Moving as quickly as possible with his blue walker, Joseph Owen stayed close to the curb on Notre Dame Avenue while noon hour traffic sped by on wet pavement outside the Health Sciences Centre.
After struggling with his walker in the rutted, wet snow on the sidewalk, the 61-year-old dialysis patient chose to walk in the street to get to his bus stop.
"I hope that all the drivers will notice me when I’m using the street and I hope they understand why I’m doing that," the senior from Pauingassi First Nation said after making it safely to his stop following an appointment at the hospital.
"I can’t make it that far because in these conditions it’s very hard to push my walker," Owen said. "I had to use the street where it’s a little better."
As of Monday afternoon, the City of Winnipeg said all Priority 1 streets and just under half of Priority 2 streets had been cleared of snow after about 26 centimetres fell between Thursday and Saturday.
However, cyclists and pedestrians had to contend with variable conditions on the more than 3,000 kilometres of sidewalks and 400 kilometres of active transportation paths as less than 40 per cent were plowed.
Mark Cohoe, executive director of Bike Winnipeg, decided to commute by bus this week knowing his route would be inaccessible either because plows had not yet cleared the path, or had dumped snow from the street into the dedicated bike lane.
"If you’re someone that doesn’t have a car, if you are someone that’s relying on walking, biking or taking transit, what we’ve seen in the last few days is where the city prioritizes you, and it’s last," Cohoe said.
"We do a good job at plowing streets for cars, but if we’re looking to get more people walking, more people biking, more people taking transit, we’re nowhere near anywhere where we need to be."
Cohoe said the City of Winnipeg’s policy to clean sidewalks and active transportation paths at the same time as prioritized streets, or very shortly after, within 36 hours of a storm concluding isn't always carried out in practice.
Meanwhile, crews are expected to begin clearing sidewalks in residential neighbourhoods on Tuesday, which can take up to five days to complete with the 30 available plows.
Cohoe said at that rate getting people to give up their cars in the winter for public transit, biking and other transportation modes will be a tough sell, adding the City of Winnipeg’s climate action plan calls for a 50 per cent reduction in single-occupancy vehicle use by 2030.
"To get to that it’s a substantial switch in how we travel, but where’s the motivation, where’s the encouragement?" Cohoe said.
For Allen Mankewich, a downtown resident and wheelchair user, every winter brings the same challenge as sidewalks become near impossible to traverse, especially when mild conditions mean wet, mushy snow is left covering the pavement.
"Nothing seems to change in terms of city hall policy or process or funding into sidewalk clearing. So it’s just really frustrating," Mankewich said.
Mankewich said he is thinking about submitting a complaint to the Manitoba Human Rights Commission over the city’s current snow clearing policy and the funding allocated to ensure sidewalks are accessible through the winter.
"It’s one of the ways that things can change. Just encouraging them to make changes and asking them to make changes doesn’t always work," Mankewich said.
"People who don’t drive, they have rights too. They have the right to mobility, they have the right to get around, and if we have to spend more to make the sidewalks clear, we should look at doing that."
Infrastructure renewal and public works chair Coun. Matt Allard said he hasn’t received many complaints regarding the latest snow clearing effort, but acknowledged there is room for improvement.
"Public works keeps saying that we do a very good job relative to other cities," Allard said. "But regardless of how good a job we’re doing, we want to get people out and about walking and biking in the winter, so we need to keep looking at options to make it easier and better for people."
Allard said the public works committee has asked city administration to provide recommendations on improving winter sidewalk conditions and a report is expected in the coming months, but not before the end of this snow season.
In the meantime, Owen hopes he won't be forced into traffic when he goes to his next dialysis appointment Wednesday.
"It’s really poor," Owen said. "It’s not being cleared the way that they should be doing it."
Danielle Da Silva
Danielle Da Silva is a general assignment reporter.