Unto Kihlanki makes a simple point in a Guelph Mercury opinion editorial.
I thank him for not pointing his finger at the men and women who work in our public works department – it was a tough year for our staff answering calls from the public about sidewalk and road conditions.
I believe it is fair to say we lost our sidewalks in December with the ice storm and we never recovered. Yes, the winter conditions this year have been extraordinary. However, I want to know how our current policies– both operational and financial – hindered, rather than helped, manage conditions. I suspect they did. Despite the incredible effort of front line employees, we did not deliver the right results – by anyone’s measure.
We have a strategy to increase transit ridership. We are making investments that are delivering results. Ridership has been growing. Reliability is improving although it is still not where we need it. The Affordable Bus Pass has made our community more accessible to many.
We also have a cycling strategy. We are making investments to improve connectivity and safety for cyclers.
What we don’t have is a clear commitment to pedestrians (although I suspect if I dig into the Older Adult Strategy I will find this issue). Yet we aspire to be a walkable city for all the good reasons that Mr. Kihlanki notes.
In the next few months, the Operations, Transit and Emergency Services Committee is expecting to receive a financial plan aimed at tackling the historic backlog in sidewalk maintenance – although this is only addressing potential tripping hazards and accessibility barriers under normal conditions. We are also expecting a review of our response to this last winter. Both offer an opportunity to respond to Mr. Kihlanki’s call to action for people on foot in our community.
As Mr. Kihlanki notes maybe the city should not clear sidewalks; residents were required to clear the sidewalks in most of the areas in Toronto that he has lived in and they were able to do a better job. I do think we need to challenge positioning this issue in this way. Perhaps we should consider doing both – the City does the” heavy lifting” after a significant snowfall or icestorm and residents are required to help keep them accessible throughout the winter.
I don’t know how Toronto fared this year – perhaps their sidewalks were just as challenging. However, I do know they have a pedestrian charter with the following six principles – drafted no less by than the internationally-renowned urbanist Jane Jacobs:
Accessibility – Walking is a free and direct means of accessing local goods, services, community amenities and public transit.
Equity – Walking is the only mode of travel that is universally affordable, and allows children and youth, and people with specific medical conditions to travel independently.
Health and Well-being: Walking is a proven method of promoting personal health and well-being.
Environmental Sustainability: Walking relies on human power and has negligible environmental impact.
Personal and Community Safety: An environment in which people feel safe and comfortable walking increases community safety for all.
Community Cohesion and Vitality A pedestrian-friendly environment encourages and facilitates social interaction and local economic vitality.