By Jason Leach
Published January 09, 2013
I have a real concern that doesn't seem to be getting any local press at the moment: the lack of snow clearing on our sidewalks. It's been two weeks since our snowfall, and block after block is still not cleared.
Uncleared sidewalk at Hunter and Bay a week after the snowfall (RTH file photo)
I use Cannon Street to come home from work each day and have cringed at how many times I've seen mothers and their kids slip and fall on the way home from school.
Yesterday I saw a little six-year-old girl take a huge spill and hit her head on the ice mere inches from the speeding live lanes of Cannon Street. Her mother was holding her hand the whole time but also lost her balance and couldn't keep them both up.
The little girl got up crying again and both fell a few steps later, trying to climb a mountain of snow on the sidewalk.
I've seen a ton of seniors walking down the middle of the road all through my neighbourhood and elsewhere downtown.
This is a massive public safety nightmare potentially facing the city. Someone is going to get killed or seriously injured. Dundurn Street already has crazy narrow sidewalks between King and Main, and now half the sidewalk is filled with the snowbank from the road.
I walked to Fortinos yesterday and got to chatting with another pedestrian - a young professional woman pulling her briefcase trying to catch the GO bus to Toronto. I thought she was going down. We were both dismayed at the complete lack of safe walking options.
I wore my boots because I knew I'd encounter dangerous sidewalks, but she was dressed for work in a skirt and heels. Thankfully we made it to the corner and across safely.
I could go on and on with stories. Surely the city will be facing lawsuits as people encounter broken bones.
I saw one bus-stop on Cannon where the bobcat had cleared the waiting area for the bus by pushing all the snow directly ahead on the sidewalk leading to the bus-stop. There is a two-foot high snowbank now completely blocking the sidewalk.
So here are a couple of ideas, though I realize some are more doable than others, especially in the short-term:
1. Have the city clear the snow off all sidewalks. Why are roads considered essential public infrastructure but sidewalks are not?
2. Have the city clear the snow off all sidewalks that have a bus route, a bike lane, are major arterial streets or are commercial streets. Locke Street South, for example, has been a nightmare to walk to from Strathcona neighbourhood.
3. Complete streets. The simple act of adding 24-7 curb parking on both sides of Main, King, Cannon, Wilson, Wellington, Victoria and our other arterials would create a buffer area for the snowbanks to be cleared from the live lanes, but not pushed right onto the sidewalks.
And of course, it would also create the safe buffer zone between pedestrians and live traffic - in any weather, not just winter. We need complete streets ASAP, or at least a first phase that could quickly and easily be accomplished by adding curb parking.
I published the traffic volume data recently on RTH and as you can see, we have way more lanes than we need.
If retail areas that are already successful, like Waterdown and Stoney Creek, can have curb parking with no meters, I would propose this as a quick win, and first step towards complete streets:
Traffic will not be congested with these measures, as there are way too many lanes already, based on the number of cars per day/per lane that is considered appropriate in the planning world.
Traffic will be slightly slower, which as we've seen on James Street is a good thing - for pedestrians and businesses. There will then be a buffer zone between sidewalks and live lanes. There will be thousands of new parking spaces added to our urban core, which again supports businesses, and can hopefully lead to less demolitions for off-street parking lots.
Finally, I also think there needs to be a quick response by city hall when it comes to sidewalk clearing. Two weeks is simply not acceptable.