'You become a shut-in': Winnipegger who uses wheelchair says snowstorms isolate people with disabilities

Around this time of year, Libby Zdriluk often finds herself relying on the kindness of strangers to get around.

Libby Zdriluk wants the city to do a better job clearing sidewalks

Around this time of year, Libby Zdriluk often finds herself relying on the kindness of strangers to get around. 2:56

Around this time of year, Libby Zdriluk often finds herself relying on the kindness of strangers to get around.

The Winnipeg woman uses a wheelchair. Every year her life becomes a little bit harder when the snow falls. 

Moving around after a snowstorm is harder than usual for most Winnipeg residents, but for those with mobility issues it can be all but impossible, she said.

"Unfortunately, the thing about living here is that it's a struggle to get the basics, the essentials, like food and stuff. But then, you also, as a person with a disability, tend to suffer because you can't get out for social aspects," she said.

"You can't just casually meet up with friends or go to a movie. You become a shut-in, which is also quite hard on just your mental well-being, your emotional well-being."

This year, after a snowstorm on Christmas Day and Boxing Day blanketed the city in 18 to 33 centimetres of snow, Zdriluk delayed her grocery shopping because she knew it would be too difficult to make the trip.

Five days later she attempted the journey to a convenience store behind her home with hopes the city had plowed sidewalks so she could use them, but couldn't even make it onto the sidewalk alone.

She travelled as far as she could in the bike lane on the road until she had to leave the street to get to the front door of the shop, and got stuck. After trying three different entry points, she said it took the help of four strangers to get her from the road onto the sidewalk.
Libby Zdriluk waited five days after a snowstorm to go grocery shopping and still couldn't tackle sidewalks alone. (CBC)

Sidewalks bad downtown, Zdriluk says

Zdriluk lives on Assiniboine Avenue near the Manitoba Legislative Building. City rules say some downtown sidewalks require enhanced snow clearing, but she says the sidewalks in her area weren't clean enough five days after the storm for her to be able to use them.

This month, the city had the most snow it's had in any December since 1909, but Zdriluk said getting stuck isn't an uncommon occurrence in a regular Winnipeg winter, either.

"Particularly even in the downtown area, I expect that I'll be able at least be able to get around downtown because it's the main network. When that's an issue then that's not good," she said.

"Overall, I think that's kind of an indicator [that] there needs to be a better effort or better awareness for how it's not just getting rid of a pile of snow and dumping it somewhere, it's preventing someone from getting what they need."

South Winnipeg-St. Norbert Coun. Janice Lukes says she has asked public works staff to draw up maps of her ward and highlight Know Your Zone parking ban zones and priority roads in each neighbourhood. (CBC)

City sidewalk clearing underway, councillor says

City Coun. Janice Lukes said city crews are working around the clock to remove snow, but sidewalks pose a special challenge. She said the city is one of a handful in Canada that clears all its sidewalks — roughly 2,000 kilometres.

She expects crews to clear downtown sidewalks again after snow mounds beside them are removed.

"The challenge with the sidewalks ...  is we have to store the snow," she said.

"The operators put the snow on the median. Sometimes the snow falls onto the sidewalk. We've had a couple operators that unfortunately have used the sidewalk for storage area. Sometimes the median is small and there's nowhere to store the snow.

"But they have to get it off the road, and then they come along with the plows and they'll remove the stored snow that's on the side. But there's a gap in time in between, and that's the challenge."
City crews were hard at work clearing snow, Coun. Janice Lukes says. (Jeff Stapleton/CBC)

Sidewalk snow blowers also move slower than street snow removal machinery, she said — about 25 per cent of the pace of a snow plow. They also break down faster, she said.

The sidewalk blowers are followed by graders to clear the sidewalks further, but only once the mounds that develop alongside pathways have been cleared. Lukes said sidewalks also require more attention to detail than streets.

"It's very complicated. It's complex," Lukes said. "There's a lot of variables at play, and there's a heck of a lot of snow."

This year has been especially difficult because of wind and the sheer volume of snow, she said. Environment Canada previously estimated the city will see 80 centimetres by the end of the month.

Lukes advised anyone who encounters an issue to email 311 every time.

"It's really challenging living in a very snowy city with accessibility issues. Without a doubt that's a challenge," she said. "[With] once in a century snowfall like this — that's a lot more challenging."

Lukes said the city is currently looking at broadening the enhanced sidewalk clearing network downtown, studying what it would take and how much it would cost.

"You're trying to harness Mother Nature," she said. "When you're trying to harness Mother Nature with machines, there'll always be a battle."

with files from Teghan Beaudette