Winter, Sidewalks and Curb Cuts – what is the solution?

4 Feb

We just came off of a warm weekend and the snow and ice that accumulated is finally melting.  It’s been a tough few weeks with thick ice lining sidewalks and streets and curb cuts buried under piles of snow.  Many business owners and home owners tried hard to keep their sidewalks and curb cuts accessible and admittedly it’s hard. Some didn’t try as hard or at all. 

Right now, we have a system where our snow plows clear the streets and often leave big piles of snow on the corner – and the curb cut.  It is then up to the property owner on the corner or their neighbors to try to shovel through the pile (which is often large and icy) to make it accessible.  We all know this isn’t working well. Even over the weekend, as I walked in the bright sunshine with well above freezing temperatures, most of the curb cuts still hadn’t fully melted and were difficult for many to cross.

Pictured:  Piles of snow placed on a curb cut – making the sidewalk non-accessible for scooters, wheelchairs, strollers etc.

Traversing sidewalks in winter is challenging for people of all abilities.  But for individuals with disabilities (and/or anyone with mobility difficulties) it is especially dangerous and sometimes travel isn’t even possible. Case in point, we asked an individual who uses a wheelchair to speak at one of our events in February; she declined until March because she wasn’t sure she would be able to get to a February event due to snow.  In the last week we have seen a mobility scooter rider cross a busy street with a pedestrian signal only to get to the other side and not be able to access the sidewalk due to a big pile of snow on the curb cut. This put the individual in a dangerous situation where they didn’t have the option to wait for a walk signal but had to keep moving (frogger-style between vehicles) until they could cross to a corner where the curb cut was accessible and they could get on the sidewalk.  (I can’t imagine the adrenaline pumping through their body as they watched a pickup coming toward them.) We’ve seen other scooter users encounter this issue throughout the city. We’ve seen wheelchair users abandon the sidewalks altogether and travel in the street. And people who are able to walk are struggling as well. We’ve seen an elderly man create a “sit on the big snowpile where the curb cut should be” method of crossing the street – sitting down on the snow was the only safe way to get across without falling.  Parents pushing strollers are forced into the streets with moving cars. I haven’t seen the woman that daily walks through my neighborhood pushing her walker – I imagine she is stuck inside. 

What is the solution?  Our current approach isn’t providing a safe, consistent solution and some people are truly stuck inside during the winter months. Some cities have paid employees that  make sure curb cuts are accessible. We invite you to leave ideas and examples you’ve found in other cities in the comments. Collectively we need to find a better way to deal with our sidewalks and our curb cuts in the winter months.  This is crucial for individuals with disabilities and would greatly improve the safety and quality of life for people of all abilities.  

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