Some residents have called on council to revisit its Jan. 16 decision turning down a proposal to spend $111,000 to hire four seasonal employees to clear snow and ice to the pavement at 23 intersections and four downtown mid-block pedestrian crossings.
But with no support to reconsider this from most of council, Councillor Chip Olver instead suggested taking $5,000 from the environmental reserve to fund a rebate program for traction cleats such as Yaktrax, or walking poles.
“My main target here is our vulnerable community, who are afraid to walk on our slippery streets,” said Coun. Olver, who has pushed for better snow and ice clearing at intersections and on sidewalks in recent years.
“I see this as in keeping with the initiatives we have taken with the studded tire program, which I think would reach far fewer residents than a walking aid assistance.”
A major four-day snowstorm that began on Dec. 20, 2019, dumped heavy snow throughout the Bow Valley and Kananaskis Country, leaving roads, intersections and sidewalks slippery and dangerous.
According to Environment and Climate Change Canada, 55-79 cms fell in the Lake Louise region at the height of the storm, while the Banff townsite and Canmore saw similar amounts of snowfall – 40-64 cms and 40-66 cms respectively.
The Town received several complaints about the icy conditions following the storm; then several more after council’s recent 3-2 decision against paying for extra snow and ice clearing of several intersections and mid-block pedestrian crossings.
The proposal would have come with a cost $111,616 for 2020, $114,400 for 2021 and $117,222 for 2022.
Resident Jon Whelan, who lost a leg after a motorcycle accident west of the Emerald Lake turnoff in 1993, asked council to reconsider the decision, noting Banff had “treacherous walking conditions that lasted for a couple weeks until the cold snap ended.”
“A friend of mine suffered a concussion when she entered the Bear Street Parkade, the Town-managed facility, and slipped and fell and ended up at Mineral Springs,” said Whelan at the Jan. 24 council meeting.
“I don’t believe that every single sidewalk and crosswalk needs to be cleared of ice and snow down to the pavement, but I do believe that every pedestrian expects that they will have a reasonable chance to walk from one side of the street to the other side without ending up in the hospital.”
Mayor Karen Sorensen said she knows there were several councillors fighting hard for this, and although she wants visitors and residents to feel safe, she didn’t believe spending $111,000 this year on extra snow and ice clearing would give the ice-free conditions many are looking for.
“I just don’t think it’s a solution that would work. I just don’t think it would make a big enough difference,” she said, also questioning what the additional staff would do when there’s not a severe snowstorm.
“I certainly understand that some residents and visitors don’t believe that what we did during the snow event was enough, but here we are two weeks later and we’re not dealing with the same issues.”
Coun. Olver said she is not giving up on the idea of increased snow and ice clearing, noting it falls in line with council’s priority to increase the number of people walking instead of driving vehicles in town.
“This idea didn’t fly this time. I’m telling you I may bring it back next year,” she said.
“I’m not giving up on the idea of increased walkability of doing what we can in terms of safety in the winter time.”
Meanwhile, Town administration will return with a report for council to consider on Feb. 24 with possibilities and implications of creating a winter walking aids program, similar to the winter studded tire rebate program.
In its second year, the studded tire program offers rebates of $60 per tire for Banff Access Program members and $40 per tire for non-members. Studded tires range in price from $70 to $200, or even more for fat bike studded tires.