Take a walk in downtown Lindsay after a snowfall, especially early in the morning, and you might have problems negotiating the sidewalks and especially the intersections.
Many people might well wonder why Kawartha Lakes wouldn’t prioritize the snow removal in the busiest commercial downtown area in the entire municipality. However, because of bylaw (95-04) passed by the town of Lindsay in 1995 — predating amalgamation — property owners or “the person who rents, leases or otherwise occupies property” in this area (from Sussex to Lindsay Street, Peel to Russell St.) are responsible for clearing sidewalks in the downtown area.
The Lindsay Advocate asked the department of public works if there is a different arrangement in other settlement areas of the city such as Woodville, Fenelon Falls, Bobcaygeon or Omemee. Bryan Robinson, director of public works for the city responded that, “there are no similar by-laws within other settlement areas of the city. In other downtown districts, the city clears a path along the sidewalk and business owners then are responsible for clearing the windrows of snow from their doorways, curbs, etc. as they deem necessary.”
Robinson did not respond to the question ‘If there is a different arrangement [in other settlement business areas], is that fair?’
The Lindsay Downtown Business Improvement Area (BIA for short), represents businesses east of Victoria Avenue in the area covered by this bylaw. It has been advocating on this issue for years. According to Melissa McFarland, general manager of the BIA, “where we are now is that this bylaw has always existed. Public works plows the roads after a snowfall. It took a lot of negotiation but we finally got the city to remove the snowbanks, usually three days after a major storm. That is working well and we are happy about that.”
But McFarland says attempt to discuss sidewalks is always met with the response: ‘there is bylaw.’
Asked if the city had ever even done cost-estimates of sidewalk clearing in downtown Lindsay, Robinson replied, “no, as the work is covered under the requirement of the bylaw.”
Wally Nugent, owner of Wally’s Haircutting for Men has worked downtown Lindsay for more than 47 years, and has operated a store within the BIA catchment area since 1982, when he went into business for himself. Nugent says that the situation has gotten worse over the last four years, when the City even stopped salting the sidewalks in the area.
“I have contacted the city over 20 times in the last four years but have never received a positive response on the issue,” says Nugent.
According to McFarland, the problem is consistency stating, “many of our member businesses open later in the day. Some are not open on a Sunday. Kent Street is a popular route for students to walk to school in the morning, before many of our businesses are even opening.”
Nugent has seen a lot of issues with the accessibility of the sidewalks, especially at the intersections where he has seen over a foot of impassible snow.
“I’ve picked people up off the sidewalks. I’ve seen elderly people walk down the middle of the street because the sidewalks were so impassible,” reports Nugent. Nugent himself slipped and fell on his way to his store this year.
“There is usually at least one to two serious slip and fall incidents a year in the downtown,” says McFarland. Given the percentage of elderly in the town, both McFarland and Nugent consider sidewalk clearing an issue of accessibility and public safety.
The old bylaw does outline measures for non-compliance by owners and tenants. However, in the end this is public property and the insurance liability rests with the City. According to Robinson, “the city cannot transfer liability related [to] municipally owned sidewalk maintenance, so claims related winter maintenance of sidewalks will still be managed by the city.”
According to Robinson, the issue is also a technical one: “Lindsay has very wide boulevards [which] makes traditional plow operations ineffective and would leave windrows along store frontages.” Robinson, nor the city, did not respond to a follow-up question: ‘How does the city clear in front of city property in the area affected by bylaw 95-04? Are different processes used than in other parts of the town where the city does clear sidewalks?’
The BIA and merchants like Nugent aren’t even asking the city for complete clearance of the sidewalks.
States McFarland, “All we are asking for is one pass of a sidewalk plow and salt in the morning. This would allow merchants to safely get to their store (and finish the sidewalk clearing) and helps deal with merchants who open later or who are closed on certain days. All we are asking for is what other downtown merchants in the city receive. We are willing to compromise and are very reasonable people.”
As McFarland notes, “the plows often use the downtown area as a shortcut to carry on with their routes. All we are asking is that they drop the blade.”
In the end though it all returns to the existence of the bylaw, which only council can change. Until such time, in McFarland’s words, it’s a matter of policy trumping logic.