the path of least resistance

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Earlier this month The Auroran reported on council’s decision to adopt a Complete Streets policy to ensure transportation planners and engineers consistently design and operate the entire street network for all road users, not only motorists.

We learn from this September 2017 piece in the Era Banner that Aurora has 213km of sidewalks, expanding to 241 in the next 5 years.  The piece which focuses on the town’s Winter maintenance service levels also outlines that the town is exploring an eighth sidewalk route.

Today the Town tweeted out that sidewalk clearing is proving challenging:

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Mayor La de Dawe later tweeted that staff was curtailing sidewalk clearing:

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If the Town had to abandon efforts to clear sidewalks using motorized plows just imagine how effective residents would be at the job.  Which is exactly what one former councillor suggested to a currently sitting councillor on Facebook:

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You have likely heard about Steve Hinder, he’s in the news for being charged with aggravated assault against an Aurora senior citizen.

Hinder expanded his argument for pitting roads against sidewalks in a separate comment that reads:

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Let’s start with a.) the notion of “folks” taking responsibility for their property.

Sidewalks are not folks’ property, they are owned by the town and governed by the Municipal Act which decrees the function of clearing ice and snow to be the responsibility of each municipality.

The liability issues are expanded on in Denis Olorenshaw’s 2002 piece for the Association of Condominium Managers of Ontario:

Under the Act and the bylaws, who is responsible for injuries suffered by pedestrians
who fall on sidewalks because the ice and snow was not cleared away by a property
owner? A clear answer to this question came as a result of two lawsuits filed in the
Toronto area. Even though the adjacent property owner has not cleared away snow and ice on the sidewalk – and may consequently have to pay a fine under a bylaw – the
property owner is not liable for damages under common law. Liability for damages as a result of such injuries to pedestrians is solely the responsibility of the municipality.

Ted Madison’s December 2016 piece for Miller Thomson outlined an Ontario Court of Appeal decision in 2000 involving York Region:

The snow and ice accumulating on public sidewalks and the potholes on the street in front of the house are the legal responsibility of the municipality, not the adjacent property owner.

In the 2004 Best practices guide on Sidewalk Design, Construction and Maintenance compiled by the Federation of Canadian Municipalities and National Research Council we read on page 28:

If the method is chosen forthe abutting owner to clear the municipal sidewalk of snow and ice and keep it clear, the municipality must realize that they cannot transfer their liability for damages from a slip and fall to an abutting property owner.

Folks have no reason to pick up a damn shovel and take responsibility for sidewalks that the town owns and is legally responsible for.

This brings us to b.) but muh tax dollars!

The Banner piece places a price tag on sidewalk clearing in Aurora at an annual cost of $500,000. Divided by the town’s 213km of sidewalk this represents $2.35 for each meter of sidewalk for the entire season.

This doesn’t represent a huge expense to a town that is committed to combatting the erosion of kids walking to school or supporting an unachievable goal to become the “most active” community in all of Canada.

For someone who is so concerned with tax dollars what is the cost of all these active Aurorans slipping and falling on poorly or uncleared sidewalks should the town forgo clearing?

According to an October 2016 Toronto Public Health report, there were nearly 30,000 emergency department visits and 2,800 hospitalizations in Toronto from residents who fell on snow and ice between 2006 and 2015.

Page 5 of the 2004 Best practices guide on Sidewalk Design, Construction and Maintenance recognizes the population of Canada is ageing; therefore, more senior citizens are using sidewalks:

According to research undertaken by the City of Lethbridge, Alberta, senior citizens normally walk within a two-block radius of their homes. An injury due to a fall on the sidewalk can have a significant impact on a senior’s lifestyle and can cost significant dollars to the health care system, not only in the immediate care related to the injury, but follow-up care related to impairment of mobility.

It’s a little rich to read Hinder “getting tired about people wanting more and more” when he is a board member of the Radio Station that came to council in 2015 asking for $250,000 from the Town’s Growth and New Infrastructure Reserve Fund in the town’s Capital Budget to pay for design and construction of a radio station with no identified revenue stream or audience.

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Yeah, I think there may be gravy to cut, but sidewalk plowing isn’t it.

Finally c.) best practices.

In the context of complete streets Chapter 4 of Toronto’s Complete Streets Guidelines is about sidewalks, section 4.7 speaks to Year-Round Maintenance and Operations.

Municipal workers plow all city sidewalks in Guelph, Burlington and London, among other southern Ontario cities.

In 2015 Thunder bay toyed with the idea of dropping sidewalk clearing to save $600,000.

They didn’t.

In 2016 CBC radio host questioned Ottawa listeners if they would be willing to backtrack their sidewalk clearing service and spend that money on road clearing.

They didn’t.

Because there are no cost savings in this scenario:

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That’s why all but 1 of 9 municipalities in York Region provide sidewalk clearing:
East GwillimburyMarkhamVaughan,  Witchurch-StouffvilleRichmond-Hill ,  Georgina and Newmarket.

The lone municipality that does not provide sidewalk clearing is King Township where they are operating from a 25 year old bylaw.  King Township joins Windsor, Hamilton, Kitchener and Waterloo in off-loading responsibility for sidewalk shovelling onto residents.

We read in Janice Moore’s 2015 piece for theTri-Cities Transport Action Group that:

Expanding the City’s current sidewalk snow clearing program would promote and enhance safe and accessible pedestrian movement, encourage greater pedestrian and transit use and help make the shift to alternative modes of transportation. This would ultimately reduce the negative impacts and costs to widen more roads and intersections.

Moore even points out the City of Waterloo’s hypocrisy of not upholding their own Transportation Master Plan:

From a Complete Streets perspective and developing a “City that is accessible to all”, there is a fundamental need to ensure that public sidewalks are accessible to all through timely and consistent removal of snow and ice. 

4 years earlier, in December 2010 The Record wrote an article on advocation for expanded municipal sidewalk snow-clearing in Waterloo and in the piece, Barry Wellar, a retired geography professor from the University of Ottawa who has studied pedestrian-related issues for decades and has appeared as an expert witness in many civil cases states:

“Cities that promote pedestrianism on one hand and do not plow sidewalks run the risk of looking “hypocritical or not very bright,” 

Weller is the creator of a walkability index for Canadian cities and in this March 2011 piece in Macleans he is quoted further:

“Sidewalks are a fundamental element of the urban transportation infrastructure.  It is bizarre that any city would fail to provide the same level of service for sidewalks that it does for roads. This makes its pedestrians second-class citizens.”

The piece concludes that there’s no upside to sidewalk shovelling:

Beyond the financial or legal issues, however, the attitude of a city toward its sidewalks says a lot about political commitment and public concern. Nearly every Canadian city has recently made some sort of pledge in support of active transportation or becoming “pedestrian friendly.” A city that refuses to clean its own sidewalks makes a mockery of such commitments.

Yes, here in Aurora let’s rely on a motley crew of neighbours and boy scouts to clear the sidewalks in an inconsistent manner make a mockery of our commitments to active transportation and complete streets.

Geeesh!

While we’re at it we may as well invite this Calgarian to come and provide a motivational speech:

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