Nfld. & Labrador

Protesters demand St. John's council boost sidewalk-clearing budget

A proposal to spend $1.35 million more on sidewalk clearing in the winter in St. John's was voted down by the committee of the whole 7 to 3 earlier in the month.

'If You Can Skate on It, It's Not a Sidewalk,' reads one sign at demonstration

A group of people gathered at Victoria Park Monday afternoon and walked to St. John's city hall, demanding city council increase the money spent on clearing snow-filled sidewalks. (Jeremy Eaton/CBC)

A group of about two dozen people demanding St. John's city council increase its spending on clearing snow-filled sidewalks took to the streets Monday — walking along an eastbound traffic lane on Water Street and forgoing the sidewalk. 

The group of people, who were wearing masks, made their way from Victoria Park to St. John's City Hall, while chanting and holding signs, one of which read, "If You Can Skate on It, It's Not a Sidewalk."

"Whether you walk on legs, whether you roll in a wheelchair, whether you're old, whether you're young, whether you have money, whether you have not, you have a right to safe mobility through your community," said Anne Malone, a disability rights activist, using a megaphone on the steps of city hall.

"A sidewalk is a transportation system. We have rights. Accessibility is not a privilege, it is a right."

Anne Malone repeated her message that safe mobility and accessibility — via clear sidewalks in the winter — is a right for residents. (Jeremy Eaton/CBC)

Earlier this month, the city's committee of the whole voted down a proposal — by a vote of 7 to 3 — to spend an extra $1.35 million on the sidewalk snow-clearing budget. 

A vote on Tuesday by the city council almost mirrored that, 7 to 2, with the potential to revisit the issue, and the extra funds, in the upcoming annual budget planning in December. 

"We want to take to the streets in the fall, before we're pushed into them during the winter," reads the media notice from the Sidewalk Coalition, which organized the event that started at Victoria Park and will end at St. John's city hall. 

"For seven of our councillors to shoot down a budget increase that is direly needed to protect our safety and ability to move around the community is unacceptable."

Deputy Mayor Sheilagh O'Leary, Coun. Ian Froude and Coun. Maggie Burton were the three in favour of spending the extra cash.

Mayor Danny Breen said, at the time of the vote, that while the city had posted a surplus ahead of the upcoming budget, which will be tabled in December he said it will be needed to cover costs related to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

A. Powell, who attended Monday's rally, said public safety is at risk. 

A. Powell said St. John's sidewalks are hard to navigate when they are not covered in ice, snow and slush. (Jeremy Eaton/CBC)

"It's not good enough and we're not doing enough for the people of our city to stay safe," Powell said. 

"I was actually saying to someone earlier, I'm safer in my wheelchair because I'm already sitting. Even though you know I might fall, but I'm not falling as far ... But the people who are walking that are …. way more likely to twist an ankle or slip and fall."

Much room for improvement: survey

A recent survey that polled 1,000 St. John's residents suggested people felt there is a lot of room for improvement when it comes to improving winter sidewalk conditions. 

There were poor ratings across the board when it comes to how quickly sidewalks are cleared, ice control and salting, consistency and how well sidewalks are connected to one another.

Those who took the survey rated the importance of sidewalk clearing at an average 8.9 out of 10, but graded the quality of clearing at 3.6 out of 10.

"For anyone trying to move around the city of St. John's in the winter without relying on a car, this hurts," said the group ahead of Monday's event.

The state of some St. John's sidewalks, like this one at Harvey Road and Long's Hill, has long been a thorn in the side of people trying to get around in the harsh winters. (CBC)

The issue is up for a vote by St. John's city council Monday evening. 

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

With files from Jeremy Eaton

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