Safe and Accessible Sidewalks

With my friend and Council colleague, Lori Bresciani, I will be advancing a motion that aims to improve snow clearance rates on residential sidewalks. The motion will be read at the February 26 session of City Council, a day before the 2018 Budget deliberation. If you wish to speak to the motion, please consider attending Council as a delegate. Check out the City of Regina website for further information.

What is the premise of the motion?

Basically, to make it a requirement, in accordance with the Clean Property Bylaw, for residential property owners in residential areas to clear their sidewalks of snow. It would empower Bylaw Enforcement, upon receiving a complaint, to issue warnings and tickets if property owners fail to comply. Based on Saskatoon's bylaw, it would also enable the City to have the snow removed by a private contractor and have the cost added to the owner's property taxes. Lessons from other cities suggest that these enforcement mechanisms work.

Why?

The quality of sidewalks, especially during the winter, is a concern for many residents. It's a frequent complaint that I receive as the Ward 3 City Councillor. It's also annoying as a parent, especially during those years pushing a stroller through snow-covered sidewalks. Snow and ice can be a challenge in this city for able bodied residents. The main reason we're bringing this forward is hearing the concerns of residents who confront mobility challenges and in some cases are forced to remain in-doors when neighbours don't bother to clear their sidewalks. I think we can do better as a community.

What about residents who do not have the ability to clear the sidewalk?

Fortunately we have other jurisdictions to look to when it comes to developing a compliance and enforcement system. What we are proposing works and has been tested elsewhere. The motion asks Administration to bring back a report later in 2018, and there's an opportunity to develop an enforcement strategy that considers age and ability. Similar considerations are made for other bylaw violations. However, this particular amendment may require unique protocols. Accessibility challenges are considered in the motion. Here's how these concerns are addressed in Saskatoon.

There, Bylaw Inspectors discuss the situation with the resident of the house, and make somewhat of an assessment as to whether they may have difficulty fulfilling the requirements, based on age/ability, financial means, and whether or not they appear to have family or other support.  The Bylaw Inspectors are able to offer some suggestions and contact information for agencies or organizations that may be able to assist such as the Saskatoon Council on Aging, John Howard Society – Community Service Workers, and other personal care organizations.   In cases where it is apparent that there is significant challenges in maintaining a clear sidewalk, and people are willing to look into finding assistance, the Bylaw Inspector typically would not pursue further enforcement. They also have a Snow Angel Program which encourages people to  lend a helping hand to neighbours who may have difficulty shovelling snow.

In other words, Bylaw is used to facilitate community engagement and volunteerism. 

Shouldn't the City clear all sidewalks, since it's city property?

It's not reasonable to expect the City of Regina, or any City for that matter, to clear snow from over 1600 KM of sidewalk. In fact, none of the cities we looked at in the course of our research - Ottawa, Saskatoon, Toronto, Kingston, Edmonton, Calgary - take responsibility for all sidewalks. The City of Edmonton moved to a residential bylaw enforcement process due to costs. That City currently ploughs about 5,000 KM out of a total of 20,000 KM of sidewalks. Residents shoulder some of the responsibility. We should also lift a shovel and help neighbours who are unable to do this work themselves. And the excuse that grandma is going to be penalized because she can't lift a shovel doesn't work for me. In my experience, elderly residents take better care of their property and sidewalks than anyone else, so age isn't the only factor to consider. 

Finally, Councillor Bresciani and I would like to see the City extend the number of paths and sidewalks they clear in parks and next to streets. The effort doesn't stop with this motion.

Isn't this just a "tax grab"?

Absolutely not. There's no evidence to suggest that this would ever generate revenue for the City. In Saskatoon, very few fines are issued to property owners of such offences, and where a contractor is dispatched to force compliance that cost is shouldered by the property owner. Furthermore, this amendment to the Bylaw isn't really that new. Currently, every "owner, operator or occupant of any Commercial Building, Apartment Building, Commercial Parking Lot and Vacant Property that is situated outside the area shown in Schedule “B” [outside of the downtown and several adjacent streets] shall maintain the public sidewalks adjoining those properties." The amendment we're proposing would simply add residential properties to the list. And like other provisions in the bylaw, enforcement is driven by complaints. In Regina we have rules around matters are trivial as landscaping, so why not enforce the state of sidewalks to ensure walkability and safety?

What's this going to cost?

Nothing is free and everything has a cost, whether it's time or money. But in a complaints based bylaw enforcement system, it's up to residents to identify properties that are not in compliance with the bylaw. Ultimately the cost of having the snow cleared is paid for my the property owner / individual ratepayer. Preliminary evidence that we've gathered from Saskatoon doesn't suggest that additional human resources are required. However, the motion seeks a report that would offer Administration a chance to find this information before bylaws are crafted. On the flip side, we should ask who shoulders the costs of injuries and lost work time when people slip and fall on icy sidewalks. What's the human cost when residents with mobility issues can't go outside, get to their bus stop, get to work, and live their life?

Why didn't you do more research? What does the evidence say?

We did a lot of research, actually. The motion was crafted after consultation with the City of Saskatoon and residents. Saskatoon is referenced here because that city, like a dozen or more cities in Saskatchewan, Alberta, and Ontario, have similar bylaws. We can learn from other jurisdictions. In 2017, over 900 complaints over ice and snow were received by the City of Saskatoon. From that number, 32 properties were cleared by a contractor; ZERO tickets were issued. In most cases no further action beyond a warning was necessary. 

There's also a compliance element. Previous City of Regina reports suggest that about 75% of our sidewalks are cleared. The methodology used to summon that number has been questioned by accessibility advocates. By comparison, cities like Edmonton, which have bylaws requiring residents to clear their sidewalks, have compliance rates that exceed 90%. In other words, the bylaw works. 

Language and background

Safe and Accessible Sidewalks

WHEREAS the Transportation Master Plan aims to “Promote active transportation for healthier communities” as well as “Safe and Efficient Infrastructure”;

WHEREAS according to statistics compiled by the Canadian Institute for Health Information, the province has seen an average of 43.4 hospitalizations per 100,000 people between 2011 and 2016 related to slips and falls, the highest rate in Canada;

WHEREAS a City survey conducted in 2012/2013 found that approximately 257 km of sidewalk are not being cleared;

WHEREAS the City receives service requests due to snow and icy sidewalks;

WHEREAS the City of Regina Clean Property Bylaw requires commercial property owners to clear their sidewalks within 24 - 48 hours;

WHEREAS report PW13-18 indicated that most cities in Saskatchewan possess sidewalk clearing bylaws, including Saskatoon, as well as major “winter” cities across Canada;

WHEREAS “encouragement” programs, like the Snowbuster program, have been cut or have not been successful;

WHEREAS the City currently does not have any options available for residents to access or apply for optional snow clearing on sidewalks that are not within the Winter Maintenance Policy;

WHEREAS sidewalks that are not cleared create undue hardship for residents, particularly related to accessibility;

WHEREAS Saskatoon’s Bylaw No. 8463 The Sidewalk Clearing Bylaw, 2005 has been used to clear 44 properties, at the expense of property owners since 2015, improving the accessibility of City sidewalks in these instances;

BE IT RESOLVED THAT:

The Administration prepare a report respecting the following amendments to Bylaw No. 9881 The Clean Property Bylaw for City Council consideration by Q2 of 2018:

  1. That the owner of a residential property be required to clear the sidewalks along the front and flankage sidewalks adjacent to their lot within 48 hours after a snowfall;
  2. That Bylaw Enforcement have the authority to:
    1. visit a site, and give notice to clear the sidewalk; and
    2. if upon re-inspection the sidewalk is not cleared the City will have a contractor complete the work and charge the cost to the owner’s property taxes;
  3. Repeat non-compliance may also result in the issuance of a fine, as per provisions of the Bylaw.
  4. Accessibility challenges faced by residents due to snow and ice on sidewalks.

Respectfully submitted,

Councillor Andrew Stevens

Councillor Lori Bresciani