Cyclists ignore city’s threat of fines, clear icy bike paths
CYCLISTS have again taken matters into their owns hands, clearing ice from a bike lane in the Exchange District during Monday afternoon’s commute, despite a warning from the city that they may be fined.
It’s the second time in a week cyclists have cleared a lane themselves out of safety concerns, after being dissatisfied with the city’s snow-clearing policy and the handling of their complaints to 311.
This time, the group chipped ice which formed on a protected cycling lane on Arthur Street, between McDermot and Notre Dame avenues.
“(The) spot is incredibly iced up and rutted,” said Hillary Rosentreter, who organized the effort.
After she complained to the city’s 311 service on Twitter Sunday, a city employee wrote back to inform her public works had been notified the lane needed clearing.
The employee also advised her to review certain sections of Winnipeg’s streets bylaw.
“In general, residents shouldn’t work on, obstruct, or place items in the right-of-way without a permit,” the employee wrote.
Rosentreter, who is among the Winnipeggers who cycle throughout winter, said she will fight any bylaw fine in court.
“We’re going to keep notifying them when problems come up,” she said. “If they take their sweet time getting to it, if we get to it before them, it is what it is.”
The city has cleared other trouble spots for cyclists, including one on St. Matthews Avenue, following complaints, Rosentreter noted.
Michael Cantor, the city’s manager of streets maintenance, said Winnipeggers shouldn’t clear a public street, sidewalk or bike lane themselves.
They should report and discuss any concerns with 311, he said.
“I hope we wouldn’t get to that point, having to fine anyone,” said Cantor.
On Nov. 22, Rosentreter and about 10 others cleared snow and ice from a lane on Westminster Avenue, between Maryland and Sherbrook streets, after complaining to 311.
The city said an inspection found the lane had been cleared according to policy, but the group wasn’t happy with the job that was done.
According to Winnipeg’s snow-clearing policy, active transportation paths on Priority 1 and 2 streets are to be cleared to a compacted snow surface instead of bare pavement.
Rosentreter said bike lanes should be cleared down to the pavement because compacted snow surfaces become mushy and icy when temperatures fluctuate like they have recently.
She wants the city to review and change the policy.
Cantor said smaller clearing equipment doesn’t have the power to plow ice like a grader does.
It’s not feasible to clear all sidewalks down to bare pavement, he said, because their concrete panels can shift in summer and make the surface uneven, risking damage to infrastructure and equipment when snow is plowed.
Crews completed a two-and-a-half day residential street clearing operation Saturday at 7 p.m., using about 300 pieces of equipment per 12-hour shift.
“All the residential streets were cleared,” said Cantor. “All of them were cleared on time.”
The operation will end up costing about $2 million, which is on the “lower side” of the scale, he said.
The city expects to exceed this year’s $35-million snow clearing budget by $40.9 million.
It launched the operation following complaints from the public about some streets and sidewalks becoming clogged with mushy snow amid mild weather in the aftermath of the first major snowfall Nov. 10-11.
Melissa Graham, a project co-ordinator with the Manitoba League of Persons with Disabilities, said her electric wheelchair got stuck on a slush-covered sidewalk while returning home from a grocery store on a recent evening.
She had to repeatedly reverse and move the wheelchair forward to become unstuck while it was dark outside.
Otherwise, she said, “you’re stuck until you can find somebody to come help you out.”
“I’m fortunate to have a pretty solid chair with good tires,” said Graham. “I was lucky it wasn’t too cold.”
Graham recently moved to Winnipeg from Toronto.
While using her wheelchair in Winnipeg, she has noticed some streets where one sidewalk has been plowed but the other one hasn’t.
She expressed frustration over piles of snow preventing access to pedestrian push buttons at intersections.
“They’re very good clearing the downtown streets, but very much not the streets people live on,” said Graham. “Even when they do clear the snow, a lot of times they leave the ice.
“For a city that sees a lot of winter and a lot of snow, you should have a better budget for that. There are other cities that do better.”
Graham said a large number of people is affected when sidewalks are in poor condition due to snow or ice.
After completing the residential street clearing operation, public works crews are following up on any related concerns, such as windrows, reported to 311.
With minimal snowfall expected this week, they’re focusing on normal trouble spots and controlling ice by salting and sanding higher priority streets as required, said Cantor.
Salt isn’t used on sidewalks due to environmental concerns, he noted.
Environment Canada is predicting flurries, strong wind gusts and an afternoon wind chill of -9 C today, with local blowing snow and a wind chill of -23 overnight.
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