A Winnipeg family is expressing frustration with the city’s snow plowing efforts, as uncleared sidewalks in their neighbourhood are making it impossible for their daughter who uses a wheelchair to get outside.
Kylie and Ernie Remillard told 680 CJOB that their 15-year-old daughter, Ayla, is missing out on some much-needed fresh air due to impassable sidewalks.
“We like to get outside every day, through the pandemic especially, just for mental health,” said Kylie.
“We’ve found that with the colder weather and with a lot more snow, it’s becoming a lot harder. Our daughter has a rare genetic disorder and is very disabled — she’s 100 per cent dependent on us, so getting out on a normal day is very difficult.
“By the time you get out with all the snow, trying to get her into her wheelchair … and get her into the trenches of the snow, it’s very difficult to push her in that.”
Kylie and Ayla.Ernie said the family lives near St. Vital mall and usually has access to a number of local trails and paths that are available for wheelchair use even in the winter, but so far this season has been an outlier.
“The actual sidewalks are really clogged with ice, and wheelchairs aren’t built for a Winnipeg climate, so it’s one of those things where you’re really restricted. You can’t do much and you end up taking her wheelchair on the road, which is very dangerous,” he said.
“There are very few things we can all do as a family, and it’s one of those really important things to us. When our daughter gets into her wheelchair and she’s outside, you just see the calm come over her body and she’s just a completely different child — she’s at peace.
“We always try to step back and realize what other people are going through — there’s only so many dollars to go around — but at the end of the day, I feel Winnipeg is one of those inclusive communities where it’s really important to see people with disabilities out and about.”
The Remillards acknowledged that they’re just one of hundreds of Winnipeg families dealing with the same issue — an issue city officials are hoping to address sooner rather than later.
In a statement Wednesday, a city spokesperson said crews are working around the clock to clear streets, sidewalks, back lanes, and active transportation paths. They say around 300 pieces of heavy equipment are used to clean up after a major snowfall — and it’s not uncommon for some of that equipment to break down during a cold snap.
The city is preaching patience as it tries to dig Winnipeg out.
Winnipeg’s street maintenance manager told Global News on Tuesday that removing the snow piles isn’t a cheap or overnight operation.
“We’ll get to it. We have a plan to move forward for the next, probably, five weeks,” he said.
“We’re going to be, day and night… reducing piles. We’re asking residents for some patience while we remove the amount of snow we’ve received.”
Michael Cantor said it would’ve been impossible for the city to clear the piles blocking the sidewalks at the same time as it cleared residential streets.
Mayor Brian Bowman told 680 CJOB Winnipeg has already had more snow at this point in winter than the city saw all of last year.
“We can’t clear them all at the same time — that would be ideal, I know we’d all welcome that,” he said.
“What the crews are doing is they’re clearing the streets, the back lanes, the sidewalks, the active transportation paths based on a priority system.
“We’re still going to analyze how effective is the policy, where can improvements be made. Winnipeggers expect a lot, and they deserve a great service, so Winnipeggers are going to voice their criticisms when they feel it’s warranted, and we should be listening and open to continuing to make improvements to the policy going forward.”
According to Bowman, the city has already cleared enough snow to fill a whopping 16 Olympic-sized swimming pools — or more than the distance of a round trip from Vancouver to Halifax — but that doesn’t make it easier for people with disabilities.
Tracy Garbutt of the CNIB said visually-impaired Winnipeggers are struggling with the situation as well, and it’s nothing new.
“I was literally picking up big chunks and kind of throwing them off to the side as I walked with my dog heeling behind me to get down the sidewalk,” he said.
“Enough is enough, and with GPS and everything else, we can look at how they clear, if they’ve missed stuff — and I think if they really analyze it differently, they’re going to be able to do it quicker and better.
“This has been proposed for years and nothing has changed.”
Garbutt said because of the high snow piles near crosswalks, his guide dog has to take him a lot closer to potentially dangerous oncoming traffic, just so they can cross the street.
“We have to look at how we can go back over certain areas or put up the snow fences, because there’s a lot of places along Portage (Avenue) where it gets blown in the next day, and with this wind and this snow that we’re having — it’s pretty frustrating.”