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Canadian Urbanism Uncovered

Travelling on snowy sidewalks with my baby

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This is my first winter as a dad. As you can imagine, life for me and my young family is filled with new experiences — most of them of the amazing, inspiring, life-changing variety. But this week I discovered something distressing: uncleared sidewalks are a nearly impassable barrier to walking with my baby.

On Sunday, when the snow was falling/blowing, we stayed inside. I waited until Monday afternoon to take the little guy out, figuring that the sidewalks would surely be clear — especially in the Beach, where we live, since there’s so much pedestrian traffic. But it wasn’t so; long swaths were still snowbound, and even our heavy-duty stroller with nice, big wheels got stuck. I had to turn around and pull the stroller along the uncleared sidewalk by Kew Gardens. I was a mule. My son, of course, slept through the whole thing.

Yesterday, I put him in the carrier and we went out to do some shopping. The snow had still not been cleared. It’s precarious and nerve-racking to pick your way across slippery ground while attached to a tiny person. This must be how my wife felt last winter, when she was pregnant. How do people who have trouble walking or use mobility aids deal with this, year after year?

My son and I both get restless at home. I guess wanderlust is hereditary. In the summer, it was easy to strap him into his stroller or carrier and go for a walk. (Taking babies on the TTC, though, is a challenge in any season — as Carlyn Zwarenstein attests in the spring/summer 2006 issue of Spacing.) If we’re having a bad day, we always feel better once we get outside and start meandering around. Now, though, I feel like the city is trying to trap us in our apartment. Is this what winter has in store for me? I have half a mind to say “screw it,” and just walk down the middle of the road.



  1. I didn’t live in a city when my little one was that age but probably the absolute *best* investment we ever made was in a baby sling. It made it possible for me to go hiking all over the Ozark mountains with my son, cook with him right next to me and basically go anywhere my feet could take me while freeing up both of my hands.

    Okay – enough with the unsolicited parenting advice. I don’t know about your experience but man once I had a baby, *everyone* got an opinion and felt motivated to share it…

  2. If you’ve got enough tractions with your boots, lock the front wheel(s) on your stroller and go. If you haven’t bought the stroller yet (too late for TH) then look for large, narrow wheels (larger to help roll over the ice and narrow the way winter tires are typically narrower than 3-season tires). Or go with a toboggan.

    @TT: no kidding.

  3. Those with mobility issues might feel even more trapped by the deep snow on the sidewalks. I think that it should be as much of a priority to have cleared sidewalks as cleared roads, especially in areas with high foot traffic, like Queen street.

  4. Situations like this call for what some, including contributors to this blog, call “SUV strollers!”

    It is interesting how different cities deal with obstacles like these. New York snow clearing is impeccable – in Manhattan at least, the snow is immediately cleared, melted, filtered and put in the river. But you still need to be able to walk all over traffic, and negotiate random objects and all kinds of miscellaneous obstacles to get around on foot.

    Whereas in San Francisco, can you imagine you are bound to some kind of mobility device and use Google Maps to find your friend’s address, only to discover she lives up one of those nightmare hills?

    It seems like only flat desert cities like Las Vegas can be fully accessible 365 days a year.

  5. Christopher Hume’s column deals with this issue:

    Huge snowfalls are a good indication to see where the city’s priorities are, pedestrians are still dead last because sidewalks are the last ones to be cleared (highways first of course). I am curious to see how things will evolve (or not) in the next 10-15 years. I wish people would be more considerate in clearing the sidewalks in front of their properties, my neighborhood is full of young couples with babies and fortunately it seem like the vast majority clear the snow, not only do they do it quickly they clean the sidewalk as wide as possible, I have a huge pet-peeve when people dig a narrow trench and think they did their part…

  6. I didn’t believe the things the salesman was telling me about the Bagaboo stroller and it’s all season tires but to my amazement it was true. Handles very well in 2 inches of snow. It’s got good grip and sometimes feels like the snow is not even there.

    The baby biorn (spelling?) is also good for carring a baby around without using your hands. it feels like you’re wearing a back pack on backwards. But it helps with balance in those tough situations.

  7. My wife is a nanny, so I know the usefulness of what have been called “SUV strollers” (those with bigger, treaded wheels) on Spacing… they’re necessary for going just about anywhere after a big snowfall, as Todd is finding out.

    Even the one pictured in the above photo would have trouble on the snowy sidewalks, and it has bigger wheels than average.

  8. Great link to the bylaw Mark. Seems to me completely unenforced. If you own property, you can clear or pay to clear your frontage. If you can’t, move into a condo!

    Even on Queen West of University, the expensive stores have not cleared their frontage! WTF? I would not shop anywhere like that. Needless to say, Urbane Cycle has cleared theirs, which is the only place I ever do shop in that area.

    The city should privatize the snow clearing. That owners would have to pay removal costs to the city is a great bounty, if it were enforced ever.

  9. You drink 2% milk and is that pancake mix I see in the shopping bag? Such a good idea on a snowy day.

  10. the Shoppers and Price Chopper on Dundas north of Bloor have never cleared their sidewalks to my knowledge….but rest assured that the parking lot they share is always clear.

  11. Would it be rude to post a copy of the bylaw in the mailboxes of all my neighbours who don’t shovel?

  12. Does “occupants” refer to tenants, or is it solely the property’s owner who is responsible, even if he/she does not live on the premises?

    There are several large houses on my street that are split into smaller rental units. No one ever shovels those walks because presumalby no one takes “ownership” of the sidewalk. Not even to be nice and prevent people from falling and injuring themselves when it all turns to ice.

  13. Does Christopher Hume understand that busses and streetcars use roads to get around?

  14. I think Christopher Hume was largely referencing highways and is not unsympathetic to the challenges of public transit.

    Speaking of which I remain baffled by the tragedy of the commons as it relates to intersections only blocks away from City Hall. Corners at University and Dundas, University and Armoury and University and Queen have been nearly impassable because while businesses and landlords clear the sidewalk they don’t seem to recognize that crossing from one side of the street to the other requires crossing the curb. Watching hundreds of people daily squeeze through 1 foot wide narrow worn paths in downtown Toronto truly stumps me. Tomorrow I bring my shovel to work!

  15. Streetcars weigh 20 – 40 tonnes if I’m not mistaken. Once they get moving, it doesn’t seem like snow or ice would really stop them.

  16. You should drink 1% milk. 2% is a colonial vestige of the unhealthy British days.

    The solution should be getting people to clear their walks, not more oversized strollers on the sidewalks. The one pictured above is a reasonable size. The bigger ones — the “SUV Strollers” — then make it harder for everybody else to get around. Happy mediums are best. And clear sidewalks.

    Yesterday I swore aloud at the old age home that replaced Wellesley HOspital on Wells/Sherborne — they cleared their private sidewalks to clean pavement, but didn’t touch the adjacent municipal sidewalks.

  17. Sidewalk cleaning is like bike lane parking: it won’t work if even a few ignore the bylaws; those few will ignore the bylaws unless the city enforces them; the city won’t enforce them because they see the political damage to outweigh the political capital; the political damage would outweigh the political capital because our culture no longer believes in ‘society’. Sigh.

  18. There’s a woman in my building who is experiencing her first winter as an amputee. She has one prosthetic leg and has to use one of those wheeled walkers for support. At first we were looking at various types of ice cleats so that at least her feet wouldn’t slip, but they’re not particularly useful when it’s snow drifts or slippery slushy sidewalks/roads that are the problem.

    There’s a man in my building with cerebral palsy who lives on his own and uses his feet to push himself up the street in his manual wheelchair to get to the grocery store. I have no idea how he manages in this kind of weather.

    Another problem is that when the sidewalks ARE cleared a 2′ snowbank is often created between the sidewalk and the road. This is particularly difficult for people who are managing their mobility issues by using alternative forms of transportation (vans, cabs, WheelTrans, etc.) and need to be able to transfer easily from the sidewalk into a waiting vehicle.

    One of the things I’ve always appreciated about my neighbourhood is how walkable it is and how accessible it is for people with mobility issues–or at least that was my impression. This winter I’m finally realizing exactly how important weather is in determining walkability and accessibility for a lot of people.

  19. Someone should invent a new stroller with skis on the front and wheels on the back for just this reason. Make it so that all the wheels can just snap off and skis can snap on in place.

  20. Things are little more manageable today, but the main obstacle are the deep puddles of brine. The sewer grates need to be cleared so that these areas can be drained.

  21. As of yesterday afternoon, crossing in any direction at Yonge and Bloor was out of the question for anyone in a wheelchair or stroller. Ditto for Bloor and Church. Is it the responsibility of the owner of fronting property or of the city to clear the area of the sidewalk from which one would enter an intersection?

  22. Before amalgamation, it used to be possible to send the City lists of addresses of non-shovellers, and a works crew would come and shovel. The property owners would be billed on their property taxes, and the pricing wasn’t charitable at all. Which is fine with me. We lived in the Annex at the time, and our targets included a wealthy couple in a corner house on Bernard who went away for the winter and any number of frat houses.

  23. Not clearing the sidewalk in front of your house or business is not only inconvenient for pedestrians, it can be dangerous.

    Last winter I slipped on a patch of ice on an unshovelled sidewalk, badly spraining my ankle. It was on the side sidewalk of a particular merchant on Wellesly near Church. It took months to heal and it still isn’t 100%

    This winter I’m almost afraid to walk on icy sidewalks. I’m extra carful and make sure I’m wearing shoes with good grips so I don’t fall again.

    If this is how it makes me, an otherwise healthy able-bodied youngish man feels, I can only imagine how fearful an elderly or disabled person feels walking on Toronto’s unshovelled sidewalks.

    And the solution is so simple. Just shovel the sidewalk in front of your house or business. Even if you are not legally obligated to do so because you don’t own the property, isn’t it worth a little extra effort to make Toronto a safer city for everyone?

    End of sermon.

  24. The Works Dept. should shovel, and have the bill put right onto their next property tax billing. So many dollars per square foot of sidewalk and driveway. Leave a flyer on the property each time, but give them the first one free as a warning.

  25. I’ve totally been judging my residential and commercial neighbours based on their propensity to shovel sidewalks. I’m in that headspace I imagine all new parents occupy — the “if I have time to do it, surely anyone has time” mindset.

    Oh, and thanks to all who offered me suggestions. The “carrier” I refer to in the post is the Baby Trekker (though we have a Baby Bjorn AND a sling, too). I find them harder to use than strollers in the snow, though, because I am terrified I’ll slip and fall. Maybe I just need better equilibrium.

  26. Unfortunately, I pretty much get apoplectic after a big snow fall.

    When I first moved here (the last ice age) from stints in Winnipeg & Minneapolis I couldn’t believe how little effort was expended by both the city & citizens to remove the snow. I quickly learned that by waiting a few days, Mother Nature usually took care of things. None-the-less, at that time there was a campaign in the media every winter called “be nice, clear your ice”. Nowdays, most people probably don’t even know they’re responsible. A marketing blitz might help.

    I’ve also heard the City say in years past that they can’t use the little snow plows on the sidewalks downtown because the sidewalks are too narrow. If Montreal can find the right size of equipment, why can’t we?

    Parking lots! Don’t you love how they plow them & dump the snow right on the sidewalk?

    And I’d like to know how a city that wallows in so much slush every year ended up with an engineering design at all of our street corners that without fail creates bodies of water to rival Lake Ontario. I understand that the original dipped curb design was to encourage universal access!

    OK, that’s it for now. Thank you very much for your time. I’m going to get an egg nog. Merry Christmas.

  27. Streetcars can certainly get stuck due to snowfall, rain that turns to ice or worse snow plows that leave snow on the track. Ask anyone who used the St Clair Streetcar at Avenue Road a couple weeks ago.

  28. I do find it sad to see where pedestrians are on the city’s priority list (at the very bottom). I just moved into a house from an apartment, and had a blast shovelling all the snow (sidewalk got first priority btw, and I cleared it to its whole width). However, while I personally don’t mind shovelling the snow (in fact, I find it fun and destressful), I don’t think it’s wise to make property owners responsible for maintaining sidewalks next to their property.

    Firstly, it’s unfair. It’s not their sidewalks after all. It’s the city’s sidewalks. They are there for the benefit of all Torontonians – not just people who own property. The fact that they are by someone’s property is quite coincidental. Should homeowners now be responsible for fixing potholes and broken bus stop shelters that happen to be near their property? If not, how are sidewalks different?

    Secondly, as we see time and time again, this law (especially when it goes unenforced) just doesn’t work. A few people who ignore it ruin things for everybody.

    In my opinion, sidewalk shovelling should be a purely municipal matter, funded by the taxes. And not just the taxes paid by the homeowners. It’s only fair to charge people for the amenities they use, and last time I checked, renters walked as much as buyers.

  29. I’m not sure how I arrived at this post, since I was doing a search for “Accessibile” buildings in Toronto?

    Fitting more into the “Senior’s” category, than that of a person trying to navigate TO’s wintery streets with a child in a stroller, I can’t help but relate though, because I use a “walker”, which also has four stroller sized wheels and is equally difficult to push through the snow & ice on our sidewalks.

    Of course with Mayor Miller & his cronies crying poor, we can not expect anything as basic as having our sidewalks cleared of snow with 24 hours. However, if you own a house, even if you apply to the City of Toronto by annually submitting a form completed by your doctor, stating you are unfit to shovel snow for medical reasons, and applying to the City for this service, does not preclude the City attempting to “fine” you for not clearing your snow in the allocated time period. Go figure!

    Welcome to TO! where Mayor Miller & his minions will tax you to death, without providing any services.

  30. Are they “minions” or are they “cronies” — that’s the big question it seems. Can’t be both.

  31. Hey…does anybody know where we can get the ice and snow gripper for shoes?

  32. I have a friend who swears by her Yaktrax. They are really good in hard pack snow. Some people say they are slippery on asphalt/clear concrete but I guess you would then slip them off then. has a list of stores selling them. I haven’t tried them. I did try tire chains on my bicycle once, and that definitely did *not* work. I wish I had a pair of boots with retractable cleats.

  33. The Beach? Never heard of such a place… Now the Beaches – that’s in Toronto!

    This is my second winter as a Dad (in Leslieville) and yes, it really sucks when you have 300 feet of clear sailing and then in front of one house/store you get a ton of snow because some idiot couldn’t clear the sidewalk. If the home owner wasn’t able to clear it then the neighbours should do it.


  34. City bylaw enforcement is by complaint. Just like the noise, dog and fence bylaws. The City can’t enforce what it doesn’t know about.

    If you (yes, YOU! personally) see a property that hasn’t cleared the sidewalk that they are responsible for as per the bylaw, call it in! Better still, take a timestampe digital photo and offer to send it along as proof. It’ll get acted on pretty fast.