Icy sidewalks prompt complaints, councillor to reopen debate on clearing snow

Complaints about the state of the municipality’s sidewalks continue to roll in, two days after a New Year’s Day storm blanketed Halifax in snow.

Thick sheets of ice have caused pedestrians to carefully pick their way to their destinations. Others have chosen to forgo the sidewalks altogether and make their way on the road instead.

Ashley Morton, a resident in Halifax’s North End, walks his daughter to school along Albert Street. But since the storm, it hasn’t been an easy journey.

Part of the sidewalk has been cleared, but the rest is littered with a mixture of ice and large snow boulders flung onto it when the roadway was cleared.

“It hasn’t been the standard that I think we should expect when it comes to pedestrians getting around the city,” said Morton in an interview on Thursday.

He put out a post on Twitter Thursday morning, complaining about the state of the sidewalk. He also filed a report with the municipality’s 311 phone line, but by 3:30 p.m., no action had been taken.

The Halifax Regional Municipality has been in charge of snow clearance on public sidewalks since 2013, when council voted to take over the responsibility from citizens.

It’s currently a responsibility that is contracted out to private companies and some say the latest storm show they haven’t been on the ball.

“I don’t feel like this can be anybody’s standard. There’s on time, there is late and then there’s the ice planet over here, right?” Morton said.

“I feel like we have to get something going. I would like to feel like there was some responsibility to the contractor here. This is just not good enough.”

It’s a complaint echoed by Matt Whitman, councillor for Hammonds Plains, who says the state of the municipality’s roadways have prompted him to rethink whether the city should be in charge of clearing sidewalks.

“We need to take a look at letting citizens clear the sidewalks like they used to and save up to $4.5 million,” Whitman said.

Whitman, who voted in support of the motion that put the city in charge of snow clearing in 2013, says he supported the motion because it seemed like “a few bad apples” weren’t willing to do the work necessary to make the city accessible.

“If we’d enforced the rules back then and maybe ticketed folks who didn’t abide, then we wouldn’t have gotten involved in this [$4.5 million] make-work business,”  he said.

In the municipality, sidewalks are divided into three priorities: priority one sidewalks are those along main arterial roads and within the downtown core. The goal is to clear them within 12 hours of a weather event.

Then comes sidewalks along transit routes. The goal is to clear them within 18 hours. Last are priority three sidewalks found along residential streets and municipal walkways.

The goal for those is 36 hours, but those goals are extended when there are rapidly changing weather conditions, which includes sudden freezing.

Albert Street is considered a priority three sidewalk.

Erin DiCarlo, a spokesperson from the Halifax Regional Municipality, says they have received 91 complaints about sidewalk clearing on priority three streets during the 2018-2019 winter season.

“If weather cooperates, we’re anticipating sidewalk clearing will be completed by the end of the weekend,” DiCarlo wrote.

Speaking to Global News Morning on Thursday, Norm Collins of the Crosswalk Safety Society of Nova Scotia, said he is also disappointed with how the city has handled clearing away the snow and ice.

“It is laughable to me that the city claims that pedestrians are a priority and our sidewalks are in the condition that they’re in,” Collins said.

“If we truly believe that pedestrians are important, and should be recognized and provided a safe environment, we have to do something to address these ice situations.”

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