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City hears public reaction to proposed operating budget

Student safety, active transportation concerns highlighted
The City of Whitehorse heard input on its proposed $93.4 million operating budget for 2022. (City of Whitehorse/Submitted)

The Grey Mountain Primary School council is calling on the City of Whitehorse to improve how snow is removed near the school and for an improved crosswalk to the school.

The request came during Whitehorse city council’s Feb. 14 public input session into the proposed $93.4 million operating budget for the 2022 financial year. The spending plans also include provisional operating budgets for 2023 and 2024 at $95.4 million and $94.5 million, respectively.

Council passed first reading of the budget bylaw in January, which prompted the public input session.

Student safety

The school council’s written submission was one of four presentations.

The submission highlighted efforts by the school council to bring forward concerns to both the city and Department of Education about the intersection near the school at Alsek Road and Lewes Boulevard.

It first highlighted issues with snow build up at the intersection where the 55 students in Kindergarten to Grade 3 are dropped off or walk to school (school bus service is not provided given the entire catchment area is in Riverdale).

“Snow builds up to the west of the intersection and impedes the drop off for students at the school,” the submission reads. “It creates a dangerous situation where drop off vehicles are parked on Alsek itself due to the massive snow bank or children are being dropped off in the crosswalk of the intersection. Parents have had to come up with unique and unsafe ways to drop off their children when there’s snow buildup.”

While the school council has been informed that the sightlines for the snow piles conform to city standards, the school council described the situation as “an accident waiting to happen”.

When snow clearing does happen, it means there is heavy equipment operating during pickup and drop off times. When a school council member spoke with one of the equipment operators about it, they did not know to stay away from the area during those times.

While snow is an issue in the winter, the school council also noted there are issues year-round with the crosswalk to the school.

“The current crosswalk lights are insufficient,” the school council stated. “There is no push button or flashing lights to give a clear warning for drivers to stop at the crosswalk.”

It then issued its request for improved communication between the city, its equipment operators and the Department of Education “when it comes to cleaning snow in front of not only Great Mountain Primary, but all schools in the territory”; that snow clearing in front of schools be included in an upcoming review of the city’s snow removal policy, and that a push button and flashing lights be installed at the crosswalk to the school.

Active transportation

Ensuring active transportation is a convenient option to get around town was also highlighted in two submissions.

Richard Legner addressed council by phone highlighting the importance of winter bike routes around town, while another written submission stressed the importance of safe cycling routes.

Legner said he prefers to commute by bike whenever possible, but for him in the winter that rarely happens.

He cited studies that have shown in colder cities there’s almost no correlation between the temperature and whether a cyclist chooses to get around by bike on a particular day.

The factors that seem to impact that decision have more to do with the bicycle network itself and whether snow removal on it is done in a timely, predictable manner.

Legner compared it to public transit, noting many users likely wouldn’t take transit if they weren’t sure what time a bus would arrive.

“Would people be willing to choose public transit if there were no indication of when the bus is coming,” he questioned. “Or whether the bus is coming at all? Likely not.”

The same is true, he said, for bike routes. Well-maintained bike infrastructure is key to increasing cycling as a year-round transportation option in the city, he said, highlighting health benefits for citizens, longer-term financial benefits for the city as well as an inclusive message for those who choose not to or are unable to own a vehicle.

The benefits also extend to vehicle owners, he emphasized.

“Every bicycle on the path is one less car on the road, making everybody’s trip less congested, more pleasant, especially during peak periods,” he said. “I know that low bicycle infrastructure and snow removal have seen small incremental improvements over the years. A consistent, safe and reliable means of active transportation that does not yet exist in Whitehorse.”

He noted his hope for an active transportation network in the city that will help make cycling a practical choice for commuters.

Meanwhile, the written submission on the topic argued that as the city promotes cycling as a form of transportation, it does little to keep it safe.

“I have attempted to commute by bike back and forth to work, but the lack of maintenance to the bike infrastructure makes this very difficult,” the submission reads. “Traveling downtown from Copper Ridge, I often encounter dangerous road conditions, unmaintained lanes and crossings that don’t work. The city promotes bike transportation as an alternative to vehicle transportation, but does little to make it inclusive or safe. I’ve heard the same issues raised by many people who would like to commute by bike, but just don’t feel safe doing so. So we ended up purchasing cars and becoming part of the traffic congestion problem instead of part of the solution.”

The writer, whose name was not stated during the presentation, said they would like to see the city budget for better maintenance of the active transportation network.

Other issues

Also speaking to the proposed budget was Philip Fitzgerald, who stated his support for the budget, but also highlighted a few concerns for the city.

Among them, he suggested the city consider increasing the $500 utility rebate available to seniors, noting it hasn’t been increased in about 20 years.

He also said he’d like greater detail on the cost associated with new positions the city will be hiring for out of the operating budget.

While Fitzgerald didn’t take any major issues with the proposed 2.65 per cent tax increase, he did note he would like the city to offer credit card payment for property taxes as the Yukon government and other municipalities across the country already do.

In addition to the submissions presented at council, Valerie Braga, the city’s director of corporate services, said there were about six emailed comments that also came in.

They and the presentations will be addressed in an upcoming public input report that will come to council ahead of second and third reading, scheduled for Feb. 28.

Contact Stephanie Waddell at

Stephanie Waddell

About the Author: Stephanie Waddell

I joined Black Press in 2019 as a reporter for the Yukon News, becoming editor in February 2023.
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