Ottawa

It's been a tough winter in Gatineau for people with reduced mobility

This winter's heavy snowfall has made travel in the western Quebec city extremely difficult for pedestrians, wheelchair-users, and others with limited mobility.

Icy snow-covered sidewalks making getting around a pain

Yucca Leonard says he's forced to walk on the street to take his two-year-old daughter to her weekly appointments at a nearby rehabilitation centre. All the snow, he says, has made the sidewalks impassable. (Radio-Canada)

Normally, it would only take Yucca Leonard about 15 minutes to get his two-year-old daughter to a nearby rehabilitation centre for her cerebral palsy therapy.

This year, all the snow and ice coating the roads and sidewalks in Gatineau's Hull district is making that trip nearly impossible.

"In terms of snow removal, this is one of the worst cities I've seen," said Leonard, who normally walks to the centre and pushes his daughter in her stroller.

"The sidewalks are not cleared. The streets are disastrous, even in downtown Hull."

Record snowfall

This winter's heavy snowfall has made travel extremely difficult for pedestrians, wheelchair-users, and others with limited mobility.

The Ottawa-Gatineau region has received a record amount of snow, in fact. In January alone, 97 centimetres' worth fell in Ottawa, making it the city's snowiest ever start to the year. 

In Gatineau, 42 centimetres fell during last week's snowstorm.

"Getting around is almost impossible," said Joël Bellehumeur, a wheelchair-user and the vice-president of Entre Deux Roues, an activity centre for people with reduced mobility.

"The sidewalks are very badly cleared."

Ideas from other cities?

In a French-language statement sent Monday, the City of Gatineau said that it was facing "great challenges" clearing sidewalks this year, and it would still take a few days to complete the work.

Residents can call 311 to report any uncleared streets or sidewalks, the city said.

While he acknowledged the scale of that challenge, Leonard said snow-clearing efforts don't seem to go far enough, with sidewalks still difficult to traverse more than two weeks after large snowfalls.

Gatineau should be taking inspiration from other Quebec municipalities when it comes to snow removal, Leonard said.

For instance, In Quebec City, Montreal and Terrebonne, Que., flashing light systems are activated across the city when a snow removal operation is underway.

People with disabilities want to be involved in designing ways to improve their lives. (Radio-Canada)

The City of Gatineau, in contrast, installs signs on snow banks to warn residents to park their cars elsewhere until snow clearing operations are completed, a method that Leonard said seems ineffective.

"Here, it's been four or five days [since the signs were installed], and there's nothing that's been done," he said this past weekend in an interview with Radio-Canada.

​Monique Beaudoin, director of the Association of People with Disabilities in the Outaouais (RAPHO), agrees that getting around the city has been a challenge this winter.

"It's difficult," she said. "Walking in our local streets is very difficult."

A 'daily problem'

Francine St-Jean, the director of Entre Deux Roues, said it takes less than 10 centimetres of snow to prevent a wheelchair from moving forward.

That, she said, makes transportation a "daily problem" for the centre's clients.

Paratransit is an available option, but not everyone is eligible for the service. Users often have to plan a trip before noon the previous day, St-Jean said, in addition to making sure their destination is wheelchair-accessible.

At least one of Gatineau's city councillors has called for a committee to re-examine the city's snow removal policies.

For Leonard, it's simple — there are gaps in the city's snow-clearing processes that desperately need to be filled.

"We pay a lot of taxes," Leonard said. "We are entitled, as citizens, to demand equivalent services."

With files from Martin Robert and Andrew Foote

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