“I don’t have a licence, but we’re driving on the street,” said Steven Crowell as he pushed Christine Stevens’s wheelchair up busy Oxford Street Monday afternoon.
To avoid the icy sidewalk, Crowell and Stevens opted to use the road.
Last weekend’s storm brought nearly 30 centimetres of snow to the streets of Halifax. In the days following, residents found themselves clambering over snow piles and sliding down sidewalks that turned to sheets of ice.
So far this winter, since Nov. 1, the municipal services phone line 311 has received 486 calls and emails related to snow on sidewalks. Of these, 167 were related to last weekend’s storm. Last winter, 311 received 175 calls and emails during the same timeframe.
Sidewalk clearing contractors participate in mandatory accessibility training, including a workshop in which they use a wheelchair to navigate common winter obstacles such as snowbanks and heavy salt, a spokesperson from the municipality said in an email.
Brian George, an actor and accessibility advocate, said the municipality’s snow clearing efforts are not good enough.
“(Halifax) winters are just so demoralizing,” he said. “I absolutely hate living here in the winter.”
On Tuesday morning, the accessible parking space outside his apartment building on Welsford Street still wasn’t clear — more than 48 hours after the weekend’s storm was declared over.
According to the municipality’s website, the parking space is priority two, meaning it should be clear 24 hours from the end of the weather event.
Inadequate snow clearing can leave people who use wheelchairs, walkers or canes to move around stuck at home during storm season. During his first winter in Halifax in 2015, George, who uses a wheelchair, was “essentially housebound” for three months.
“I’m almost to a breaking point where I’ve just got to pack my bags and go somewhere where they know what they’re doing,” he said.
Martyn Williams, a road safety advocate who runs the Twitter account Kjipuktuk (Halifax) Safe Communities, said the snow-clearing equipment is to blame for dangerous sidewalks, not the workers.
He observed machines scraping out the snow, but then the sun turning the sidewalk into a “luge-type experience almost instantaneously.”
He said the solution is better equipment and better policy.
The municipality is moving towards an equitable approach to road access and safety, Williams said. A goal of both HRM’s Integrated Mobility Plan and Road Safety Framework is to prioritize forms of transportation other than cars.
He said policy needs to improve to meet the needs of those most affected by unsafe sidewalks: people with disabilities, children and seniors.
“If you get it right for (them), then the rest of us benefit as well because we often need exactly the same accessibility and safety requirements.”
Halifax West-Armdale Coun. Shawn Cleary said his district used to receive the most complaints about sidewalk conditions, but he didn’t receive many from last weekend’s storm.
“I think (residents) have just resigned themselves to shitty sidewalks,” he said.
He clears his own sidewalk because he knows “the city’s going to do a terrible job.”
He said the municipality doesn’t have a system to appropriately deal with the snow-rain-freeze pattern Halifax has suffered from for several years.
Cleary cited a failed motion he brought forward last year to change snow clearing standards — start the clock as soon as snow starts falling.
“Unless we take that kind of approach, we’re going to continue to have crappy sidewalks,” he said.
He said there aren’t enough machines or workers to clear the city’s sidewalks quickly before they become a “frozen mess.”
“I wish my colleagues would, you know, put their money where their mouth is. If we care about this, then we need to resource it appropriately and we need to get it done properly.”
“The municipality asks residents for their continued patience as crews continue to work around the clock to address all areas,” said Klara Needler, a spokesperson for the municipality.
“It’s important to note that significant weather events, such as the storm we received over the weekend with almost 30 cm of snow, may require additional time for snow clearing.”
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