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You Shall (not) Pass – A winter-time look at making Edmonton more accessible for all

I’d like to spend a few minutes here talking with you about snow removal. No, I’m not going to mention my thoughts on how, based on this city’s recovery from the last major snowfall, I think we probably would have been shut down by another major snowfall this week. Nor am I going to mention the ruts like canyons, that had folks on my street pushing stuck cars, over a week after the major blast that kicked off winter. Go out and buy snow tires folks, seriously.

It’s not able bodied folks who can push a stuck sedan, or navigate a windrow, or drivers with three-season tires which are marketed for four, who are left in the lurch in my community now that the plows have been through the neighbourhood and the snow pack scrapped away.

Based on the personal experiences of my family, I’ve said before that the fastest way to become imprisoned isn’t to commit a crime, but to suffer an injury or illness that robs you of your mobility and independence.

As a healthy, mobile individual there’s nothing in these pictures which is an impediment to me as a pedestrian. And if I didn’t know, or have someone close to me who’s lived with and battled mobility issues, who requires the use of a wheelchair to travel more than short distances, I might well just walk on without giving this scene a second thought.

But I think of my elderly neighbours who don’t own a vehicle, who maintain their independence by walking to neighbourhood amenities and utilizing public transit. And I think of that person close to me, to whom this streetscape may as well be a solid wall. To individuals like these, Edmonton’s “Snow and Ice Control” policy can sometimes be as cold as the season.

So if we’re serious, actually serious about reducing auto dependence, and encouraging the accessibility of the city to all forms of transportation, and making this city livable for everyone, then let’s bring policy C409G up to par, and utilize smaller equipment in our neighbourhoods to finish the job left behind by graders and plows.

This doesn’t mean making the clearing of sidewalks a city responsibility, but it should mean that following a snowfall event, the city puts on itself the same obligation to clear its streets and rights-of-way, that it puts on residents and homeowners to clear sidewalks surrounding their property.

It means using smaller equipment to remove windrows and the snow pack from crosswalks and pedestrian connections, as well as following along after a neighbourhood has been bladed, removing the newly created windrows from the paths of those on foot, with strollers, and whose mobility is bolstered by using canes, walkers, etc.

I can point to several individuals in my neighbourhood who, through their business endeavors, own bobcats or similar equipment (one of which, whose generosity in clearing these connections on his block was rewarded with a fine). Folks whom I’d bet would jump at the chance to be contracted and utilized by the city to provide this service in their neighbourhoods.

Things that are taken from us by injury, illness, or simply the march of time, are magnifying. Something which becomes a roadblock to a friend, a relative, or someone we just passed on the street, can be invisible or simply a mere annoyance to you and I.

The way we recover from a snow fall in this city could certainly be better, but for civic politicians and city administrators, when contemplating and planning the city’s response, remember that it isn’t just cars that get people from A to B, and utilizing public transit takes more than just a clear bus route.

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Via CBC News Edmonton

 

 

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Ben Henderson wears a funny hat … (and winter city launches in Edmonton)

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When it comes to seasons, I have to give a fist bump to Fall. Not just because the colors enhance the look of the city or because the flying,buzzing, blood-suckers are on their way out and it’s safe to sit in the backyard without the OFF. I like it because I’m not a summer or a winter person. I’m not a fan of hot weather, my house doesn’t have AC and my office is upstairs where it seems every molecule of hot air eventually rises to. Winter? It’s obviously easier to warm up than to cool down, but shovelling and 5pm sunsets? Bah!

Fall, for that oh so brief amount of time where it’s not too hot, not too cold, and the sun waits until after 7 to disappear, that’s just right. I suppose the same arguments could be applied to Spring, but Fall doesn’t flood my driveway every year.

So, Fall. Great season, lots to like but oh so short. Summer? We’re the festival city, there’s always something going on. Why people choose to take their vacations and leave town during our sunniest months, I don’t get.  Spring, meh. But Winter…What do we with you?

You chill us, you impede us, you make us annoyed with the place we call home. You can make us forget about positives of this place, and four -30 days per year can feel like four months in our memories. Something we seem to instantly recall in any conservation we find ourselves in regarding the weather here. Yes Winter, you give us community and backyard rinks, skating, skiing, skidooing and snowboarding, but…it’s cold! It snows, and shovelling is a pain. The City’s snow clearing is never fast enough, sidewalks can resemble those skating rinks, no one with mobility issues should have to treacherously navigate a windrow to access public transportation.

Winter, at the end of the day, you’re a force of nature, unstoppable & unmovable. So do we do with you?

As a city, our basic needs come first. Yes we clear our roads, with a substantial budget to do so. But what about all the aspects of urban life? What about public transportation, what accessibility for pedestrians and determined cyclists. What about helping and protecting the most vulnerable during the most difficult months of our northern climate?

Beyond that, what about ourselves, our collective morale and spirit during the days when light is short and cold (and colds, the result of hunkering down inside) are easy to come by? Yes, the city (and this Edmontonian certainly appreciates the effort his City has made to provide outdoor activities) has had mixed results with Winter fests under it’s direction. But is that the only source of winter activity, winter fun and interaction? Heck no. Not with countless community leagues, community groups, business associations, etc in operation across our city.

This is the ‘why’ for a winter strategy. This is why, while you’re free to take any position you wish, including giving a “Bah! Humbug!” to whole thing and the WinterCity strategy’s aspirational, maybe even fluffy language, I’d ask you, my fellow Edmontonians not to begrudge the ‘try’.

Debate, discussion, and a committed focus on the winter season need not be a narrow focus on festivals and events, or the costs involved. Our core services and a helping hand to residents in need perhaps stand to benefit the most. Edmonton has a number of agencies, boards and committees, their seats filled with interested and engaged Edmontonians. Their work is often quiet, behind the scenes and without the recognition it most likely deserves, but these folks, these outlets help to build our city. Whether it’s providing advice of the status and growth of the Edmonton Transit System, in advocacy for persons with disabilities, or in honoring people and places by using historical names within the city.

For individuals out there who want to tackle winter head-on, then I say the WinterCity Strategy is a great start, and an advisory council and other related avenues, a great place for them. Go out there and build capacity in those grass roots organizations to hold winter festivals and events. Explore innovative ways to build urban amenities that are attractive in all seasons. Go out and experiment, find ways to improve the accessibility of our infrastructure during the winter months, and liaise with social agencies and service providers to help protect those who need protection from the harshness of our climate.

The budget request to help life this off the ground is not unreasonable, the avenues to explore are plenty, and the optimism and aspirations of “For The Love of Winter”, as a city… let’s run with it and see what happens. When it comes to winter, we won’t be able to see we didn’t plan for it to the best extent possible, and didn’t get outside to make the most of it.

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Edmonton WinterCity Strategy