At least once per winter, Winnipegger Allen Mankewich’s wheelchair loses traction and spills over onto an icy sidewalk.
Less than two weeks after winter conditions set in for the season, it’s happened again.
"There’s ice buildup on a lot of the sidewalks, it gets really rutted. I actually flipped my chair (Sunday) trying to get through a spot on the sidewalk at Portage Avenue, which is a major route. If they can’t even clear those major routes properly, the side street (sidewalks) are going to be terrible," said Mankewich.
While speeding up to avoid getting stuck, the front wheels of his chair caught on ice ruts, forcing him to be flung out, he said.
"It’s a safety risk for people who use any sort of mobility device. It’s even challenging for people who can walk. You see people walking very carefully over sections of the sidewalk that appear really slippery," said Mankewich.
He’s among several residents now urging the city to find ways to better clear the walking paths of ice and snow.
"We are a winter city so we need to properly allocate our resources to making sure that people can actually get out during the winter," said Mankewich.
The city considers its latest snow-clearing operation complete but is still monitoring conditions, said Michael Cantor, Winnipeg’s manager of streets maintenance.
“It’s a safety risk for people who use any sort of mobility device. It’s even challenging for people who can walk. You see people walking very carefully over sections of the sidewalk that appear really slippery." — Allen Mankewich
Fluctuating temperatures have unfortunately led to some ice accumulation, noted Cantor.
"When you have temperatures around zero... you have some thawing and frosting again and icy sidewalks. Mother Nature (gave) us some challenges," he said.
While city policy does not include a set timeline to sand sidewalks to add traction, Cantor said crews begin inspecting how slippery sidewalks are right after plowing ends. The length of the sanding process depends on how much equipment is available to get the work done.
"We make sure that we use every piece of equipment, we man the equipment we have and we hire every piece of equipment that the industry can provide us. We really do it on an as-soon-as-possible basis… We monitor streets and sidewalks in the same manner," said Cantor.
He said work on streets begins promptly, in part to clear paths for emergency vehicles. Street snow-clearing vehicles also tend to move faster than those used on sidewalks, making the former process quicker, Cantor added.
City staff are now studying ways to make sidewalks and active transportation routes less slippery and more passable during winter weather, with a report expected to offer suggestions by next spring or summer.
Cantor said there are no obvious solutions at this point. While adding more staff and equipment could be considered, it would come with a cost, he cautioned.
"There’s no cheap answer," he said.
“We make sure that we use every piece of equipment, we man the equipment we have and we hire every piece of equipment that the industry can provide us. We really do it on an as-soon-as-possible basis… We monitor streets and sidewalks in the same manner." — Michael Cantor, Winnipeg’s manager of streets maintenance
Cantor urged Winnipeggers to report specific sidewalk concerns to 311.
Omar Kinnarath said sidewalks in the West End now resemble skating rinks with icy peaks, conditions that have triggered many complaints among his fellow bus riders in recent days.
Kinnarath, who has already fallen twice since the snow set in for the season, said the city should explore several options to improve winter sidewalk maintenance, including the purchase of more equipment, hiring more staff and possibly even reimbursing citizens for clearing snow.
He believes the city has consistently cleared snow off roads to a higher standard than sidewalks, which won’t help convince citizens to walk and bike, something the city hopes they will do to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions.
"We’re pushing active transportation and we’re pushing cycling… (so) the mechanism and the infrastructure needs to be put in place for this to happen. If it doesn’t happen, then we’re back to driving cars," said Kinnarath.
Marilyn Bird argues an "icy, slippery, hazardous mess" of pedestrian paths in the North End would have been greatly improved by quicker snow removal.
"The first snowfall of the year is also the most important. They’ve got to get on that way quicker," said Bird.
For sidewalks along major routes, bus routes and collector streets, city policy aims to maintain a compacted snow surface, with clearing to follow five centimetres of snow accumulation or drifting. Plowing should be completed within 36 hours after the end of an average storm.
The city also aims to clear residential sidewalks near elementary schools and active living centres within 36 hours of a storm. The target timeline to clear all other residential sidewalks is within five working days after the operation starts, which occurs after eight centimetres of snow accumulates.
Born and raised in Winnipeg, Joyanne loves to tell the stories of this city, especially when politics is involved. Joyanne became the city hall reporter for the Winnipeg Free Press in early 2020.