Hamilton's sidewalk snow-clearing debate shot down again

The City of Hamilton's public works committee has shot down the option of clearing a larger portion of the city's sidewalks following winter storms. But council still has to ratify that.

Option would have cleared 783 km on transit routes

Clearing sidewalks along transit routes would have meant an average residential tax increase of about $12. (Dan Taekema/CBC)

The city's public works committee has shot down the option of clearing a larger portion of sidewalks in Hamilton following winter storms.

City council still has to vote to ratify the decision next week, but if it does, the sidewalk debate won't be allowed to come back until after the next municipal election in October 2022.

Right now, the city clears 397 out of the 2,445 lane kilometres of municipal sidewalks. In a vote of six to four, councillors defeated a motion moved by Coun. Nrinder Nann (Ward 3, central lower city) that would've upped that number by 783 kilometres of sidewalk along transit routes. 

"We can't let this matter go another year without a decision," she said on Monday, noting Hamilton has the largest concentration per capita of residents with disabilities, who are greatly affected by uncleared sidewalks.

"Our bylaw isn't working consistently … It leaves many blocks un-serviced and sidewalks unattended to, especially given many of the vacant storefronts as well."

'Have and have-nots'

Councillors Nann, Jason Farr (Ward 2), John-Paul Danko (Ward 8) and Tom Jackson (Ward 6) voted in favour of the change. It would have cost $4.44 million for snow-packed conditions with de-icing. 

But other councillors raised concerns about those costs and resident expectations. 

Coun. Chad Collins (Ward 5) said selecting certain streets would have created the "have and the have-nots," and he didn't want residents without sidewalks to be footing the bill. 

Edward Soldo, director of the city's transportation operations, said the option would have been an average residential tax increase of about $12.

Coun. Esther Pauls (Ward 7) said residents would expect "perfect" clearing, and raised concerns about whether the city would be liable for injuries should it not clear on time. 

"It's very difficult to meet everyone's expectations," Soldo said. "That's why we're looking to come up with a level of service that is manageable and one that doesn't raise expectations of the public to the point that we can't actually deliver on that type of service."

Coun. Sam Merulla (Ward 4) noted residents wouldn't be able to "throw" their shovels away and would have to clean up piles left by clearing. The service would also only be activated when snow accumulation was 5 cm or greater. 

"Before we sign on the dotted line and [increase] taxes in the middle of a global pandemic, promising something we can't deliver, maybe we should study it a little bit. Perhaps we should understand that this is being sold to this community under false pretence."

If transit route-sidewalks fell in front of commercial properties, Soldo said the city would have cleared them too. 

"That would let the commercial plaza owners off the hook, which bothers me enormously," said Jackson.

Cost would have been $4.44 million

City staff presented three options at the meeting for snow clearing in Hamilton. Two of those had variations on the level of service available. 

Option 1 was the current service, which clears 397 lane km of sidewalk.

Option 2 was clearing transit routes, which adds 783 lane km of sidewalk. Council voted on the first scenario under this umbrella, which was $4.44 million snow-pack and de-icing. The other possible level of service — getting down to the bare sidewalk itself and applying salt — was estimated at $4.83 million.

Option 3 was to clear all the sidewalks in the city. The snow-pack scenario would cost $8.07 million and the bare pavement with salt scenario would cost $9.07 million.

If councillors had voted in favour, Soldo said the earliest staff would have been able to implement the change would have been November 2022. 

The city's partial sidewalk-clearing occurs primarily in Ancaster (paid for by the residents), and along municipally-owned property, reverse frontages and school frontages. It was allocated $33.7 million in the 2021 operating budget.


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