Clean and Clear Concrete

Accessibility of sidewalks and environmental changes in Winnipeg

Piles of snow surround a previously accessible parking meter.

Photo by Keeley Braunstein-Black

Weather in Winnipeg means watching a snowman melt one day, then adding an extra coat of snow the next. In November of 2017, Winnipeg had amassed a total of 20.4 centimetres of snow. Last year, CBC reported that the snow has been the worst it has been in 60 years, especially for those walking on sidewalks, but due to climate change, that may be different. Now, research is being done at the University of Winnipeg around climate change and how it affects accessibility for all pedestrians.

The amount of snow on the sidewalks has a large role to play in the accessibility of sidewalks. This month, it is reported that there was at least 21.4 centimetres of snowfall in Winnipeg.

Gina Sylvestre, a professor at the University of Winnipeg (U of W) who specializes in geography, mobility and aging, says that a community consultation listed falling outside as one of the top four safety concerns. She says her research, which she has been conducting for the past eight to nine years, concerning winter walking for the elderly is helping to “inform better practices of snow clearing and allowing our people with less abilities to function and to do their day-to-day lives.”

Sylvestre’s research shows that people with disabilities are more likely to stay indoors during the winter, which may lead to more health problems in the future because of the loneliness and the isolation from society that they face during this season.

The application of sand on sidewalks during winter would allow people who use wheelchairs or other mobility aids to use sidewalks. She says that climate change will increase the periods of freezing and thawing of snow and that sand would remain constant during these times.

“Climate change is definitely affecting the winters in Winnipeg,” Dr. Danny Blair, a geography professor at the U of W and the director of science at the Prairie Climate Centre, says.

He goes on to say that out of all the seasons that Winnipeg has, its winters have changed the most as a result of climate change. Blair says that, in the long run, it is going to affect all seasons, but especially winters.

“Winters are already a lot warmer than they used to be and a lot shorter than they used to be. This trend will continue almost certainly,” he says.

Blair predicts that the winters will be wetter and have more rain, rather than snow. The temperature will likely continue to be cold, but Winnipeg will still need to prepare for large amounts of snow, because the amount of snow is dependent on the temperature. Since Winnipeg is in the range of a strong jet stream, the city will always face turbulent changes in weather and precipitation.

“When you start talking about people with more profound mobility problems, we need to start talking about urban planning. Winnipeg has more than 2,000 kilometres of sidewalk … and the city doesn’t have enough resources to clean them all, so we need to use the resources we have to provide better bus services for everyone,” she says.

Published in Volume 72, Number 21 of The Uniter (March 15, 2018)

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