By Doug Hallett
Mayor Karen Farbridge and Coun. Leanne Piper agree the icy state of Guelph’s sidewalks was unacceptable this winter, but they don’t entirely agree on what might be done about it.
Farbridge is suggesting that in light of what happened this winter, city hall might have to look at “requiring” residents to keep their sidewalks clear – instead of just asking them to do so. However, she says the city’s sidewalk snow plows might still have a role to play in clearing sidewalks in front of private property.
Piper, though, says Guelph should end this use of its sidewalk plows. She says it should follow the example of cities that have passed a bylaw requiring homeowners to clear the sidewalks in front of their homes.
Piper was the only member of council to vote against continuing the residential use of the city’s sidewalk plows when the issue last came to council during 2013 city budget discussions. It was considered a potential service cut that could save the city $100,000 a year.
At the time, Piper said city residents have a “civic duty to make sure our sidewalks are walkable.”Savings gained from the elimination of residential sidewalk plowing “could be redirected to an improved level of walkability on bus routes and arterial roads,” Piper said in an email sent in response to a Tribune query.
A service review done by the city has shown that to improve walkability on arterial roads and bus routes, more money is needed for snowblowers and additional equipment, she said. “To avoid raising taxes, the savings should come from rethinking our residential sidewalk program.”
The issue of sidewalk plowing was resurrected by an entry that Farbridge recently posted on her city hall blog. The mayor admitted that the city’s current system failed this winter. “I believe it is fair to say we lost our sidewalks in December with the ice storm and we never recovered,” she said.
“Yes, the winter conditions this year have been extraordinary,” Farbridge said on her blog. “Despite the incredible effort of front-line employees, we did not deliver the right results – by anyone’s measure.”
Farbridge told the Trib she wants to know whether city policy “prevented a response to the ice that might have dealt immediately with the problem. The underlay of ice became a problem from that point (the Dec. 22 ice storm) forward,” she said in an email.
Farbridge suggests it might be time to take another look at passing a bylaw requiring residents to keep their sidewalks clear, while perhaps also continuing to use the city’s sidewalk plows in front of homes. “Perhaps we should consider doing both – the city does the ‘heavy lifting’ after a significant snowfall or ice storm and residents are required to help keep them accessible throughout the winter,” she said on her blog.
“I am not suggesting a change at this time,” she told the Trib. “I am suggesting we should look at the experience of other cities that do require” residents to shovel their sidewalks through a bylaw.
A couple of reports related to sidewalks that will come to council over the next few months will be opportunities for the city to take action to improve walkability, she said.
Piper said it’s unfortunate that the issue of sidewalks plows usually comes to council as a budget discussion – “to cut or not to cut” – rather than a discussion about the quality of service. “We did a service review last year and residents told us they want walkable sidewalks, and linked the sidewalk plowing with that outcome. In my view, the two shouldn’t be linked together,” she said. “This winter proved that. Walkable sidewalks requires more than simply a plow travelling down the street after every storm event.”
Said Piper: “Any citizen who walked on a residential street this winter knows which neighbour shovels and which one doesn’t; it’s pretty obvious.”
By Doug Hallett