Snowy sidewalks threaten public safety, mobility


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I often walk to work at the Sun office on Rosser Avenue from my home. I find it gives me at least some of the exercise that I wouldn’t ordinarily get while sitting behind a desk staring at a computer screen for hours on end.

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I often walk to work at the Sun office on Rosser Avenue from my home. I find it gives me at least some of the exercise that I wouldn’t ordinarily get while sitting behind a desk staring at a computer screen for hours on end.

But in the winter months, this can sometimes become a dangerous activity, even for a relatively healthy and sure-footed individual like myself.

Invariably it happens every single winter — no matter how careful I am, at some point my feet fly up and I fall flat on my posterior, on my knees or on my back. It happened to me last month, in fact, as I was heading down a city sidewalk to my car.

Thus far, I haven’t sustained any lasting damage, but that doesn’t make the falls any easier to take. And one of the biggest reasons this happens is the poor state of walking paths during the annual freeze and thaw period.

Brandon sidewalks are rather terrible in winter. If you’ve spent any time downtown, you know what it means to have to clamber over packed snow to put coins in the meter or even cross the street in some spots. If you’re walking some of the residential roads, the issue is slippery, icy sidewalks and hard-packed snow.

Now, imagine trying to navigate that icy obstacle course with a cane, a walker or a wheelchair. Even electric scooters have issues.

Last winter, a Sun staffer was walking along Rosser Avenue in downtown Brandon when she came across a person whose electric scooter got stuck in a few centimetres of snow. With the wheels spinning endlessly, she asked the person if they needed assistance and pushed the scooter out of the tiny rut.

And on Friday afternoon, Jared Folkerts posted a photo on Twitter showing a woman pushing a wheelchair eastward down Rosser Avenue on the side of the road, because the sidewalk was covered in ice and snow. That our seniors have to resort to using busy thoroughfares because of impassable sidewalks only puts them in greater danger.

But this kind of thing has been going on for years, and it’s not just here in Brandon. I did a Google search on Friday looking for stories about seniors being stuck indoors over the winter months in Canada, and came back with thousands of hits. Among the headlines:

• Winnipeg sidewalk conditions keep seniors indoors (CBC, 2013)

• Seniors fearful of ice, ‘dangerous’ walkways at community housing complex (CTV Ottawa, 2019)

• ‘Keeping citizens accountable’: City reminds residents to shovel their sidewalks (Calgary Herald, 2022)

• Rough ruts in the streets and slow sidewalk clearing strike fear and anger in Winnipeggers (CBC, 2022)

Even in a look back at the Brandon Sun archives you find stories about the special concerns that seniors have in winter.

“Icy sidewalks are a major concern of seniors in winter, as are mounds or ridges of snow thrown up by plows at street crossings, transit stops or — in the case of seniors who drive — across driveways,” reads a story from December 1990.

Or how about this letter from a reader in 1982:

“City hall has done a poor job at keeping these sidewalks clear of water and ice, let alone the snow,” the letter reads. “People find themselves walking through puddles or long ice patches. Has city hall failed to realize that all sidewalks are to be kept clear of ice by removing the wet snow before it turns to water and ice?”

It’s a shame that we have so many stories in the media about this issue, and for so many decades, but so little seems to have changed.

Of course, the city should not be solely scapegoated for imperfectly cleared sidewalks. In fact, the city does clear out sidewalks from time to time, but haphazardly so, as budgets, personnel and time allow.

Yet it’s also up to all of us, both residents and business owners, to ensure that our sidewalks outside of our homes and businesses are cleared for the benefit of the public. And I’m just as guilty as the rest, with my snow-covered walkway. Doing this ensures those with mobility challenges are not forced to remain indoors all winter long due to unnavigable pathways.

» Matt Goerzen, editor

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