Making use of some Winnipeg sidewalks right now requires some fancy footwork to stay out of the unseasonably slushy morass.
The recent mild spell has made the prospect of a fresh-air stroll appealing to many pandemic-forced shut-ins, but it's important to watch your step.
Michael Cantor, the city’s manager of streets maintenance, said that even though the sidewalks were cleared of a recent snowfall by Sunday evening, navigation may still prove challenging, partly due to wind and mild weather that quickly messed up freshly cleaned paths.
"It’s usually (due to) blown-in (snow). And… when temperatures go up, the packed snow that was there got a little slushy," said Cantor. "In conditions like that, it’s difficult for wheelchair users, so when we get calls and we inspect (these places) and we see some trouble areas, we re-plow them."
Residents made their concerns known across social-media platforms.
“We plow to a compacted snow condition, not bare pavement all the time.… (If) you have two centimetres of compacted snow, you can walk on it when it’s -10 C. But when it becomes 1 C, it could become slushy and then it’s harder to pass." ‐ Michael Cantor, City of Winnipeg's manager of streets maintenance
Abnormally warm conditions, which saw Winnipeg’s temperature rise just above the freezing mark Monday, means hard-frozen snow that would typically offer an even walking surface has softened into slick, treacherous little mounds of slush.
"We plow to a compacted snow condition, not bare pavement all the time.… (If) you have two centimetres of compacted snow, you can walk on it when it’s -10 C. But when it becomes 1 C, it could become slushy and then it’s harder to pass," said Cantor.
He urged Winnipeggers who see trouble spots to call 311 to report them.
While some Winnipeggers also criticized the city for slush piles along the edges of some roads, Cantor said the city’s snow-clearing policy doesn’t require it to deal with residential streets yet.
The policy calls for residential street clearing when an inspection deems the routes impassable, which may (but is not guaranteed to) occur after at least 10 cm of snow falls.
Since climate change is expected to trigger an increasing number of unseasonably warm winter days, some Winnipeggers are urging the city to explore new winter street-grooming options.
"As the climate changes and these freeze-thaw periods are something we see a lot more of… I think it is something the city needs to think about," said Mark Cohoe, executive director of Bike Winnipeg.
"Instead of having that solid, sort of packed snow base (these conditions create) this slushy mound. It takes a lot more energy to move around in."
Cohoe said he’d like the city to consider making travel easier for pedestrians and cyclists on sidewalks and pathways, possibly through clearing efforts aimed directly at slush removal.
Lindsey Wilson, the chairperson of the Island Lakes Residents' Group, said he believes the city has done a good job plowing sidewalks, but he hopes more will be done to combat the ice that can make sidewalks slick after freezing rainfall, especially just before and after winter.
"It becomes hard to walk and there’s a ton of people walking these days," he said.
The city does appear set to study ways to make sidewalks and active transportation routes less dangerous during winter.
“I’m looking to ask the public service for a higher level of service. I think that we’re doing the best we can with available resources. But, certainly, we could do better if we were to allocate more resources.” ‐ Coun. Matt Allard (St. Boniface), chairperson of city council’s public works committee
Coun. Matt Allard (St. Boniface) raised a successful motion at Monday’s Riel community committee meeting that would direct city staff to study how best to make such paths less slippery.
The motion asks the public service to study the health costs of slips and falls on those routes and report on ways to make them safer, which could be tested via pilot projects.
"I’m looking to ask the public service for a higher level of service. I think that we’re doing the best we can with available resources. But, certainly, we could do better if we were to allocate more resources," said Allard, the chairperson of council’s public works committee.
The study requires the approval of council’s public works committee.
Allard said he wants the report to consider increasing sand and salt treatments to add traction, acquiring new snow- and ice-control equipment and possible changes to snow-clearing schedules.
Allard said he hopes the work is completed in time for the 2022 budget process.
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.