Free sand in high demand as residents grapple with slippery Edmonton sidewalks

City residents are responsible for maintaining sidewalks in front of their homes, and many rely on the free sand provided by the city — when they can get it.

'We understand that residents are encountering empty community sandboxes'

Sand scarcity in Edmonton

8 months ago
Duration 1:34
Freezing rain has led to a lack of free sand at community leagues as residents scramble to clean their sidewalks. As Travis McEwan reports, it's low on the city's priority list at the moment.

Community sandboxes are going empty as the City of Edmonton struggles to keep up with high demand for sidewalk sand.

Several days of freezing rain, coupled with temperatures hovering near 0 C, have led to treacherous conditions on sidewalks and pathways.

Alberta Health Services responded to 103 emergency calls for slips and falls in the Edmonton zone on Wednesday alone.

City residents are responsible for maintaining sidewalks in front of their homes, and many rely on the free sand provided by the city — when they can get it.

"We understand that residents are encountering empty community sandboxes," Philip Herritt, director of infrastructure operations with the city's parks and roads department, told CBC News on Thursday.

"There are over 700 sandboxes in the city," Herritt said in an email.

"Crews are working on priority items and filling them when possible."

Crews are also using available sand on sidewalks, active pathways and roads that the city maintains, he said.

Empty sand bins, like this one in Glenora, have become a common sight in Edmonton this week. (Travis McEwan/CBC)

Messages on the city's 311 app and on social media confirm many of the boxes are empty, an issue the Edmonton Federation of Community Leagues has also been hearing about.

Executive director Laura Cunningham-Shpeley said it's a big concern, and something she herself has experienced.

"I think we are hearing that leagues are really wanting to make sure that their sandboxes are filled up," Cunningham-Shpeley said.

"I know personally we had to go around and run around to a few different leagues to find sand last week."

The city needs to make providing the sand a bigger priority, she said.

"I would imagine the focus has been on the roadways, and I would just say that we need to remember that so many folks do rely on just walking around.

"As much as the city needs to make sure that car travel is safe and neighborhood roads are safe, I would hope that they highly prioritize those sandboxes too."

The pandemic has made it even more important for Edmontonians to get outside, she said.

"So I think this is even more concerning right now that folks are having such a hard time just even walking dogs, getting kids to school  just feeling like they're safe to get on those sidewalks and move around."

Glenora resident Marcy Hutton said Thursday her local sandbox had been empty for two days.

"I just want to try and be safe because I've got a dog and I don't want to just put random ice-melt on the sidewalks because it's very harmful to my dog," Hutton said.

"I'm looking for sand or small gravel or whatever there is at the community league, which has been empty for two days."

Hutton said the box was full on Monday but was quickly depleted.

"I think that they were probably doing the best they can. I really don't want to slam the city for not doing their job," she said. "It's unfortunate that we all need it at the same time."

Joy and Wilf Paine, 87, have been detouring from the sidewalks to the streets in order to get more traction. (Travis McEwan/CBC)

Wilf Paine and his wife Joy, both 87, were out on an errand in Queen Mary Park on Thursday, using their walkers to get more traction.

"You have to detour at times," Wilf said. "If you look where cars have gone, [it's] soft, and you can grip."

He said the biggest problem is where the sidewalk meets the road.

"There's either a mountain, or a sea of ice at the end of the slope," he said. "The city doesn't seem to realize that is where old people cross the road."

Despite the conditions, the couple had managed to stay on their feet, which they attributed to a bit of common sense. 

"We're both 87, so the thing is we've learned a few things," Wilf said.

With files from Travis McEwan


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