Sidewalk snow removal is a matter of money vs. access

The City of Calgary has been unusually quiet recently in respect to growing concern from citizens regarding the current sidewalk snow removal program.

Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi briefly touched on why Calgary doesn’t include sidewalks as part of its snow removal during an Alberta@Noon interview on Jan. 12.

“I’m very happy to have that conversation with Calgarians. It’s really just a question of money, as so many things are,” Nenshi said.

However, local blogger Mike Morrison, of Mike’s Bloggity Blog, says that Nenshi and the rest of city council have been abnormally quiet in regards to this issue, more specifically, how it directly affects persons with disabilities.

As it stands, property owners have 24 hours to clear the sidewalk in front of their home.

If property owners don’t comply and end up being reported to the city’s 311 phone line, they will then receive 24 more hours to get the job done.

After the 48-hour grace period, the city will come and clear the sidewalk and bill the property owner for the cost of labour in clearing the snow.

There are more than 5,000 kilometres of sidewalks in Calgary and currently, the city ploughs 249 kilometres of that.

Each year, city council budgets between $35 million and $40 million for snow clearing and only $2 million of that is spent on clearing sidewalks.

“I’ve been shocked how quiet Naheed has been about it,” said Morrison.

“That’s probably why I’m angriest the most. Like he’ll talk about anything, but he won’t talk about this. [Ward 7 Councillor] Druh [Farrell] is advocating as much as she can, but she’s just one voice.

Morrison has been tweeting about this issue for the last few years, and this year he’s been tweeting about it more fervently.

Asked why it’s important to use social media to make his point, he replied, “It’s the loudest voice for sure.

“This affects people in wheelchairs, seniors, and new parents,” said Morrison.

“We talk about the mental health of new parents, we tell them to get out, get fresh air, but we don’t make it easy for them.”

Nabeel Ramji is the accessibility infrastructure specialist at RK Access.

He lives with cerebral palsy and uses a wheelchair. On Nov. 29, he and 200 other Canadians received their Senate 150th Anniversary Medal at Parliament Hill.

“I think there is room for improvement in terms of the current snow removal process,” said Ramji.

“I guess it’s always been that fine balance. I get the public perspective that, yes, it’s still costly if the city would take full ownership of snow removal. And I think it’s [an] unrealistic expectation just because our city is quite big.

“So, I think there should be kind of like a hybrid solution.”

Ramji is unsure what that solution might look like, suggesting that perhaps the city could work with community associations.

“It’s about coming together as a community, it’s trying to come up with and create solutions. Because I think it’s possible.”

Ramji understands the public’s concern about an increase in property taxes.

“But I don’t think that’s the only option. I think that would be the hope of starting that conversation [with city council], and saying ‘okay what’s currently in place and what can we do better?’ But let’s come up with a solution that works for everybody.”

According to a Canadian Survey on Disability, by Statistics Canada in 2012, 9.7 per cent of Calgarians reported having a disability. That’s a population of 91,050 people over the age of 15.

This affects people in wheelchairs, seniors, and new parents. – Mike Morrison

And according to a Persons with Disabilities Report found on the City of Calgary’s website the most frequently reported concerns among persons with disabilities were: being stressed (70 per cent), being physically inactive (68 per cent), having difficulty moving around physically (67 per cent) and not being able to care for yourself as you age (66 per cent).

Ramji said, “I think it’s extremely important for people like myself. We can feel quite socially isolated or feel quite anxious about even leaving the house because you have no idea what to expect.”

“I think it’s just common decency. It’s respect. Nabeel pays the same taxes that I do. Why do I get to live in a completely different city than he does?” said Morrison.

About Christina Freudenthaler 4 Articles
As a writing and communications major in the journalism program at SAIT, Christina Freudenthaler worked as a reporter for The Press during the 2017-18 academic year.