Whitehorse Daily Star

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Photo by Vince Fedoroff

INUNDATED – Main Street is seen after a major snowfall in early November 2020.

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Photo by Vince Fedoroff

Ramesh Ferris

‘You can’t deny disability,’ city council told

If city council members weren’t aware they have a problem with snow and ice removal policies, they are now.

By T.S. Giilck on November 17, 2023

If city council members weren’t aware they have a problem with snow and ice removal policies, they are now.

The subject took up the lion’s share of Tuesday’s regular council session. Multiple delegations scolded council over the policies, which cause problems for people with accessibility issues.

The subject then became mired in procedural issues later in the meeting as Coun. Michelle Friesen’s motion appeared to flummox her council colleagues.

The issue revolves around how the city clears out parking spots and associated ramps and curb cuts designated for accessible parking.

Advocates, who have included Friesen, want such spots to be part of the priority 1 list.

City staff have said that would require some careful planning, and would add to the cost of the clearing.

For the second consecutive meeting, longtime anti-polio advocate Ramesh Ferris made a presentation to the council.

Ferris referenced a motion made recently by Friesen and said it was an important moment for many people in the city.

He said it would allow people with disabilities, seniors and elders to have “equitable access” to do their business and shopping in the downtown core in the winter.

“They’ve been caught in the middle of a turf war,” Ferris said, naming the city and businesses in the core as the adversaries facing off over snow-clearing.

Inconsistent snow removal policies are the major problem, he said.

He called it absurd that a city-operated machine is clearing trails in the area of the airport first thing in the morning – but he has trouble getting around the downtown area.

Ferris said the issue has been before council many times over the last 20 years, but only generic responses have been given.

Accessible parking is not an area that has been prioritized.

Ferris said he has served on two accessibility committees without achieving much.

“It can’t be treated like a buffet. City officials can’t pick and choose where people should have access to,” he pointed out.

He said he “didn’t buy” that the city is in financial hardship and can’t afford to clear accessible parking spots.

Ferris said he has a friend in the snow removal business who has suggested approximately $50 per spot would do the job.

He said there are about 52 spots in the downtown area.

“You can’t deny disability,” he told the council.

Darryl Tait, who was injured in a snowmobile mishap a number of years ago, also spoke on the matter.

“I’ve come across many challenges, but one thing that kind of comes to mind is that there are a lot of people who can benefit from this (snow-clearing policy). In 14 years, I haven’t seen a single change,” Tait said.

It’s as if city officials don’t believe people actually use the spots, he added.

Coun. Kirk Cameron asked if a list of specific critical areas of Whitehorse could be provided.

“I’m trying to get a really good fix on that.”

Marney Paradis also spoke.

She told council her mother was planning on presenting to council – but won’t come out when she doesn’t feel she can safely manage the conditions downtown.

“It’s an absence of policy,” Paradis told the council.

Some people with disabilities have been effectively erased by the lack of accessibility in bad weather, Paradis said.

“The reality is that this isn’t working,” she told council.

Seniors and disabled people have borne the cost of that failure for too long, Paradis added.

Gurdeep Pandher spoke to council remotely.

“It is of utmost importance to the community,” he said. “Inclusivity is a key principle.

“Snow and ice can cause considerable difficulties to many people with disabilities and seniors. It can become harder for people to access important places, such as for food,” Pandher added. “This limits their independence.”

He asked for a policy change to remove snow from important destinations. Many people he knows avoid going downtown because they are afraid of falling, Pandher said.

“I know for myself it’s not easy to walk,” he added.

Sharon Shorty was the last speaker.

“I have lived this experience over the last year-and-a-half,” she said. “A year-and-a-half ago, I couldn’t walk. It really made me think about dignity.

“Dignity is free. I struggled a lot, and all last winter I was in a wheelchair,” Shorty said.

“I’ve fallen many times, but it’s a struggle, and today as I got up, I thought, ‘here we go again.’

“I’m in a walker now, and I don’t know how to do this. If there’s any kind of measures that can make life better, why not do it?” Shorty asked.

Later in the meeting, Friesen’s motion was debated. Ultimately, council postponed a decision for another two weeks for city staff to provide more information.

Many of the councillors said they weren’t comfortable making a decision with the information they had.

Staff members said they would be more comfortable with a chance to do more research.

Friesen said she believes the city has made some significant strides to improve its policies, but that not enough has been done on accessibility issues.

“Yeah, we do have that responsibility to look after the books,” she said.

But the city also has a responsibility to its people, Friesen added.

She said she was surprised to see no reference to accessibility in the snow and ice-clearing policies.

Deputy Mayor Mellisa Murray also commented on the motion.

“It’s a huge barrier to not have accessibility in the core,” she said. “It’s an ongoing issue, and this is a great first step, but there are more things that we can do.”

Coun. Dan Boyd asked whether the staff have determined if there are other options, and what the cost would be.

City staff members said the preliminary analysis indicated a dedicated three-person crew would be necessary to clear the spots in a priority manner.

Equipment would also have to be designated or purchased for the crew to use.

Coun. Jocelyn Curteanu asked for more information on the cost.

She was told preliminary estimates show it would cost considerably more than the $50 estimate provided by Ferris’ friend.

Snow would have to be hauled away, significantly contributing to the cost.

The changes are initially forecast to cost nearly $220,000 annually at a rate of $145 an hour.

Cameron also commented, saying “there’s a lot that would have to happen” for the changes to be introduced.

“I’m wondering if we need more time to get a far better fix, especially the cost. I don’t have a clear fix in my mind,” he said. “So I’m a little bit out in the wilderness on this.”

Mayor Laura Cabott also chipped in.

“If we just jump into this right now, we might have missed a step,” she said. “We could get it wrong.

“I’m concerned about missing that critical step, but I’m also concerned about sending this back and spending another year (on it).”

Comments (7)

Up 1 Down 0

Yukon Long on Nov 24, 2023 at 6:35 am

The snow clearing policy on Main Street has always exasperated me. The City has deemed the storefront responsible for winter maintenance. Ok, there's nowhere to put the snow except on the road. You'd think that by now the City would have figured out to come on a regular basis to clear away the excess snow from the parking spots and around parking meters, right? You know, shop downtown and all that?

How many trees die every year from sidewalk salting, and continue to be replaced? What's that cost?

I'd take a lecture from the City any day of the week if they had a leg to stand on.

Up 1 Down 0

Glenna Shepherd on Nov 23, 2023 at 9:07 pm

Maybe if city council stopped giving themselves raises they could afford snow removal for the disabled and elderly.

Up 20 Down 5

Adam S on Nov 18, 2023 at 7:01 pm

Way to drag your feet yet again city of Whitehorse.

Up 1 Down 0

Nathan Living on Nov 18, 2023 at 6:26 pm

Seriously? Council is only now aware of an issue that has been going on for decades?

I have seen people driving electric wheelchairs on streets because the sidewalks are impassible and people with strollers struggling to get across the snow and ice even at Main and Second. And this was a decade before the large snowfall years which recently took place.

On behalf of mayor and council I apologize for the struggle people with mobility challenges have had in Whitehorse for decades.

Ohh, the Inclusivity Advisory Committee (IAC) may get issues like this resolved but for some reason most committee members have largely walked away from the committee.

Up 0 Down 0

Matthew on Nov 18, 2023 at 8:10 am

Again, how many handicap spots are on city property and how many on private property? Also, how many handicap licenses are there currently in town?

Up 0 Down 0

Steve Beaulieu on Nov 18, 2023 at 4:27 am

It took years of advocating to City Council just to have the millennium trail cleared. It’s a disgrace that persons with disabilities in this community have to even ask for this consideration. Get it done!

Up 0 Down 0

Al on Nov 17, 2023 at 3:22 pm

Aw - Council ... dither, dither - oh what should we do ? We need more time. How quickly 17 years of dithering has gone by with naught happening. We have to get it right, maybe next year.

Getting it right is the easy part - put your adult clothes on and get to it, or before we know it 20 years will have gone by.

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