It seems strange that in a place that says in their Transportation Plan that  pedestrians and cyclists are the first priority  that we still have not become serious about ensuring that the most vulnerable road users  have clear, accessible sidewalks and bike lanes when it snows. From the perspective of anyone with a mobility deficit, in a wheelchair, or walking with a baby stroller unimpeded sidewalks cleared from snow just makes sense. Add in the fact that everyone should be shopping locally to support businesses hit by the pandemic.  So why are cities not providing this basic service, of ensuring cleared sidewalks for residents  to access local commercial areas?

I have previously written about the City of Winnipeg that gives  their crews a 36 hour window for priority cleaning, and that includes sidewalks, which just like roads are labelled priority one or priority two. After a blizzard  the City of Winnipeg  will be clearing 2,900 kilometers of sidewalks stating “The sidewalks are done the same way as the streets”.

In Vancouver? Nada. Vancouver makes it the responsibility of residents to clean the section of sidewalk in front of their house, and makes business owners responsible for the areas in front of their store fronts.  But the City of Vancouver does not respond equitably by  clearing their own snowy sidewalks adjacent to city parks and services, and pedestrian curb crossings can be treacherous. It just makes sense to snow plough out the corners where pedestrians cross, keep the snow out of bike lanes, and give Vancouverites a fighting chance when the snow falls, freezes, and stays.

It was balmy in Toronto last week, but the Toronto Star Editorial Board is not fooled and has bluntly  told the City of Toronto to start cleaning snow off sidewalks.

Just as in Vancouver, “Toronto leaves the responsibility for clearing sidewalks in the central core, the densest part of the city with the most pedestrians, to individual business owners and residents. Not surprisingly, they do a fairly haphazard job of it. And it’s pedestrians, including vulnerable seniors and those with disabilities, who face the dangerous consequences of that.”

With the pandemic curve not looking so positive, walking might be one of the few safe, open activities if there is another lockdown.

There’s statistics showing that in Toronto there were 3,000 complaints last year over snow covered sidewalks, 624 inspections and only 44 fines. The whole problem is that the complaints, inspections and fines still don’t produce what a city’s residents need~ clear, safe winter sidewalks.

There is specialized equipment for clearing sidewalks, and Ottawa and Montreal clean sidewalks, as well as Winnipeg. It’s no biggie. The estimated insurance cost of what the City of Toronto pays out annually for slips and falls on icy sidewalks is nearly seven million dollars, which you would think would be a major incentive for making sidewalk clearing a priority.

In Vancouver we only have to look back on February of 2018 when the snow came, stayed, and provided slippy boot punching snow on sidewalks throughout the city that remained grudgingly uncleared. The City has a Snow Angel Program that matched seniors and others looking to have their front sidewalk shovelled with someone that is willing to do that. But on a citywide basis in every commercial area and on the connecting streets we need the City to do the same service, providing snow removal on sidewalks so that everyone can have the chance to be mobile.  That’s how you give pedestrians and cyclists transportation priority all year around.

With over 460,000 views, here’s a YouTube  example of a snow removal machine made specifically for dealing with snow on sidewalks.





  1. Oooh! The luxury of having SIDEWALKS! Even if we did have them on all District of North Vancouver roads – including Wellington, one of only three through routes from Lynn Valley to Lonsdale, which was just dug up repeatedly, with new curbs up and down, and even new sidewalk CORNERS at Princess Avenue, but which still lacks sidewalks – we’d run into the classic “only in the District” argument that a snow removal bylaw would be unfair because only homeowners who had sidewalks out front would face penalties!

    Yes, the argument against making people shovel their sidewalks was that lots of homes didn’t have a sidewalk!

    (Sorry, listening to Bonnie Henry claim that masks don’t slow COVID-19 has put me into a really ranty mood.)

  2. I’m wondering if there isn’t one councillor willing to endorse your very cogent proposal that’s become the civic regime in other locales. The City plows streets for motorists and commercial traffic, but not for people. Cyclists only benefit when they use the roads used by motorists.

  3. About 20% of the streets in Vancouver do not have any sidewalks not even on one side. Another 20% are very old sidewalks that need to be repaired. Bike routes are cleared of snow before sidewalks. City staff prioritizes cycling over walking and transit.
    Vancouver needs proper tractors to clear snow on sidewalks and greenways.

  4. My sympathies to Barry ..
    Living on Grand Blvd in CNV, each winter we saw all three pathways (2 bike, 1 ped) on the park swept *clean* and salted separately, multiple times per day, the paths getting the royal treatment while the major roadway/bus route/designated disaster route got the occasional plow. Let’s not even compare to the collector or secondary roads which were not even touched for days.

    In the first year, Mayor Mussatto even had to direct Parks to NOT clear the paths THAT frequently as it created a negative perception of the street crews (and the Parks crews), especially by those stuck on the bus for several hours watching them work. The pessimists should have got off and walked the path, cutting their trip time in half!

    The number of passes of the park plow and sander exceeds the daily number of cyclists, and if you subtract the peds who used the actual (maybe) publicly cleared sidewalks aginst the ones on the cleared ped path, the plow traffic won again.

    There is little point in clearing disconnected little bike segments when cyclists must travel further on unplowed sidewalks and streets to get to them than the length they can use.

    The.park paths also regularly get swept and blown of leaves & debris while the street catch basins and curbs remain clogged with leaves and debris.

    An appropriate balance of resources must be struck between roads (for mass transit and goods movement), bikes, peds, as well for people getting to where it’s cleared.

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