Accessibility

Sidewalk clearing better, but improvement still needed: accessibility advocate

Complaints about snow clearing from the sidewalk are down this year: HRM

Paul Vienneau, 'Mayor of Spring Garden Road,' spent the afternoon clearing sidewalk corners and bus stops.
Paul Vienneau, ‘Mayor of Spring Garden Road,’ spent the afternoon clearing sidewalk corners and bus stops.   Kathleen Napier

Paul Vienneau is still shoveling the streets of Halifax.

Vienneau spent Wednesday afternoon in his wheelchair shoveling snow from sidewalk corners and bus stops on Spring Garden Road.

He calls himself the “Mayor of Spring Garden Road” and says his job is to highlight deficiencies in the city’s sidewalk plowing efforts.

Although he acknowledges the municipality has improved its sidewalk clearing this year, Vienneau says there’s still room for improvement.

“It’s been the subjective opinion of supervisors and workers as to what the word ‘clear’ means,” says Vienneau.

He made news last year when he criticized the municipality’s sidewalk-clearing work after several storms encased streets and sidewalks in layers of ice.

Vienneau says he noticed last winter that city workers weren’t plowing curb corners and cutting service standards.

Fewer complaints

The municipality says it has made progress over the past year.

Since Dec. 1, 2015, the municipality says it has received 1,432 phone calls regarding snow on sidewalks. Jennifer Stairs, spokesperson for the HRM says only 30 per cent of those calls have been complaints.

Stairs says, “for the same period last year, we had received 1,766 calls regarding sidewalks. So this year it’s a bit lower.”

She says it’s hard to know for sure how many of the 1,766 calls received last year at this time were complaints, but puts it at roughly 35 per cent.

Improvement is needed

Vienneau says he met with the municipality’s senior works supervisor to explain some of the mobility issues facing disabled and elderly citizens in the winter.

Stairs says Vienneau’s feedback was shared with winter operations staff and sidewalk contractors and this year crews are paying more attention to accessibility and snow-clearing performance more generally.

“For example, in the downtown area, we often have workers following behind the sidewalk equipment to hand shovel the curb cuts, intersections and access to pedestrian crossing signals,” says Stairs.

Stairs says the municipality is committed to working with the accessibility community to develop guidelines for future seasons that all winter works staff can use.

“Those guidelines would clearly identify what the expectation is for clearing sidewalks, including things like width, surface conditions and pedestrian ramps, as well as accessibility at bus stops and pedestrian crossing signals,” she says.

Vienneau says his biggest concern is “how infrastructure affects the elderly, the disabled and even the able-bodied.”

In September, he says he presented his concerns to the accessibility committee. He says he’s still waiting on action from the city.

For now, Vienneau will continue to patrol between South Park and Birmingham Street, clearing sidewalk corners and bus stops along Spring Garden Road.