Waterloo mom calls on city, GRT to be better at clearing snow

A Waterloo mom is calling on the city and transit operators to do a better job clearing walkways and bus stops, saying it's left her daughter, who has mobility issues, unable to walk on her own on city sidewalks.

'That goes against her rights to an accessible community,' mom says of her daughter's struggle

Teresa McQuillan and her daughter Zahra. McQuillan says she has to carry her daughter over the snow or resort to using a stroller because GRT is slow on snow clearing. (Submitted by Teresa McQuillan)

Waterloo mom Teresa McQuillan wants the city and Grand River Transit to do a better job at clearing sidewalks, crosswalks and bus stops of snow.

Her 8-year-old daughter Zahra has mobility issues and has difficulty getting over uneven snow.

Before the snow melted, McQuillan was particularly frustrated after a snowfall to find the space between a sidewalk and a crosswalk had several centimetres of snow. As well, their regular bus stop wasn't cleared — even after she complained.

It's a 10 minute walk to the bus from their home, she explained.

"Typically, my daughter can walk on her own. She has some balance issues and co-ordination issues and she's not fast, but she can walk independently," McQuillan said.

McQuillan says her daughter would start to cry because she's unable to navigate the un-cleared sidewalks. (Submitted by Teresa McQuillan)

"Since there's been snow, half to three quarters of the sidewalks have not been cleared on our route to the bus stop, so it got to the point where she would refuse to walk or start to cry because she couldn't navigate over the snow," McQuillan said.

That means McQuillan has to carry her daughter over the snow or resort to using a stroller.

"I'm frustrated that she cannot walk independently [over the snow]. That's not OK. That goes against her rights to an accessible community," she said.

Nearly went under bus

In one instance, McQuillan said her daughter nearly went under a Grand River Transit bus because of slippery conditions.

The stop had been cleared and a plow had gone by after that, so there was a mound of snow at the edge of the bus stop that was slippery. When Zahra stepped on it, she lost her balance.

McQuillan caught Zahra just before she fell down.

"It's stressful," McQuillan said. "It's hard on your body physically."

The sidewalk near McQuillan's house. (Submitted by Teresa McQuillan)

McQuillan posted photos of her walk to Facebook and called on both Waterloo and Kitchener to do a better job of clearing the snow or getting residents to clear the snow.

So far, she said she has not received a response from either city.

When she called Grand River Transit, she was told it can take up to 72 hours to clear bus stops.

'Challenging' to clear bus stops

Eric Gillespie, the region's director of transit services — GRT, said it's "challenging for GRT to clear all bus stops promptly, especially given the access required from both the sidewalk and the roadway." 

GRT waits until 24 hours after a snowfall event to begin clearing bus stops. 

"This is to allow the roads and sidewalks to initially be cleared," Gillespie said. "Over the following 48 hours the 2,700 plus bus stops are cleared." 

Gillespie said, there is "a list of priority bus stops, based on high usage or accessibility requirements." 

City clearing more sidewalks, trails

Phil Hewitson, manager of active transportation for the City of Waterloo, said the city has policies on how long it takes to clear certain sidewalks, in particular in high-pedestrian areas.

Homeowners are asked to clear sidewalks within 24 hours of when the snow stops. Bylaw staff follow up on complaints when they're made, he said, but they also do rounds and inspections when they have time.

"This winter, we faced continual snowfall, so it's been a challenge," he said. "Christmas week, we seemed to have snow every day, so that was a challenge to try to keep things open."

There is word the province will be mandating municipalities must clear sidewalks in the next year or two. That would mean better snow clearing, but it will also require a larger budget, he said.

"Until that happens, we do try to allocate more and more funds. We are expanding each year the amount of snow clearing that the city crews actually do on sidewalks and trains," Hewitson said.

In the meantime, residents need to do their part and the city will continue to strive to do better, he said.

"I guess the whole bottom line is, we all need to do better," he said.


  • An earlier version of this story incorrectly attributed statements made by Eric Gillespie, the region's director of transit services — GRT, to another individual.
    Jan 16, 2018 11:25 AM ET