I walk in Terrace. I walk for my physical and mental health, to reduce my carbon footprint when I’m doing my errands, to enjoy our city. But I’m one of the privileged walkers in our town who can walk by choice. As a retiree, I can choose my times to avoid rush hour and, if the sidewalks or the weather are really bad, I can drive where I need to go. There are many walkers in Terrace who don’t have that luxury and have to use our city sidewalks — children and teens walking to school, parents pushing strollers, citizens who can’t afford vehicles and walk to work or shop, seniors who no longer have licences and live close to downtown so they can still care for themselves and participate in the community, people in wheelchairs. In winters past, and just this weekend, all of us have been forced to detour into busy streets when the sidewalks aren’t walkable or the only way to get to them is through the lakes that regularly form at the street corners.
We live in a challenging winter maintenance environment: a northern city where we can and do get snow, rain and arctic outflow coming at us in rapid succession. Director of Public Works Rob Schibli says many people complain because the sidewalks are slippery. I agree. Often they aren’t safely walkable in winter because they are slippery and footing is uneven. That’s because they aren’t cleared in a timely way, such as when they are merely slushy as they have been this weekend.
Prevention is key. Heavy duty ice cutting machines aren’t needed when we get rain on snow, but crews steadily clearing the sidewalks before it gets cold enough to freeze into ruts and ridges are. If those crews had been working this weekend, the sidewalks would be clear for walkers this Monday morning instead of the sloppy mess they’ve been all weekend and still are.
I was beyond surprised to hear that the city decided to decrease its winter maintenance budget. The city sidewalks are not currently adequately maintained to ensure the safety of the citizens who walk them in winter.
Councillor Brian Downie called it when he argued for making the winter maintenance budget a higher priority. Quoted in the Standard, he asked “Is there a way of actually verifying whether we have enough (sidewalk maintenance) or whether we should be looking at an increase?”
Yes, there is. It’s citizen input. We have the technology. We can call public works, email city council, take pictures when we see sidewalks and streets that need attention, share our stories, pictures and concerns in the media. And we need to.
Neither Mr. Schibli nor City Council should be content with the status quo because it isn’t close to adequate. Winter sidewalk maintenance needs to be beefed up until our sidewalks are safe to walk on, every day.