Winnipeg’s snow-clearing strategy, which can leave residential streets choked with thick and soft mashed-potato-like snow, is not only a problem for drivers, it’s even worse for those who bike and walk, a city councillor says.
“It is impacting my ward, particularly, [as it is one of] the closest toward the downtown, so a lot of my residents really utilize transit, the cycling networks and just pedestrian walking,” said Cindy Gilroy, councillor for the Daniel McIntyre ward, who calls snow clearing “a real priority for this community.”
“We have a large portion that don’t own cars or just own one car, so the family is really relying on different kinds of active transportation.”
Although main thoroughfares around the city are clear to the pavement, many side streets are clogged with mushy, pulpy snow.
Those conditions can discourage many people from choosing alternative modes of transportation, while those with mobility issues can find it impossible to get anywhere, Gilroy said.
“If we want to really encourage mode shift, to encourage people to try to look at different ways of getting around their city — which is really critical as as we grow as a city, to encourage different modes of transportation other than car — we have to make sure that we’re supporting those that are already doing that,” she said.
“When we look at climate change, this is something that we could easily be doing — making sure people have access to get to their transit stations or making sure they can even get down to the corner to get their groceries.”
Ken Allen, spokesperson for the City of Winnipeg public works department, said in an email that there are no plans yet to plow side roads as “the majority of residential streets have been found to be passable.”
The current policy, approved by council, directs the city to plow residential streets only if they meet one or more of these criteria:
- Snowfall of 10 centimetres or more.
- Drifting snow making roads impassable.
- Deep ruts creating a significant difference in surface height between lanes.
Otherwise, residential streets are only plowed if an inspection warrants the work. Crews will inspect any reported trouble spots and ensure passable conditions are maintained, Allen said.
Mia Douchant, who sold her car a couple of years back and now cycles as her main mode of transportation, scoffed at the suggestion that residential streets are passable.
“I totally disagree with that. It’s not fine,” she said, noting she lives near a regularly plowed route but currently has to push her bike to get there.
“My street, I can’t ride it on my bicycle. The one block over, though, got pretty good cleared so to get to where I can start biking I have to push my bike probably like a block and a half. I can do it, but it’s pretty inadequate. If I had mobility issues I would be pretty frustrated.”
Douchant says she tries to stick to the bike lanes where possible but during the previous two winters it could take a week before they were cleared or packed down enough to use.
“I was trying to get out there two days after [a snowfall] and it was just like exhausting. I would be off my bike pushing it through knee-deep snow,” she said.
She would often end up on the road as a result. Fortunately, she says most drivers understood there was little option and were OK about it, “but that patience runs out after a couple of days.”
When there is a need for plowing, Allen said crews tackle roads based on the priority system, beginning with Priority 1 (regional streets and major routes) then Priority 2 (bus routes and collector streets).
They only move to Priority 3 (residential) areas if they meet the aforementioned criteria.
Several times last winter, before crews could begin plowing P3 streets, a new storm moved in and the machinery was called back to start over again along P1 and P2 routes.
That system needs to be changed, Gilroy said.
“We have to really look at our priority on how we clean our streets and really look at the communities that we serve — which communities are really relying on active transportation,” she said.
“Right now we’re seeing a lot of people actually getting stuck because of how we prioritize.”
That situation pushes people to buy bigger vehicles, to get through the snow, Douchant said.
“We shouldn’t need to own large 4×4 vehicles in order to navigate the city.”
Another issue Gilroy wants addressed is how the snow is pushed off roads. It is often piled up on boulevards, and it spills onto sidewalks.
People who can trudge through create skinny deer trails, but those with mobility issues can’t get through.
“We have to make sure that we’re supporting our seniors and those with mobility issues to make sure that they can get out and be part of everyday life, just like everybody else. And snow clearing is a huge part of that,” Gilroy said.
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