Manitoba

'It's scary': Frustrated pedestrians say many Winnipeg sidewalks impassable, dangerous after huge snow dump

Two days after the major snow dump, many Winnipeggers are still having trouble getting around and some commuters say it's posing safety concerns.

City crews still working to clear almost 3,000 kilometres of sidewalks throughout Winnipeg

Anders Swanson walks his bike along a snow- and ice-covered sidewalk on Higgins Avenue Wednesday. (Jill Coubrough/CBC)

Two days after a major snow dump, many Winnipeggers are still having trouble getting around and some say it's posing safety concerns for pedestrians.

"It's just frustrating because what's it going to take to change? Somebody like me getting hit by a car because I couldn't get on the sidewalk?" said Libby Zdriluk, who lives and works downtown and uses a wheelchair.

"It just feels like something really bad has to happen before anyone takes notice and does something about it."

Zdriluk said even sidewalks that have been cleared are still impassable due to chunks of snow and ice, and she has no choice but to travel on the roads, alongside traffic, to get around.  

Libby Zdriluk in front of an impassable intersection on Portage Avenue Wednesday. (CBC)

City crews are working to clear the snow as quickly as possible, according to a spokesperson, but as of Wednesday afternoon only 75 per cent of sidewalks on main routes had been plowed.

Meanwhile, half of sidewalks on bus routes and collector streets and 10 per cent of sidewalks on residential streets were cleared, the city said.

On her way to work Wednesday morning, Zdriluk said she was unable to get her chair over a snow-covered curb downtown and required the help of three pedestrians to get her onto the sidewalk.

On Wednesday afternoon, en route to an interview with CBC, Zdriluk's wheelchair got stuck at another snow-covered curb on Portage Avenue and she needed the help of two men to pull her out. 

'You feel pretty helpless'

Allen Mankowich only has to travel a short stretch between home and work in his wheelchair — roughly 200 metres — but he says sidewalk conditions are so poor he regularly finds himself stuck.  

"You feel pretty helpless," he said. "Downtown there's always someone wandering by that may be able to help you, but if you're in an area that's not very populated you might be stuck there for a while."

He and Zdriluk say impassable sidewalks are a problem every winter but snow removal efforts don't seem to improve. 

"It's scary," Zdriluk said. "When you work and live downtown and you're independent, you have to go out and do what everyone else does, but I have to do it with a lot more risk, and it shouldn't be that way."

According to the city's snow-clearing policy, priority sidewalks should be plowed within 36 hours following a snowstorm. However, a spokesperson said the density of the latest snowfall is causing delays.  
City crews still working to clear almost 3,000 kilometres of sidewalks throughout Winnipeg 2:00

"Crews will be addressing deficiencies such as these as soon as possible. If there are safety concerns, please contact 311," the spokesperson said in an email. 

Kailey Kroeker, director of Bike Winnipeg, said she is disappointed to see roads free and clear of snow, while many sidewalks and bike lanes remain impassable.

"There are still huge piles of snow everywhere and pretty much every curb cut has a massive border of snow along it, so you have to kind of hobble through that to get anywhere," she said.

"I would like to see a bit more prioritization for people who don't have cars."

Rethink strategy: advocates

Kroeker said it's time for the city to rethink its snow-clearing strategy because those who are not travelling in a vehicle are most vulnerable.

"It would be great if we saw some leadership from city councillors to really move ahead on this," she said. "There are great precedents in other cities."

Kroeker pointed to Copenhagen's snow-clearing policy, which mandates snow be removed from bike paths before it is cleared from roadways — with the exception of the Danish city's four largest roads, which are cleared at the same time as the cycle paths.

Winnipeg cycling advocate Anders Swanson has been documenting impassable bike lanes and sidewalks and posting photos to Twitter since the blast of snow hit on Monday. He likened many sidewalk conditions to courses on a ski hill.

"We're on maybe a blue [an intermediate ski hill] here, but it goes up to a double-black diamond [a difficult hill] in a lot of places," he said during an interview on Higgins Avenue.

The executive director of the Winnipeg Trails Association said Winnipeg will not be a world-class winter city until it steps up its snow-removal approach for pedestrian commuters. 

"Make it a priority," Swanson said. "If we can build $100 [or] $200-million overpasses in this city, we can fix this for someone pushing a stroller. Period."