COVID-19 has revealed how much Torontonians use and rely on public space and this winter will be no exception. We have seen how access to public space is crucial for physical, mental, and spiritual well being. The City of Toronto has the opportunity to ensure its public spaces are accessible to all by adopting city-wide sidewalk snow removal and winter maintenance in public parks.
The City of Toronto’s Medical Officer of Health has promoted outdoor space as effective for slowing the spread of the virus. Over the spring and summer, the City rolled out a number of initiatives to encourage the use of outdoor space, including CafeTO, CurbTO and ActiveTO. These programs have seen a high adoption rate, with thousands of people enjoying the outdoors while remaining physically distant. However, as we approach the winter months, it is even more important to offer residents opportunities to enjoy outdoor space.
Since amalgamation, the City has provided sidewalk snow removal in the former cities of North York, Scarborough, Etobicoke, and York, while this service is the responsibility of property owners in Old Toronto and East York. It is inequitable that the City spends less on sidewalk winter maintenance in parts of the city where pedestrian activity is highest. Furthermore, the lack of winter maintenance in public parks presents a barrier for people who are elderly, people with disabilities or mobility issues, and families with young children. This lack of access conveys the message, “you are not welcome here.”
Benefits of city-wide snow removal include:
- Improving access for people who are elderly, people with disabilities or mobility issues, and families with young children.
- Increasing safety, leading to fewer slips, falls, accidents (and resulting lawsuits).
- Clearing paths of travel to transit stops, workplaces, and local businesses.
- Providing active transportation and recreation options like walking and cycling all year long.
- Addressing social isolation, which is exacerbated in the winter months.