Presentation to The Strategic Priorities and Policies Committee
January 23, 2020
Barrier Free Sidewalks and The Budget
To begin, thank you to the committee for the opportunity to present my thoughts on the budget and sidewalks.
As I speak for the next hour (kidding!), take a second to imagine you’re trying to travel 50 feet in a wheelchair to catch a bus, and you get so stuck in the snow, you start to panic. This happens to many of us each time we set out after a snowfall.
I am pleased to present a recent petition that I undertook, complete with 1964 signatures. The petition is as follows:
“Year-round barrier free access to sidewalks in London is a basic right. Many Londoners face obstacles as they travel in the city. I am asking that London City Council make it a high priority and focus on ensuring we can access sidewalks every day of the year, especially during the snowy months.
Those with disabilities, pedestrians with small children…anyone who uses a sidewalk should not be prevented from traveling in an active society. We rely on public transportation yet can’t access it after a snowfall.
During the summer months, sidewalks are closed with no notice or improper signage, again, a barrier to easy access.
Please lobby your Councillor! Thank you for your support.
Given the significant media attention this petition has garnered this week, and a huge increase in signatures, this particular issue has struck a nerve in this community. Why create this petition? Each year during the winter months, Londoners struggle to conduct their daily business due to poorly maintained sidewalks. Those with disabilities struggle even more. Many days, some of us are stuck at home, unable to traverse impassable sidewalks or access bus stops. The City of London website even encourages use of public transit during snow events, yet, this is a significant challenge.
At yesterday’s State of the City Address, Mayor Holder spoke about his vision for a fleet of electric buses. I applaud his vision, I really do. My concern is-will we be able to access them?
I am a member of the Accessibility Advisory Committee and the Community Diversity and Inclusion Leadership Team. These groups work hard to try and ensure our city is completely inclusive and accessible, yet our sidewalks and bus routes speak to a different tone. Inaccessible sidewalks prevent many from conducting their daily affairs, or many press on, risking injury. Work, community volunteerism, appointments and more are some of the functions of daily life, yet these simple tasks are a challenge for many.
We’re in a climate emergency-we’re encouraging active, mutli-modal transportation. Public transit, cycling, walking, all great steps to reducing our carbon footprint. Yes, I mention cycling when I speak about sidewalks. Cyclists are using the sidewalks and I don’t blame them considering the lack of safe cycling infrastructure. However, with current snow removal policies, the challenges are many.
We also need to also consider the mental anxiety caused by impassable sidewalks. Many stress at the thought of navigating a city after a snow fall. Let me read this quick Twitter thread from Sheryl Rooth after her travels that included nearly being hit by a car:
“I am exhausted. Every damn day my life is put at risk. Every winter I have to send polite emails to city hall asking for people to do their damn jobs properly. This isn’t an anomaly. This is consistent. I know going home tonight will mean climbing over snowbanks.”
“I can’t continue to live a life of anxiety, fear and anger every time I have to walk somewhere in London. My heart and head cannot take it anymore”.
This is a feeling many of us experience, wondering if the walks, curbs and bus stops have been cleared.
I also recognize that clearing roads is a priority. Emergency vehicles, public transit and the sheer volume of cars makes this a necessity. Our city staff work hard, following the direction of management and provincial standards, clearing the snow as fast as they can. For this, I am grateful. However, there needs to be consistency. Some days, with light snowfalls, I see sidewalk machines out fairly quickly, other days, we may not see them at all.
With the business case for lowering snowfall thresholds under consideration, prioritized at #25, lower than WIFI in arenas, at an additional cost of $4.2M, there is a potential to see improvements. Lower snowfall thresholds mean the plows can hit the walks faster. And at an average of $4.94/yr. per property owner, it’s very inexpensive. However, I implore this committee to give serious consideration to not only approving this increase, but to explore other options or revenue streams to supplement and even improve upon the new standards.
Options could include:
– Re-consider road widening. If more Londoners can access public transit, safer walking or cycling conditions, more drivers may be inclined to leave the car at home. This lessens the traffic congestion and the need for expansion. Its also a win for the environment
– Invest in future equipment, such as snow brushes, that allows for a cleaner removal of snow. Given current construction of sidewalks, I appreciate why it is a challenge to get the blades down to bare cement.
– Explore priority sidewalk clearing, i.e. Bus routes or neighbourhoods with a higher concentration of Londoners with disabilities
– Usage of sand/salt on sidewalks
– Look at opportunities to save on road clearing? Are we using too much salt?
– Look at the list of projects and consider what are “have to haves” vs “nice to haves”. Should we be spending this money?
I’ve been spending much of this time speaking to sidewalks and snow removal. I’m also requesting that some priority be given to sidewalks, construction and enforcement during the construction season. Too often, sidewalks are closed with either improper notice or zero notice at all. Construction vehicles park on or close sidewalks and this impacts all of us. Consider the impact on vulnerable users are struggle enough making their way around without backtracking as they come across a closed sidewalk.
I’d like to thank Councillor Shawn Lewis who has worked diligently to bring sidewalk snow clearing to the forefront. I’d like to also publicly thank all the homeowners and business owners who take the time to clear the walks in front of their properties. A special shoutout to Snow Angels.ca for their efforts. And finally, thank you again to this committee for your consideration.
I leave you with this thought: Again, speaking to Mayor Holder’s speech yesterday: “The issue that defines our city today is SUPPORTING LONDON’S MOST VULNERABLE. It defines not only ‘what’ we are, but ‘who’ we are. The true measure of any society can be found in how it treats its most vulnerable members.” Many of us are disabled and vulnerable. And we need your help to ensure barrier free access to our city.