Nfld. & Labrador

St. John's needs to get a better grip on sidewalk-clearing problem: deputy mayor

There's no concrete solution on the table, but at least one city official admits something has to change.

No appetite for bylaws or raising taxes, Sheilagh O'Leary says

The city says it's listening after a group of pedestrians raised their concerns about snowy sidewalks, but at least two options don't seem to be on the table. (Kelly Batten Hender/Facebook)

Amid a winter that at one point left the Newfoundland and Labrador capital under more than a metre of snow, sidewalks have suffered, prompting an informal group to meet with city officials about accessibility in St. John's last week.

Deputy Mayor Sheilagh O'Leary says she takes the group's concerns about pedestrian safety seriously.

"We do need to do a much better job at our sidewalks," O'Leary said after Monday's council meeting. 

There are tangible solutions for pedestrian safety that can happen right away, she suggested, such as ensuring buttons at crosswalks aren't buried by plows.

But she said any further action means spending more money — or bringing in legislation nobody wants.

"The reality of it is, if we want to have more snow clearing of sidewalks done, it's going to be something that's going to be a budgetary item," she said. "Nobody wants to see their taxes go up."

Lack of 'appetite' for bylaws

The city told advocate Meghan Hollett last week that significant improvements to clearing would cost the city $2 million, or about $20 per person each year.

Deputy Mayor Sheilagh O'Leary says there's not much appetite for either raising taxes or compelling property owners to chip in with sidewalk clearing, despite other municipalities adopting those solutions. (Meg Roberts/CBC)

O'Leary rejected the idea of council adopting a bylaw requiring property owners clear sidewalks adjacent to their homes at this time, although it's something other Canadian municipalities do.

"I don't think the appetite to actually create a law for that is there just now," she said.

In a statement, Coun. Ian Froude, who like O'Leary was at last week's meeting with the group, said discussions on pedestrian safety will continue and the group's concerns are being shared with council and staff. 

City recommends safety gear

Lynnann Winsor, deputy city manager of public works, said the city had completed 70 per cent of the 161 kilometres of sidewalks it clears in winter months.

Despite crews tackling streets and sidewalks simultaneously and working around the clock since the Jan. 17 blizzard, the sheer amount of snow has slowed progress on sidewalks in particular, she said.

She said normal sidewalk equipment doesn't work on the combination of snow and ice on the ground. 

"It's not big enough. So we had to use the large-scale blowers," which is a slower process, she explained.

In a Jan. 20 notice, the city offered tips for pedestrians trying to navigate unplowed or unsalted areas.

It advised people walk facing traffic and wear safety equipment such as crampons — removable straps with chains or studs that dig into the ice covering walkways.

"You feel like a billy goat with these things on," said Jonathan Earle, co-owner of the Outfitters, which sells the equipment.

"I think you can be fairly confident you're not going to go down when you're not on the road."

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

With files from The St. John's Morning Show

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