For those who haven’t looked out a window this week, the snow has officially arrived.
In honour of the reportedly 15 cm that fell from the sky starting on Tuesday it’s time for the newspaper’s annual reminder to citizens:
Clear your sidewalks.
If your property borders public sidewalks, you are responsible for keeping that sidewalk clear of ice and snow.
If you don’t, you are not just breaking a city bylaw, you’re putting yourself and those around you at risk.
Let’s run through the rules: according to the City of Whitehorse’s maintenance bylaw, businesses are required to clear snow and ice down to the pavement on sidewalk and lane crossings by 11 a.m. the day after a snowfall.
The rules for residential properties are essentially the same except that there is a 48-hour window to make those sidewalks safe.
Again, it is not enough to only clear the pathway to your front door. You’re responsible for any sidewalks that border the property.
The bylaw sets the fine for failing to keep sidewalks clear at $100. As it stands, the city only enforces that rule when people complain. That needs to change, particularly after the city’s first major dumping of snow.
The afternoons have been warm enough to at least partially melt some of what fell from the skies recently. When the temperatures drop back below zero overnight that partially melted muck turns into ice
If sidewalks are not cleared soon after a snowfall it becomes harder and harder to get through the ice that inevitably forms. As more flakes hits the ground throughout the season the issue snowballs (sorry) into a bigger and bigger hazard.
Icy uncleared sidewalks create the ideal conditions for bruises, broken bones, or worse.
In 2016 a 71-year-old woman was struck by a vehicle and killed while travelling down the road in a wheelchair. The coroner reported that some of the nearby sidewalks were impossible to use in the wheelchair because of all the snow.
This paper has already discussed the idea of the City of Whitehorse taking over responsibility for clearing sidewalks. That is still an option that this new city council should be discussing.
Alternatively, the city could spend some time focusing on public awareness and then one day issuing tickets to anyone who is found to be breaking the rules.
Blitzes when it comes issues of road safety are not a new idea. Check stops looking for impaired driving can happen at any time but are most commonly associated with the highly-publicized stops over the Christmas season.
If there are fears that city officials could be seen as money-hungry, fine-loving, monsters, cash collected during the blitz could be donated to a local non-profit, potentially one that focuses on accessibility. Or the money could be used to start a program to help residents who, because of mobility issues, can’t clear the sidewalks around their homes.
Unfortunately those people are also likely the ones most at risk of serious injury if sidewalks are allowed to become unsafe nightmares.
In a perfect world, reminding people of their civic responsibility would be enough to get them out clearing the streets. But that is not always the case.
It’s not enough for the city to wait for people to complain before taking action. If clear hazards exist city officials have a responsibility to step in. Otherwise they are choosing to let it continue.