Sidewalk Mess

I’ve written about this subject before but every winter makes it relevant again. On the day that I’m writing this it has been 8 days since the last significant snowfall in Thunder Bay.

photograph of the sidewalk along Oliver Road on January 4, 2023

As you can see, unless you are able to walk on bumpy icy trails the sidewalk is not passable, over a week after the last snowfall. This four lane stretch of Oliver Rd is one of the major routes to Lakehead University which has thousands of students and staff that commute every day. And it is the only pedestrian route from higher density housing in downtown Port Arthur (Thunder Bay North Core) to the single acute care hospital within 100 km.

When I talk to friends (who mostly drive) or folks from the City (who also mostly drive), the attitude is “Well, we live in a northern climate with snow and this is just the way things are. We have to live with it.” However, when Oliver Road was widened from 2 lanes to 4 lanes back in the 1980s, in order to move more cars, the snow storage between the road and the sidewalk was reduced to almost nothing. This is not a climate problem, it was designed this way.

Compare this to the section of Oliver Road that runs beside the University to the west. It has over a metre of snow storage between the sidewalk and the roadway. On the same day, one could wheel their way with a wheelchair, a scooter, or pushing a child in a stroller.

The same friends and commentators will say that it is impossible, within the City budget, to possibly clear the sidewalks and snowbanks in a timely manner to keep the sidewalks along Oliver Road passable to everyone.

When the City widened the road to accommodate more cars, they accepted that it would cost more to repair, to paint lines, to clear the snow in the winter, to street-clean in the spring, to fix the potholes and otherwise maintain a 4 lane road as opposed to a 2 lane road. They also accepted a liability to maintain the sidewalks given the extra asphalt installed for cars, but this is the one responsibility that they refuse to honour. Because they never intended to honour it. The cars will have this collector street cleared as a priority but for pedestrians the snow banks are simply an act of God that we must accept.

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