After a big storm on Feb. 8, the City of Toronto is reviewing its snow clearing policies. While the review may have been spurred by drivers, it provides an opportunity for the City to improve its policies on sidewalk snow clearing in the old city of Toronto, which are currently rather slapdash.
A few years ago, after pressure from the then-Toronto Pedestrian Committee, the City started ploughing the sidewalks of main streets in the old city (previously, it had been up to property owners to do it in the old city of Toronto). However, this remains an unofficial policy – it has never been explicity stated in the City’s official Level of Service for snow clearance, which only promises sidewalk snow clearance in suburban areas, so it’s not implemented systematically. It should be, however — a recent study shows that 46% of people living downtown walk to work. Plus, of course, business owners rely on people walking to their shops. But heavy snowfalls create serious hazards and obstacles for people using sidewalks, from sidewalk ice (particularly threatening for seniors) to the huge snow mounds and snow-melt lakes that form at intersections. Given how heavily these sidewalks are used, it makes sense to have a policy to clear them as part of the City’s standard service.
As for residential areas in the old city of Toronto, the City claims that the sidewalks are too narrow for mechanical snow clearing, and requires property owners to clear their own sidewalks. Even if we accept that claim (it’s debatable), the result is a real problem. It only takes one person to not clear their sidewalk to render it impassable to anyone for whom a fall could be catastrophic, like a senior with brittle bones, or who has mobility difficulties.
A few simple measures the City could take to improve sidewalk snow clearance by property owners:
- After any major snowfall, have bylaw enforcement officers actively survey the old city for un-cleared snow on sidewalks, rather than only responding to complaints. Let everyone know they will be doing so, too.
- Have a public education campaign ready for any major snowfall, such as the old “Be Nice, Clear Your Ice” ones.
- Expand, improve and publicize the program that clears snow for seniors. At the moment, it only promises to clear snow within 72 hours, where property owners are legally required to clear them within 12 hours. Maybe they could hire youth to take care of locations near them, or something.
If you are interested in this issue, you can write to the Public Works and Infrastructure Committee (before March 19) by clicking “submit comments” at the top of the agenda page for this item.