City Hall has a plan for sidewalk snow removal: you

by Wanda Schmöckel

photo by Darrol Hofmeister

city-hallOn Jan. 13 — knee deep into winter — the City of Regina launched its 2nd annual Snowbusters campaign. Once again, the city is incentivizing the voluntary removal of snow from residential sidewalks by holding a draw and giving away a snowblower to “a person who goes the extra mile.”

Apparently Reginans need no such encouragement. According to the city, there is a 75 per cent compliance rate when it comes to the voluntary removal of snow from residential walks — a figure repeated by Mayor Fougere at the Snowbusters media event as he stood next to the compact, black snowblower they plan to give away.

“People are pretty good,” he said. “They understand they have to clean the sidewalk off and they do that. We have 75 per cent of residents compling in general terms. That’s a high degree of compliance.”

For anyone who has struggled across Regina’s endless lengths of lumpy, ice-slicked sidewalks, this may beg the question: how exactly did they arrive at that number?

Surveys looking at single-family dwellings were done by Regina bylaw officers between 2011 and 2014. Data was collected every time a bylaw officer was sent to follow up on a complaint. The officer would then choose 10 properties immediately contiguous to the property in question and assessed those properties’ levels of snow removal compliance.

“They use the same standard mentioned in the winter road maintenance act,” says Ernie Polsom, Fire Chief and Director of Protective Services. “Ideally it’s deemed to be satisfactory when snow is removed from sidewalks to ensure the safety of pedestrians and accommodate wheelchair accessibility, but an even surface of up to two inches of hard packed snow may be permitted.”

So, snow is either completely removed, or left at two inches? Throw in a quick thaw and freeze cycle over that two-inch surface, and you have something akin to a mini-moonscape, stuccoed with the boot prints of hundreds of weary pedestrians.

Not very friendly for those on foot, let alone those on walkers or in wheelchairs.

Polsom said there wasn’t any data collected on how thoroughly the walkways were cleared (i.e., how many walkways were cleared to the pavement or just reduced to two inches). Nor was there data collected regarding long-term maintenance of surveyed walkways over the winter. And officers didn’t go back to check up on how those walkways were holding up, unless another complaint happened to be filed against a property in that area.

Councilor Shawn Fraser says that even if 75 per cent of Regina’s walkways are cleared, that’s not enough — particularly for those with mobility issues.

“75 per cent doesn’t really cut it for those who rely on sidewalks to get around — or would rely on sidewalks to get around if they could,” says Fraser. “How would it work if our graders only cleaned 75 per cent of Albert St, so every fourth block, they just lifted the blades? For people who use sidewalks, it’s the same situation.”

Fraser wonders about other ways residential sidewalks could be kept clear — namely having the city do it at regular intervals.

“We have a local improvement program where if you want your back alley paved, you get signatures from people on your block,” he said. “And you pay for it upfront or it’s tacked on your taxes over 10 years. How much would it actually cost for the city to run a bobcat with a snowbrush on it?”

As things were wrapping up at the Snowbusters media event, a reporter from one of the local broadcasters gamely asked, “So who are ya gonna call?” He was, of course, referring to the tagline from the movie Ghostbusters. Everyone giggled at the joke.

The mayor smiled “You’re going to call… 777-7000.”