Hamilton calls for study on clearing snow from city's highly-used sidewalks

There’s been some progress in the debate about the city’s role in clearing snow from sidewalks in Hamilton.

During a Thursday meeting of the general issues committee, council approved a motion from Ward 3 Councillor Nrinder Nann to study snow-clearing on highly-used sidewalks with a vote of eight to five.

The motion followed a report from city staff about winter sidewalk maintenance and what it would cost to have the city take charge of clearing snow from Hamilton’s 2,445 km of sidewalks. Currently, the city only clears 397 km of that. On private sidewalks, the responsibility falls to property owners and residents to clear snow within 24 hours of a snowfall.

The report concluded that providing a city-wide service would cost approximately $5.053 million for a typical winter season.

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Nann says she has received numerous complaints about uncleared sidewalks impacting how residents with mobility issues are able to move around the city.

“I think we got to about 275 inquiries in my office that included photos or details of residents unable to access their daily life because the sidewalks were impassable,” said Nann.

“We need to provide consistent and regular access and free movement to our people, particularly our seniors and those with disabilities so they’re not forced to be shut in during the winter.”

City staff would be required to deliver the report in time for 2020 budget discussions. The emphasis would fall on snow-clearing on sidewalks by parks, daycare and childcare facilities, senior housing and elder care facilities, as well as those that provide connectivity to transit routes.

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Ward 12 Councillor Lloyd Ferguson, whose ward already sees some city-clearing of sidewalks, had a warning for the rest of the city about “constant, constant” complaints from residents. He says plow operators who are clearing snow quickly at night will sometimes accidentally go off the sidewalks and cause damage to sod or sprinklers.

“My only advice to you is be careful what you ask for. Because you can run into some significant complaints still,” Ferguson said. “They say, ‘I’m paying for this service but you’re ripping up my lawn,’ and, ‘Stop doing it. Take it off my taxes and don’t clean my sidewalk anymore.’”

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Several councillors also referenced an inadequate number of volunteers for the city’s Snow Angels program, a snow removal service for low income residents, seniors, and residents with disabilities.

A second motion from Ward 6 Councillor Tom Jackson was also approved by council. That motion would call for another report to be delivered before or during the 2020 budget deliberations about how to enhance the Snow Angels program, improving enforcement of sidewalk clearing, and calling on Canada Post to clear snow from community mailbox locations.

As for the 2019 budget, council moved to refer most of the budget issues to a meeting toward the end of March.

Councillors also approved a motion to establish a subcommittee to examine the controversial issue of area rating, which sees different areas of the city paying varying tax rates for some city services, including transit.

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