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‘Entirely ice’: Calgarians raise concerns over poor pathway snow clearing

Ice skating on multi-use pathways in Calgary? That’s what citizens could resort to in parts of the city’s more than 1,000 kilometres of regional pathways and trails after spotty snow clearing and a freeze-thaw cycle has left more ice than pavement.

“I’ve noticed that at times there has been (snow) clearing and at other times there hasn’t, so it’s been inconsistent, and it’s been allowed to melt and then refreeze and melt and refreeze multiple times without any kind of mitigation,” Nathaniel Schmidt said.

Schmidt uses the city sidewalks and pathways every day to get to work on foot or by bike. He’s also documented some of the ice-covered paths, like along 37 Street Southwest, on social media.

“This year, especially, entire pathways have become impassable just because of the snow we had, and now it’s melting slowly and it’s just been allowed to build up. And so at times, the pathways are entirely ice,” he said.

Molli Bennett, a board member of Bike Calgary, said the city generally does a good job of clearing trails, but their members have seen inconsistencies in the snow clearing of the city’s mobility network.

“We have members that have reported regularly needing to submit 311 requests and we see the melt and thaw of this kind of a warm winter creating some icier conditions in the city you might be used to in some cases, which is a bit unfortunate for everyone,” Bennett said. “When we’re talking about snow clearing in our city, we have to recognize that there are people who walk and wheel, and sometimes connect to transit, not by choice but by necessity.”

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According to the city’s priority-based snow plan, the city clears high priority pathways, pedestrian bridges, high-use bus stops and sidewalks bordering city-owned properties within 24 hours of snow letting up.

Within 36 hours of the end of snowfall, intersections and crosswalks controlled by traffic lights and roads with on-street bike lanes are cleared. And within a week of the end of snowfall, the city reduces windrows at busy crosswalks and wheelchair curb ramps as part of its renewed effort to make accessibility a major priority.

Property owners or occupants must clear snow and ice from sidewalks bordering their property within 24 hours of the end of snowfall, according to the city’s bylaw.

Schmidt and Bennett said the inconsistent clearing of sidewalks and paths is scaring people away from walking or biking in the winter.

“If they didn’t plow the roads for vehicles would people drive as much? I’m not sure,” Schmidt said. “You have to give people an opportunity to use the infrastructure that you built by making it safe.”

“I tell people all the time that a lot of the winter is very, very lovely to ride in,” the Bike Calgary board member said. “A lot of our main corridors for cycling and active transportation are priority clearance and that people shouldn’t be super intimidated by winter. But I understand that that’s only in ideal conditions.”

AHS EMS said most slips and falls result in relatively minor injuries, but paramedics have treated and transported patients in the city who have slipped and fell and  sustained fractions to areas like ankles and wrists. They advise people wear proper footwear, focus on walking when conditions are challenging and even adjust how you walk to “walk like a penguin.”

Earlier this year, the city announced it was expanding how much of the 1,100 kilometres of pathways city crews will clear of snow to 750 kilometres.

On Oct. 19, the city said more than half of its $54 million snow and ice control budget was still left over for the calendar year.

The city did not respond to requests for comment in time for publication.

Bennett said Bike Calgary would like to see the city provide better quality control over the job contractors are doing.

“We do know that the city has increased the snow and ice budget for active transportation, and often it feels like it is a consistency issue depending on contractors or actual operators in some of the areas,” she said.

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