sidewalk media meltdown

The local weekly in town does a great job of covering the local scene, but I was a bit surprised and very pleased to see them pick up on the sidewalk snow clearing issue. It will remain up to residents to push the city for improved service. Good job Craig!

It's snow joke when sidewalks and roadways aren't clear

Craig Campbell (Dundas Star News) Published on Dec 28, 2007

A lack of sidewalk clearing after major snowfalls marginalizes and effectively strands the elderly, people with young children and other pedestrians, according to a local blogger.

Dundas Walks, a website kept by local resident Randy Kay, focuses on Dundas' trails and pathways for walkers and cyclists.

During the month of December, the blog has profiled issues with clearing snow off local sidewalks, including homes and downtown businesses, and the effect its having on local pedestrians. Mr. Kay raised the topic just before local resident Marty Zuliniak slipped and fell on ice in front of the Dundas post office on King Street West. Mr. Kay had noted sidewalks around the historic building hadn't been cleared on Dec. 3.

The current city policy is only to clear sidewalks abutting municipal property and relying on private property owners to clear the city-owned sidewalks next to them.

Though municipalities are legally responsible for clearing all sidewalks, they typically create bylaws that ask for residents to help out.

City staff do not clear or salt walkways or sidewalks between city-owned properties.

"This approach irks," Mr. Kay wrote on his blog, regarding the lack of a continuous sidewalk clearing route.

"Especially since it does nothing to encourage - indeed it marginalizes - people who don't use a motor vehicle: the kind of person the city is supposed to be encouraging, according to their planning documents."

Top priority for Hamilton snow clearing is main arterial roads, which city policy states must be clear within four hours of a snowfall ending.

Priority two roads, including accesses to main roads, are to be cleared within eight hours. Finally, residential local roads must be cleared within 24 hours.

Sidewalks are included in the third priority of snow removal, and are to be cleared within 24 hours of a snowfall.

Bill Weaver, acting director of road operations and maintenance, said crews were delayed in their snow clearing efforts on Sunday, Dec. 16 because of the snow's depth, equipment breakdowns and a lack of staff available on weekends.

"This last storm was particularly hard," Mr. Weaver said.

Dundas resident Brian Lane fell into another snow-clearing problem during and after a recent Sunday storm.

Clearing a 400-foot stretch of sidewalk next to a vacant lot he owns proved to be a challenge when plows dumped three-foot high piles of ice and snow several times.

Mr. Lane figures he cleared that stretch of sidewalk three times in one day for the City of Hamilton.

"It was sort of silly," he said. "But I feel obligated to clear it."

He wondered if the city could do more to help keep sidewalks clear after residents voluntarily shovel for the greater good.

Mr. Lane noticed sidewalks in the area of University Plaza had not been cleared shortly after a recent snowfall. And some pedestrians, as Mr. Kay also found, chose to walk on busy roadways rather than take their chances on the snowy or slippery sidewalks.

"It's an extreme danger," Mr. Lane said of people walking on roads after snowstorms.

Bylaw enforcement supervisor Paola Pianegonda said there had been 33 complaints to her office about uncleared sidewalks in the past three months. That compares to 40 such complaints over the entire seven-month snow season last year. But Ms. Pianegonda pointed out how difficult it is to compare one season to another.

"It's different every year. It depends on the snowfall," she said.

The city's bylaw carries fines up to $2,000 for failing to remove snow from its sidewalks. But the city will normally give at least one warning before taking action. Ontario courts have recognized a municipality's right in creating such bylaws, but consistently find the municipal act makes cities liable for their sidewalks - not adjacent private property owners.