizens that are upset that there is a bylaw and that they have to be held responsible, and then there's citizens on the other end that want this fine to be increased and want more officers."

The fine for neglecting to clear sidewalks adjacent to privately-owned properties is $100.
 In addition to the ticket, bylaw officers can order a snow removal company to clear the sidewalk and the property owner is invoiced for the expense. That amount, Tipton said, ranges from $160 to $2,000 depending on the size of the property and the amount of snow.

"And that is definitely a deterrent," Tipton argued.

The city runs an education campaign every year to remind property owners that they are responsible for clearing sidewalks adjacent to their business or home. The campaign includes advertising on buses, billboards, TV, radio and newspapers.

Residents can call 311 or register a complaint online.

And just like the winter that seems like it will never end, Tipton said the city is still — still! — dealing with snow complaints.



Natasha Riebe


Natasha Riebe landed at CBC News in Edmonton after radio, TV and print journalism gigs in Halifax, Seoul, Yellowknife and on Vancouver Island. Please send tips in confidence to natasha.riebe@cbc.ca.


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