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Accessibility Key Issue in Debate Over Sidewalk Snow Plowing

Megan Stacey
Updated: January 8, 2020

Winter weather is striking London as budget tensions hit city council, a combination that’s left some Londoners demanding better snow clearing, especially on sidewalks.

Residents and politicians are grappling with what it takes to clear the way ” and how fast it should happen ” after snow wallops the city.

Accessibility advocates charge that city hall must improve its sidewalk plowing drastically if it wants London to be safe, in particular for older folks, young children, bus riders and those who use walkers, wheelchairs and other equipment such as strollers that must be pushed through the snow.

But it’s not cheap.

The proposal: Getting plows, salters and sanders out to do their job earlier, before as much snow has fallen. Specifically, council will mull lowering the threshold that triggers snow clearing on sidewalks from eight to five centimetres, and from 10 to eight cm for residential streets.

The case for better snow clearing: Gerry LaHay is a vocal accessibility advocate who’s also a double amputee. He said using a wheelchair helped open his eyes to the perils of snowy, icy sidewalks. Last weekend’s snowfall nearly kept him housebound, he said, unable to get down the street to the pharmacy or across the street to a bus stop.

“I’m a pretty stubborn and self-sufficient guy, and pretty damn strong, too. To get stuck in the snow was humiliating,” LaHay said.

He’s long tweeted about impassable sidewalks and other parts of the city left inaccessible by weather or design. He stresses he’s not fighting with city hall ” he’s trying to find a solution. And he knows the financial pressures in this multi-year budget can complicate the decision.

But for LaHay, it’s pretty clear: “You keep the roads clear, and emergency vehicles can get by, and you keep the buses moving ” but if I can’t get to the bus, what’s the point?”

And he takes issue with the idea that better snow clearing is “enhanced service.” It’s about giving Londoners basic access to their city, he argues.

“Accessibility is an afterthought. We have a long way to go to get to where we need to be. I guess I just don’t matter. It doesn’t matter how much I’m doing for the community or how I’m trying to run my business, (when it snows), ” you’re at home for the next week, buddy.”

The alternative: Some communities have bylaws that require homeowners to clear the sidewalks themselves. London could go that route, too, though it raises questions about how the rule would be enforced.

The decision: A public meeting on the budget will be held Jan. 23 at city hall at 4 p.m. After that, city politicians will debate the case for new investment Jan. 30 and 31 and into February. The 2020-2023 budget is expected to be approved March 2.

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