People with disabilities still struggling through the snow

Despite an increased snow clearing budget, advocates say we still have a long way to go

Despite an increased snow-clearing budget, advocates say St. John’s still has a long way to go

A woman in a red coat (Anne Malone) holds the leash of of guide dog. They are standing on the sidewalk of a residential neighborhood in St. John's. There is snow throughout the image. Malone uses a guide dog to aid in her visual impairment for navigating the city.
Anne Malone says that even a small pile of snow can stop a visually impaired person in their tracks. She says an accessibility audit by the city would be a step in the right direction. Chad Feehan/Kicker

Chad Feehan

The St. John’s snow-clearing budget has increased this year, but a local advocate says St. John’s remains an inaccessible city for those with disabilities.

The city of St. John’s snow-clearing budget for 2023 has seen a seven per cent increase compared to 2022 with an emphasis on pedestrian crossings. Extra equipment and employees have been assigned to the effort, which will cut down the time it takes to get snow cleared.

Response time to clear pedestrian crossings in the city has been lowered from 144 to 72 hours.

Anne Malone, who is legally blind and uses a service dog to navigate the city, does not consider the budget increase to be a meaningful step towards accessibility for people with visible and non-visible disabilities.

“The only way I can get where I want to go, which is just a couple of thousand meters away from us, is to walk with moving traffic in the road. It’s now been almost 48 hours since a major snowfall,” said Malone, pointing to a snow-covered sidewalk on King’s Bridge Road.

“This is a high traffic area with a lot of industrial vehicles, and we have vulnerable human beings walking in lanes of traffic, again, for another winter…I’m not seeing much of a change at all.”

Coun. Sandy Hickman, lead councillor on public works in St John’s, says the response times are affected by the amount of falling snow and the amount that is already on the ground. Major snowfalls, like the last major snowfall in January, may take even longer.

“If you had 10 or 15 centimetres of snowfall on top of snow on the ground, 72 hours would definitely be achievable…no two storms are the same, that’s for sure.”

“Perhaps some streets and roadways should be one-way only during winter. Perhaps speed limits should be dropped seasonally.”

Anne Malone

More needs to be done to ensure the safety of pedestrians during the winter months, says Malone.

“…the interest of pedestrians are every bit as valuable as the interests of drivers,” said Malone.

“Perhaps some streets and roadways should be one-way only during winter. Perhaps speed limits should be dropped seasonally.”

A man walks a bike through blowing snow down Kenmount Road in St. John's. The road is covered in snow and slush. There are a few cars on the road. Disability advocates say the current snow clearing efforts in St. John's are not enough.
Coun. Sandy Hickman says snow clearing in the city is done on a priority basis. Main roads are cleared first, then side streets, then sidewalks, and finally pedestrian crossings. Chad Feehan/Kicker

For some, paid mobile apps like BlindSquare are a step in the right direction.

Malone, however, is not entirely convinced.

“If I had to pull out my phone in these conditions, put in headphones and all of that stuff to engage with an app, I’m putting myself in other dangers.”

Hickman says people with disabilities are “top of mind” year-round when it comes to city access, but says having all sidewalks and roadways opened almost immediately after a snowfall is “absolutely impossible.”

“You have to be realistic in your budgeting and in your allocation of resources,” said Hickman. “Not every street gets done immediately, some take a little longer.

“There’s a very good network of cleared sidewalks around the city. Not every street will have its sidewalks plowed…that’ll never happen, I can almost guarantee that.”

“We need representation at the tables where decisions are made…if we are not at the table our reality is not really being communicated.”

Anne Malone

For Malone, the issues of accessibility today are too similar to those of decades ago.

“People have been advocating for disability access in St. John’s since the 1960s,” said Malone. “We haven’t made that much progress…for a visually impaired person to get around in this city is next to impossible.”

According to Malone, meaningful change follows adequate representation.

“We need representation at the tables where decisions are made…if we are not at the table our reality is not really being communicated,” said Malone.

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