Consider accessibility when removing snow, Whitehorse residents say

Not a lot slows down paraplegic Whitehorse resident Darryl Tait, but even he sometimes has trouble navigating the snow and ice-covered streets of the city.

Navigating city streets and sidewalks in winter can be even trickier for those with disabilities

Ramesh Ferris and Darryl Tait see designated accessible parking spots, like this one, filled with snow throughout the winter in Whitehorse. (Jackei McKay/CBC)

Darryl Tait can often be found snowmobiling, skiing, mountain biking and even surfing.

But when it comes to getting around in downtown Whitehorse in the winter, the paraplegic extreme sports enthusiast admits there are challenges.  

"My biggest issue here for snow, is snow removal and awareness," said Tait, pointing out a designated accessible parking spot filled with snow, on the corner Main and Front Streets.

Tait also has to deal with business owners who shovel their accessible ramps but pile snow at the bottom, or piles of snow between the road and sidewalk that make a barrier he has to get over.

"It's quite challenging, and something we face on a regular basis here," said Tait.

'It's quite challenging, and something we face on a regular basis here,' said Tait. (Jackie McKay/ CBC)

Tait uses his "winter chair" equipped with mountain bike tires to help him get over the uneven roads and sidewalks.

He often will do a wheelie to keep his front wheels from hitting the bumps and lurching him forward, but not everyone who uses a wheelchair is able to navigate that way.

Ramesh Ferris, a polio survivor and a disability advocate, also has issues with the way snow is removed downtown.

"I always have to walk with my head down because there is snow and ice piles everywhere," he said. 

Ferris uses crutches to walk and said that he's slipped on the ice at times, bending the bars of his crutches and his brace.

"It does have significant implications on my everyday life, and it creates quite a bit of stress for me, actually," said Ferris.

Ferris has contacted the city but said he's heard "every excuse" as to why snow is cleared the way it is.

Snow is often cleared off roads and pushed up beside the sidewalks. These are left to be cleaned up later by city crews. (Jackie McKay/ CBC)

How the city removes snow

The City of Whitehorse's operations department has identified a list of priorities for snow removal. These are intended to "provide the greatest benefit to the majority of the travelling public," according to the city's website.

The top priority is clearing major bus routes and roadways, followed by roads in the central business district and city-owned facilities.

When there is a heavy snowfall, crews often aren't able to immediately get to things like accessible parking spots in public spaces, or the piles of snow pushed up beside the sidewalks.  

Business owners, meanwhile, are responsible for clearing snow in front of their business or in private parking lots. If snow isn't cleared to the sidewalk as required, or if snow is being piled in places it shouldn't be — for example, on the road — bylaw officers will enforce the clean up.

"I think the city is doing a good job at snow removal," said Richard Graham, manager of operations for the City of Whitehorse.

"Getting people to give us a call and letting us know about some of the little things they see is important because we are not everywhere everyday."

However, knowing who to call can be a challenge because several city departments are involved in snow removal.

'End the turf wars'

As CBC was reporting this story, the wharf along the Yukon River downtown was being cleared of snow by a Yukon Government worker.

Meanwhile, several accessible parking spaces nearby had not yet been cleared.

Snow is cleared from the wharf along the Yukon River in downtown Whitehorse. At the same time, several accessible parking spaces nearby had not been cleared. (Jackie McKay/ CBC)

"I really hope that we end the turf wars," said Ferris. He would like to see city departments work together to find solutions.  

Park paths such as the one along the Yukon River, or the Millennium Trail, are the responsibility of the city's parks department, while roads and parking spots are the responsibility of the operations department.

Ferris believes the problem stems from a lack of policy around snow removal that prioritizes accessibility. He thinks the city should make sure snow is removed from the roads, sidewalks, and parking areas so people who use mobility aids can move from space to space fluidly.

Snow removal bylaws for sidewalks do not specifically acknowledge the need to make sidewalks accessible for people with disabilities, said one city bylaw official. However, the bylaw does say sidewalks must be accessible for the use of all people.

Darryl Tait thinks the city can set an example, by doing a better job of keeping sidewalks cleared of snow.

"If they had the awareness of people with a disability using it, other business could follow that example," Tait said.


  • An earlier version of this story referred to a city worker clearing snow from a walking path along the Yukon River. In fact, it was a Yukon Government employee clearing snow from the waterfront wharf.
    Mar 14, 2018 4:36 PM CT


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