Variable weather makes sidewalk snow-clearing efforts more difficult

Victoria Steadman and Voicu Goga’s daughter fell three times in two weeks this year. They’re upset about the state of the sidewalk snow-clearing in Woolwich Township.  The pair say their 12-year-old daughter Ella fell at Park Manor School while kicking a ball the morning after an ice storm event Jan

Last updated on May 03, 23

Posted on Jan 26, 23

4 min read

Victoria Steadman and Voicu Goga’s daughter fell three times in two weeks this year. They’re upset about the state of the sidewalk snow-clearing in Woolwich Township.

The pair say their 12-year-old daughter Ella fell at Park Manor School while kicking a ball the morning after an ice storm event January 9.

“She was home for a week off school. She was experiencing headaches every day,” said Steadman. “ We did take her to the doctor and the headaches were just coming from the head injury. So she didn’t end up having a concussion from all the tests that they did, but she did have the head injury, which was making her experience the headaches.”

Steadman said Ella also fell two other times while walking to her bus stop near Snyder Avenue and Church Street within a span of two weeks.

Other residents, too, have noticed the icy conditions.

Jack McEachern lives on First Street in Elmira. He said he was out for a walk to pick up breakfast on the the same morning Ella fell. He made his way from First Street to the deli on Church Street shortly after 8 a.m.

McEachern said he has a hernia that returned after a surgery last year. That makes a fall a risky proposition for his health.

“So I’m really careful how I walk and where I walk.”

That morning he had a hard time making his way on the sidewalks. “I got to the end of my driveway, and pretty much slid right onto the road.”

He said he ended up walking on the road and on people’s lawns for much of the way to and from the the plaza, and also to the bus stop that same morning. While he walked, he saw people of all ages sliding around, including kids and families trying to get to school.

He said he walked near the high school, the arena, St. Teresa of Avila and  John Mahood schools, with no salt on the sidewalks nearby.

Jared Puppe, Woolwich’s director of infrastructure services, says the responsibility for clearing sidewalks differs depending on location in the township.

In settlements in the township except Elmira, property owners must clear their sidewalks in front of and beside their homes and businesses within 24 hours of a snowfall of 38 mm or more.

In Elmira, “all sidewalks are maintained on behalf of the adjacent property owners by contracted services through a special service levy,” Puppe said, noting the same 24-hour timeline applies.

“The most challenging [aspect of] sidewalk clearing is dealing with weather that creates a freeze/thaw cycle when there are warmer days and colder nights,” he said. “School sidewalks do receive a higher degree of attention, however, depending on the type of weather and timing that the event takes place has a direct impact on our contractor’s ability to meet the exact demand at the exact time. Winter control is a difficult service as winter in general is unpredictable.”

There are a variety of reasons sidewalks may be icy in areas by schools, he said.  As the bylaw stipulates that ice and snow must be acted on within 24 hrs from the end of the winter event, the snow and ice may have been deposited after the most recent event and prior to the 24 hour period ending. Likewise, with winter temperatures often ranging above and below the freezing point ( 0°C), a thaw may cause water to pool on a sidewalk from melting snow and then refreezing when the temperature drops.

McEachern said that he saw a crossing guard trying to break up the ice with her boot so kids would be able to cross.

Puppe said the township staff are working on better options.

“It is being looked into to provide bins at some crossing areas with pickled sand (a blend of sand and salt) to be available for traction. Crossing guards will then be able to put down their own salt/sand if the homeowner or contractor hasn’t salted yet.”

He also said the township is also getting a quote from a contractor to “help with windrows around crossing guard locations because this has been an issue in past years.” Windrows are piles of snow formed at a pedestrian crossing when snow is plowed across an intersection.

The school boards are responsible for clearing sidewalks directly in front of school property but not the sidewalk in front of nearby properties students may use on the way to school. The Waterloo Region District School Board hires a number of contractors to salt the areas in their contracts before 6:30 a.m., says spokesperson Estefania Rodriguez Y Brandenstein.

“WRDSB responds as quickly as possible to any icy conditions when we are made aware of them on our school sites.”

Voicu Goga, Ella’s father, says he wants to know how his taxes are being used.

“We are paying taxes to include the garbage and snow removal and all that, but yet, my kid goes to school and is expected to play on an unmaintained school property area and they get hurt. So I would like an explanation from the mayor – how is this allowed? How is this fair to the taxpayer?”

“And the sidewalks as well,” said Steadman. “If there’s a freezing rain warning, and they know that children will be walking to school the next day, they need to treat the sidewalks. We live right on Church Street and there are tons of people walking their dogs, there are elderly people right beside the township (office) that walk around that area. Especially when there’s a warning for things like this, they need to be taken care of.”

Puppe said residents can report any concerns or questions to the operations department between 8:30am and 4:30pm at 519-669-6043 or after hours, through the Region of Waterloo’s call center at 519-575-4400.

Email inquiries can also be submitted through the Township’s website, he said. We just ask that residents wait at least 24 hours after a winter event has occurred prior to reporting of any unplowed roads or sidewalks.

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