Manitoba

Going the long way around: Construction season sidewalk closures force Winnipeg pedestrians to change course

Construction season isn't just a headache for drivers in Winnipeg — it also turns some city sidewalks into a potentially dangerous obstacle course.

'Try and push a stroller through the West End of Winnipeg, and see what it feels like': Winnipeg Trails head

Sidewalk barriers have put pedestrians in an awkward position as construction season ramps up for the summer. (CBC )

Balmy June weather might tempt more Winnipeggers to hit the streets for a summer walk. But construction season is also ramping up, and that's turning some city sidewalks into a potentially dangerous obstacle course.

On Stafford Street near Grosvenor Avenue, students from nearby high schools have been dealing with a series of closures as sidewalks are being rebuilt.

"You have to switch between sidewalks" on opposite sides of the busy street, says Grade 12 student Simon Janzen. "And when you're trying to get back to school, it's a bit of a waste of time."

Janzen admits he's taken a risk before, walking along the edge of the work zone instead of crossing the street.

"That's dangerous, though. Some guy might not be looking and might hit you."

Simon Janzen says sometimes high school students take chances and cut through the work zone. (Trevor Brine/CBC )

No warning signs

On a recent visit to the Crescentwood intersection, CBC found no signs warning pedestrians the sidewalk was closed ahead.

For 21-year-old Kaelyn Regher, that was more than an inconvenience. She has mobility issues, and going around requires considerably more effort. Regher walked through the work zone, despite a recent close call.

"I almost got hit walking," she says. "The guy didn't look at me, even while I waved at him."

Regher thinks there should be more traffic enforcement at the intersection of Grosvenor and Stafford, and a more safe and convenient path.

Meanwhile, at the southwest corner of the busy intersection, the sidewalk comes to a dead end. There's no ramp there, forcing anyone in a wheelchair to backtrack an entire block to cross.

When CBC started doing on-camera interviews at the intersection, workers rushed to put barricades in place, with signs indicating the sidewalk is closed.

CBC found some streets had no signage or alternative paths for pedestrians last week. (Trevor Brine/CBC )

City of Winnipeg public works spokesperson Ken Allen acknowledged the signage had not been adequate. He says city staff were sent out the following morning to speak to crews and ask that proper signs be installed.

Allen says staff also spoke to a private building crew a block away, at Stafford and Yale Avenue. The sidewalk is completely blocked there by a construction fence. At the time of CBC's visit, there were no warning signs and there was no safe alternative path, short of turning back.

Allen says signs previously in place at the building site had been knocked down and hadn't been replaced.

He says the city takes an "educational approach" to address these types of problems, and admits penalties are rare.

'Reasonable efforts' to avoid closures

Winnipeg's guidelines for temporary traffic control on city streets include only a single sentence about measures for shutting down a sidewalk. The city manual says "reasonable efforts must be made to refrain from closing bicycle facilities and sidewalks."

The lone statement is followed by a few diagrams with suggested layouts for sidewalk construction zones.

In contrast, the City of Toronto says it holds contractors responsible for arranging safe alternative routes for closed sidewalks, which must include ramps.

Most of the time, the city says, a path can be created adjacent to the worksite. If not, signage must be put up at the preceding intersection, letting pedestrians know they'll have to walk on the opposite side of the street.

Toronto officials say staff members review plans for pedestrian diversions before work begins. Transportation standards officers are on patrol daily, looking out for issues relating to traffic and pedestrian obstructions.

If a construction site is found not to be in compliance, the city can lay charges or issue stop-work orders, although a city spokesperson says problems are usually resolved quickly, while enforcement staff is on site.

Guidelines aren't enforceable: association

The Winnipeg Trails Association says the loose guidelines in this city, however, lead to a patchwork of violations.

"In order to enforce something, it needs to be enforceable," says the group's executive director, Anders Swanson.

Winnipeg Trails Association executive director Anders Swanson says the city's guidelines around sidewalk closures are vague and unenforceable. (CBC)

"The policy uses words like 'reasonable,'" he says, "with some drawings at the end to describe how to do it. But whether you actually have to do it — it says nothing about that."

Swanson pointed to the lengthy sidewalk closures along Ellice Avenue in the West End, where crews are replacing underground pipe. Between Agnes and McGee Streets, the southern sidewalk is blocked in a spot where plywood surrounds a hole.

Once again, CBC found no signs warning pedestrians ahead of the closure, and no way for wheelchairs or strollers to safely get around without turning back.

Swanson says that's unfair, since vehicle traffic is still flowing freely down Ellice.

"Get out of your car for a bit. Take your grandmother for a walk. Try and push a stroller through the West End of Winnipeg, and see what it feels like."

'Room for policy work': councillor

Back in Crescentwood, city Coun. Sherri Rollins says Winnipeg's rules should be updated.

"I do indeed think there's room for policy work," says Rollins.

The Fort Rouge-East Fort Garry representative says she's meeting with residents of her constituency who are unhappy with the sidewalk situation.

Rollins says one local activist suggests Winnipeg adopt the Considerate Constructors Scheme used in the U.K., through which members of the construction industry voluntarily agree to a code of conduct.

"There is positive things to say about the fact that there is a lot of construction happening in Winnipeg," she says.

"Can we do better to allow people to safely navigate? Yes."

Balmy June weather might tempt more Winnipeggers to hit the streets for a summer walk. But construction season is also ramping up, and that's turning some city sidewalks into a potentially dangerous obstacle course. 2:55

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