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London petition demands improved sidewalk maintenance in winter

Footsteps in the snow on Queens Avenue in London, Ont. November 14, 2019.
Footsteps in the snow on Queens Avenue in London, Ont. November 14, 2019. Jaclyn Carbone / 980 CFPL

A London accessibility advocate’s push for barrier-free sidewalks, especially during snowfall events, is gaining traction.

Gerry LaHay’s petition was launched six days ago, and as of early Tuesday afternoon, it had recorded 450 of the 500 signatures sought.

READ MORE: Accessibility advocate invites Londoners to ‘roll a mile in my wheels’

LaHay, a double amputee, says the city’s existing snow clearing threshold to only clear sidewalks with at least 8 cm of snow within 48 hours after the end of snowfall makes winter travel difficult — and not just for those with mobility issues.

“A friend of mine that lives over in the Coves — and she’s not in a wheelchair like I am — she’s walking on a cane right now with a disability and she’s had some major issues trying to get to a bus stop. I refer to another person that I know of that does not have a disability that slipped and fell today and bonked her head on the sidewalk,” he told 980 CFPL on Monday.

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“We put an extraordinary amount of effort into ensuring that our roads are clear … but we also have a public transit system that we’re trying to ensure is successful but if I can’t get to it in a wheelchair because of slushy or icy sidewalks, then I’m — with the hashtag that I came up with — held hostage at home,” said LaHay, who later appeared Tuesday morning on The Craig Needles Show.

Currently, the City of London follows the the “provincial standard for winter maintenance known as the Minimum Maintenance Standards (MMS)” but LaHay says they are minimum for a reason.

“There’s an expectation that companies, businesses, and cities exceed those expectations. Do I dream of having a bare sidewalk the same as I dream of seeing a bare road? Yes! Is that realistic? I’m not so sure, but we could make more of an effort to try and get there.”

READ MORE: London committee looks to change city’s snowplow threshold

The city’s Transportation and Roadside Operations Division manager John Parsons says city staff have begun investigating the feasibility of implementing a municipal threshold of 5 cm.

“There’s currently a budget item put forward in the multi-year budget that could provide funding to deploy sidewalk plows earlier into the snowfall event. The trigger that [council was] suggesting was 5 cm. We reported to council on that, put a budget item forward, and that will be discussed during budget talks,” said Parsons.

“It’s roughly $600,000 to implement a change like that.”

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In the meantime, Parsons is suggesting Londoners look out for each other.

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“We’re encouraging neighbours, and we always have, to help work together to find common solutions. We can all work together with some simple actions like clearing your sidewalk in addition to what the city does and also clearing out the ends of your driveway will help improve mobility for all.”

The 2020-2023 multi-year budget is expected to be tabled at a strategic priorities and policy committee meeting on Dec. 9, 2019.

— with files from 980 CFPL’s Andrew Graham and Matthew Trevithick.