Allen Mankewich, who uses a wheelchair to get around Winnipeg, rails against the municipal government on social media for the job it does of clearing sidewalks after a snowfall.

Allen Mankewich, who uses a wheelchair to get around Winnipeg, rails against the municipal government on social media for the job it does of clearing sidewalks after a snowfall.

It turns out, Mankewich is in the minority when it comes to his stance.

A Winnipeg Free Press-Probe Research poll has found 52 per cent of Winnipeggers are happy with how the city clears and prioritizes streets and sidewalks in the wake of a storm.

Thirty-two per cent of Winnipeggers said the city should spend more time clearing sidewalks and less effort clearing roads; 17 per cent thought the opposite.

"It’s unfortunate there is still a good chunk of people who feel the city is doing a good job," said Mankewich.

"We are a winter city, which means from November to early April, there will be snow. The city should invest in more equipment. The city would learn this by talking to people who use sidewalks.

"Maybe the poll only talked to people who drive around a lot."

The dump of snow in early November was substantial enough it took days for crews to clear major routes, residential streets, sidewalks and bicycle paths.

People with disabilities and seniors criticized the slow effort, while cyclists grumbled how the streets for motorists were plowed long before city crews tackled their paths.

Probe principal Mary Agnes Welch said while the slim majority favour the status quo when it comes to snow clearing, she said those who use sidewalks more should take heart on how many people feel more emphasis should be made clearing those spaces.

"It’s not to say that advocacy has not made a dent," she said. "If we asked that a decade ago, maybe they would have said: nuts to sidewalks, let’s just do roads.

"Maybe if we ask this question again in two or three years, the 32 per cent would go up a little bit more."

It also depends where you live. The poll found people who reside in the downtown and core area are twice as likely (at 48 per cent) to want more emphasis on sidewalk clearing, compared to those in the northeast area of the city (23 per cent).

Age matters, too. Younger respondents, aged 18 to 34, are 39 per cent in favour of wanting to see sidewalks cleared faster. Interestingly, it is Winnipeggers aged 55 and higher, at 61 per cent, and homeowners, at 55 per cent, who would rather see the current snow clearing priorities continue.

Hearing the poll results, David Kron, executive director of the Cerebral Palsy Association of Manitoba, said: "It doesn’t surprise me that over half feel this way. It’s sad, but it doesn’t surprise me."

Kron said the poll numbers are the result of past and current generations of Winnipeggers building a "driving town," with people driving in from suburbs to downtown and only one stretch of rapid transit.

"If they’re not going to change the (snow clearing) priority, we need better communication from the city," he said. "At least let us know when the sidewalk is going to be cleared. Then you can at least plan for when the sidewalks are clear."

But Kron is hopeful things can change.

"Look at active transportation. When I was growing up, cyclists got nowhere and now the city is bending over backwards for them."

Bill de Jong, 83, president of the Good Neighbours Active Living Centre, said he’s not happy with how the city plows sidewalks and, as a senior, he would like to see it do a better job.

De Jong said on his East Kildonan residential street alone, the sidewalk plow blades are wider than the sidewalks.

"They dig up the dirt beside the sidewalk," he said. "There’s now frozen mud on the sidewalk.

"I damn well could get a heart attack clearing it. They don’t have the foggiest notion how to clear snow and the sidewalks."

While the poll doesn’t specifically ask about bike paths, Bike Winnipeg executive director Mark Cohoe said he would like to see more emphasis on the city plowing them, as well.

"I think we recognize that people are trying to walk or bike more," said Cohoe.

"Our climate is changing and we’re dealing with issues we didn’t have 10 or 20 years ago. People here want to bike or cycle more but to do that you have to have a safe environment — we don’t have that."

Coun. Jeff Browaty, a member of the city’s public works committee, which oversees snow clearing, said the poll results "doesn’t shock me."

"The majority of Winnipeggers start in a vehicle," said Browaty. "I don’t believe we should let city resources drop for sidewalks, but it does raise some criticisms about the resources we put in for winter cycling. There are very few of them in winter."

The survey sampled 600 adults between Nov. 23 and Dec. 5, and is considered accurate within plus or minus four per cent, with 95 per cent certainty.

kevin.rollason@freepress.mb.ca

Kevin Rollason

Kevin Rollason
Reporter

Kevin Rollason is one of the more versatile reporters at the Winnipeg Free Press. Whether it is covering city hall, the law courts, or general reporting, Rollason can be counted on to not only answer the 5 Ws — Who, What, When, Where and Why — but to do it in an interesting and accessible way for readers.