Complaints About Uncleared and Icy Sidewalks and Crosswalks Increased Dramatically Last Winter

December 08, 2022, Kitchener, Ontario

Posted by: Robert Deutschmann, Personal Injury Lawyer


The Kitchener Record has reported on the results of last winter’s municipal snow-clearing efforts. There was a surge in complaints about blocked sidewalks, icy sidewalks and property owners who weren’t shovelling. Despite this, the City of Waterloo has no plan to improve the system.

The position they take is that clearing of sidewalks is the responsibility of adjacent homeowners/landowners and the municipality operates based on a complaint. If there are complaints about a landowner, the municipality issues warnings and then may proceed with clearing the sidewalk and charging the cost back to the owner.

This approach is problematic for many reasons. While the municipality may shift the burden of clearing ice and snow to the landowner, the municipality remains liable for any accidents on the sidewalk which is owned by them. The cost of enforcement, ticketing, and litigation can easily exceed the cost of clearing the snow.

Sidewalks are also pedestrian paths. Many people who cannot drive or chose not to drive are reliant on a clear path to be able to commute along the sidewalk. If there is even one section that is not passable the commute can become impossible for anyone with a disability – a walker, stroller or wheelchair cannot proceed through snow and ice.

Many municipalities in Canada including Ayr in the Region of Waterloo have adopted a more equitable and more economical approach to sidewalk maintenance which we have written about in the past. Municipalities are adopting the position that clearing sidewalks are their responsibility. The resulting increase in tax bills is negligible and the benefit is huge. Sidewalks are cleared to an established standard. As our population ages and urban intensification continues, we can predict that there will be a greater reliance on the use of sidewalks.

If you slip and fall and seriously injure yourself on a municipal sidewalk, please contact one of our personal injury lawyers immediately. The time frame to take action against a municipality is extremely short, and the consequences of the injury can be long-lasting. Remember the first consultation is free. You can reach us online or by calling 1.844.481.4878

Here is the entire article from the Record.

Complaints about icy sidewalks surged to almost 3,000 last winter in Waterloo. What will this winter bring?

Snowclearing complaints have tripled and orders against owners have quadrupled over three winters
Jeff Outhit

Thu., Nov. 24, 2022t

WATERLOO — Waterloo is heading into another winter without a plan to clear snow from all sidewalks, despite surging complaints about property owners who do not shovel.

City hall handled 2,870 complaints about icy, uncleared sidewalks last winter. That’s more than triple the complaints made two winters earlier and is part of a steady increase.

The city responded by issuing 808 snowclearing orders last winter, four times the number it issued in 2020.

“Walking and wheeling around town in the winter is one of our great challenges,” said Coun. Jen Vasic, who walks and pushes a stroller.

She sees more neighbours out shovelling sidewalks in recent winters, “but there are still key pain points that make it difficult to actually do a full trip to wherever you’re going.”

Enforcement is rising in Waterloo after the city added another bylaw officer for winter control. Bylaw officers mostly respond to sidewalk complaints from the public, but also investigated 282 icy sidewalks on their own initiative last winter, far more than in previous years.

Owners typically get 24 hours to clear snow before receiving a warning. If the warning goes unheeded, city hall may step in to clear the sidewalk and bill the adjacent owner. A bylaw further provides for a fine of $250 or more if convicted for failing to clear a sidewalk.

This approach differs from places such as Guelph, Burlington and London, where local governments clear all sidewalks at public expense. Residents are encouraged to be good neighbours and shovel sidewalks in front of their homes.

Vasic said she intends to press for new snowclearing measures “that would make it easier to walk and wheel around town.”

In 2020 the city cleared snow from about one-quarter of Waterloo’s 701 kilometres of sidewalks and trails. Extending this effort to all sidewalks and trails would cost an estimated $3 million a year, councillors were told.

City hall currently spends almost $3 million annually on winter control, averaged over five years. Average annual spending has increased by almost $1 million since 2016, a 54 per cent increase.

Last winter the city struggled to clear streets and trails after a major snowstorm on Jan. 18, 2022. It was the biggest one-day snowfall since 2008. The full cleanup took two weeks, a city report reveals.

Complaints poured in about uncleared sidewalks that were in fact cleared repeatedly, only to be filled in again by plows where the boulevard is too narrow to store snow. Snowclearing could have gone faster if the city spent more to hire more contractors or had more staff, the report says.

With so much snow last winter and no mid-winter thaw, the city often had to blow snow high onto banks rather than plow it. But blowers can’t remove snow and ice down to the pavement like plowing. This sometimes doubled the time to clear sidewalks, creating an especially difficult situation for anyone with poor mobility.
All winter long, the city did not respond fast enough to satisfy some critics who complained about windrows or about snow dumped onto sidewalks, crosswalks and driveways. Delays are blamed in part on provincial law that requires the city to clear streets and bicycle lanes first.

Drivers created a further problem by parking on streets even during snow bans. Tickets at $80 were issued but “some vehicle owners continued to park on roadways regardless of the snow-event declaration and ticketing.”

To help with snowclearing, three cities in the region ban overnight parking on streets between 2:30 a.m. and 6 a.m. Exemptions are available.

Waterloo restricts overnight parking all year. The Kitchener restriction runs between Dec. 1 and March 31. The Cambridge restriction runs between Jan. 1 and March 15.

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Deutschmann Law serves South-Western Ontario with offices in Kitchener-Waterloo, Cambridge, Woodstock, Brantford, Stratford and Ayr. The law practice of Robert Deutschmann focuses almost exclusively in personal injury and disability insurance matters. For more information, please visit or call us at 1-519-742-7774.

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