The snow may be gone from much of Greater Victoria, but residents who rely on mobility aids such as wheelchairs are raising concerns about what will happen with the next snowfall.
For Langford resident Tanelle Bolt, any forecast for snow has her anticipating not being able to get around easily, as she inevitably encounters uncleared or poorly cleared sidewalks and bus stops in the city’s core.
During the recent snowfall, she said, “I couldn’t go on either side of the street of Goldstream Avenue to get to city hall. And I was on Veterans Memorial Parkway in my wheelchair because I couldn’t access the sidewalk because of snow being shoved in the way. It’s so dangerous out there,” she added.
Bolt lives on Goldstream Avenue near Veterans because of how accessible the area is for her in a wheelchair. When it snows, that accessibility all but disappears.
She has access to an electric wheelchair, which helps her force her way through more snow and ice on sidewalks than others, but often even that isn’t enough.
“It’s so degrading. It’s like being a second-class citizen,” Bolt said. “There needs to be overnight staff out there with shovels to ensure public safety … until it is melted, they should be out there all day long … I want to see people get fines for not (clearing their sidewalks).”
An email response from the City of Langford stated that snow clearing responses are adjusted depending on weather forecasts. The city encourages residents to be prepared to stay home when it snows to allow crews to clear roads and sidewalks.
“Snow clearing takes time. All residents, no matter what their mobility level, should be prepared for forecasted weather,” the statement read. “This may include rescheduling appointments, or staying indoors.”
The city purchased a dedicated sidewalk snow clearing machine several years ago and uses it to clear 23 kilometres of sidewalks along major routes.
Additionally, Traffic Bylaw No. 33 requires owners and occupiers of land with a sidewalk to clear it of snow and ice by 10 a.m. the day following snow accumulation.
Helaine Boyd, co-executive director with the Disability Alliance of B.C., said concerns over accessibility during snowfalls are nothing new to her, adding the organization has heard similar stories across the province for years.
The issue boils down to two points, she said.
“It continues to be an issue because the people who write policy are not thinking about people with disabilities, they are not thinking about how even just a day without clearing sidewalks can affect (the life of) a person with disabilities,” Boyd said. “The second point is that it seems in parts of B.C. where we don’t get snow very often, cities don’t put very much money into snow clearing, so it becomes an issue every year.”
The issue of accessibility when the snow flies has become even more important during the pandemic. Many persons with disabilities have become more isolated, as they may be at greater risk of contracting COVID, Boyd said. This problem is magnified when snow conditions prevent in-home care workers and other in-home resources from attending to their clients.
She points to a lack of enforcement of bylaws requiring property owners and businesses to clear sidewalks on their properties, noting it is ultimately local government’s responsibility to ensure accessibility.