Whitehorse city council continued to hear calls for improved winter snow clearing on commuter trails throughout the city during its Oct. 24 meeting.
Ahead of a vote by council to adopt an updated snow and ice control policy, Forest Pearson of the Whitehorse Urban Cycling Coalition and Whitehorse resident Nathan Miller made presentations to council encouraging a greater focus on maintaining accessible active transportation routes through the winter months.
Their presentations followed resident Lee Hawkings’ call a week earlier for winter maintenance on the Hamilton Boulevard and Elijah Smith trails, specifically to provide snow removal that would leave a thin snow base allowing snowmobile drivers to continue using those routes as well as those who cycle or walk.
Both Miller and Pearson acknowledged improvements to winter trail maintenance in Whitehorse in recent years, but argued there is more that could be done, with Miller encouraging the city to try out new types of equipment to maintain winter trails, set a vision for accessibility that would provide guidance on such matters, and recognize the differences in trail and road priorities.
Pearson described the updated policy as “a step in the right direction…. However, it doesn’t go far enough yet in achieving the goals for change in equity, accessibility and cost of living for diverse individuals and families.”
He went on to say that as Whitehorse continues to grow, mobility needs and costs in Whitehorse are growing as well.
Pearson said building and maintaining active transportation networks comes at a lower cost than traditional roads, and given that many residents get around on foot or bike, it could save the city significantly to ensure those routes are maintained throughout the year.
He then put forward the coalition’s position that council should send back the policy for more work and take into account five suggestions by the coalition.
Those suggestions would see the city take a modified approach to winter maintenance on the Hamilton Boulevard trail, keeping in place a thin layer of snow so that it would be accessible to all users; using a 20 millimetre grilled blade to create a grooved surface on trails; ensuring there’s continuous active transportation routes of trails throughout the city that allow commuters to get from one neighbourhood to another without having to encounter snowbanks or other barriers; clearing bike lanes on city roads; and having an annual review with stakeholders to ensure continual improvement of city trails through the winter.
While council ultimately voted in favour of adopting the updated policy, rather than send it back to administration for more work, it was highlighted during council discussion that some of the matters could be dealt with through budget changes in the case of purchasing new equipment or by making amendments to maps within the policy in the future if service levels to particular routes are changed.
As Tracy Allen, the city’s director of operations, stated in an Oct. 25 technical briefing, the policy “is one step of many” that impact how the city deals with snow. The upcoming budget could also have an impact as do other policies and bylaws.
In some cases, the city is moving forward with initiatives, though plans may take some time. Allen said during the council meeting the city is in the process of developing more continuous active transportation routes with the ultimate goal of connecting neighbourhoods.
“This is going to be a multi-step, multi-year process as we build an established level of service for trails,” she said.
“Then we can work with our colleagues in parks as well as the cycling community and others to develop routes and what infrastructure may be required to have that route.”
Some of the potential routes don’t have paved paths at this point so the city would look at how to develop a way for active transportation commuters to get “from A to Z” — from Riverdale, Porter Creek, Copper Ridge to downtown, for example.
“That will be the ultimate goal,” she said.
Among changes to the policy itself, the city now has more flexibility in dealing with priority roads. Differences between normal winter situations and extreme winter events are outlined as are the priorities for active transportation trails.
Changes to the trail maintenance policy coming from the snow and ice policy remove snow and ice control responsibilities as they are now incorporated into the snow and ice policy.
There are also a number of amendments to the maintenance bylaw from the snow and ice policy update.
Among them the responsibilities of property owners on snow clearing are clarified and fines of $100 for failing to remove snow as directed and/or placing it on public property and $250 for failing to remove snow and/or placing it in an accessible parking space are outlined. It would also allow for the towing and/or ticketing of vehicles that are not moved prior to the city clearing a street. Council approved the first two readings of the maintenance bylaw changes at the Oct. 24 meeting.
Kyle Morrison, the city’s acting manager of bylaw services, said the goal for this year is voluntary compliance through “an educational enforcement model” that will see the city ensuring residents and businesses are aware of their roles and responsibilities.
Under those rules and responsibilities are requirements for businesses to clear sidewalks next to their businesses by 11 a.m. the morning after a snowfall. Residents are also required to clear the sidewalk after a snowfall, but have 48 hours to do so.
Snow can not be placed on city roads, which for some residents (including Allen last snow season) may mean having to make arrangements to have snow hauled from their property to the Robert Service Way snow dump.
Allen also emphasized the importance of removing vehicles and other barriers from roadways prior to streets being cleared, noting the additional time required to deal with those situations for city crews.
“They’re trying to get the roads cleared and trails cleared so people can get to work easier or get to wherever they’re going easier,” she said.
“It’s frustrating when you’re continually having to hop out, knock on doors to try and get vehicles moved so you can safely get in there and do snow removal without having safety issues or damaging any property.”
In addition to adopting the policy, council members voted to move forward with a suggestion by Coun. Ted Laking that would see the city explore higher priority snow clearing on school bus routes with the Yukon government, along with efforts to ensure drop off areas in front of schools are cleared. Laking suggested such initiatives could include a cost sharing arrangement with the Yukon government.
Contact Stephanie Waddell at firstname.lastname@example.org