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City sidewalks: Winter maintenance isn’t just about safety, it’s about quality of life

When winter sidewalks limit independence, cause fear of falling or injuries, and keep people housebound, residents’ mental and physical health are deeply affected, Greater Sudbury Safer Sidewalks says

“I have suffered a major injury due to dangerous sidewalks. What was meant to be a nice walk ended up in months of pain” — In the Greater Sudbury Safer Sidewalks Spring 2021 online survey, the top three quality of life impacts residents expressed due to the current winter sidewalk maintenance were a fear of walking, not being able to get around and a negative impact on physical well-being.

Sidewalks play a profound role in residents’ daily lives. Sidewalks allow us to get exercise, go to work, get to loved ones and friends, and help us participate in the local economy by getting us to our destination. When sidewalks are unsafe, we all suffer. Poor winter sidewalk conditions have a significant impact on residents’ quality of life.

“I am scared of using winter sidewalks in case I fall or get stuck, (but) I need to walk for my physical or mental health”

"Sometimes I am forced to take taxis because walking to the bus stop is unsafe"

"I walk home from work often and have dreaded it"

When winter sidewalks limit independence, cause fear of falling or injuries, and keep people housebound, residents’ mental and physical health are deeply affected. Survey participants shared their voices on the toll on their wellness and quality of life.

“I get very depressed and suffer from mental illnesses because I become so afraid and so frustrated trying to walk anywhere for my essential outings! I end up staying inside nearly all winter”

"I walk to work every day and in the winter I always have to allow myself more time to get to work, plan alternative routes or quickly improvise if the sidewalks are challenging or unsafe to walk and exercise extra caution. I have fallen numerous times on icy or unplowed sidewalks. If the sidewalks are too challenging or unsafe to walk, that makes me have to use the road to walk, which can also be challenging or unsafe. Often with the reduced road size (snowbanks) drivers don't tolerate people walking on the street well which challenges my safety."

“It's hard — you take away my independence in the winter cause you can't get around” 

“Winter sidewalk conditions make me afraid to walk alone in case I fall. I can't take my grandchildren for walks because it’s not safe navigating with little ones. I have to take my car and worry about parking even though I am in walking distance of my bank, dentist, and doctor”

COVID-19 has been an eye-opening experience, reminding us to get out and stay active because it is crucial for maintaining our overall wellness. When gyms closed people tried to go outdoors to get the exercise they needed, or at least they would have if the sidewalks were usable.

“This winter, poorly plowed sidewalks have meant I don't go out to exercise very much. That's bad for my mental health, my physical health and my sleep”

“My running group often cancels runs because of sidewalk conditions”

Hundreds of Sudburians tried to use winter sidewalks, but were left feeling stranded or unsafe, and wanting improved maintenance standards from our city. Even through the summer months, residents continue to share how winter sidewalk maintenance impacts their life. Facebook group member Meg Demlow recently commented, “Winter sidewalk conditions affect me COMPLETELY. I don't go out. The only way I am able to do anything outside of my home between November and March/April is if I'm driven somewhere.” 

To support residents using active transportation, residents’ basic mobility, and residents’ health, the City of Greater Sudbury needs to maintain safe sidewalks all year round. GSSS believes everyone has the right to walk around their neighbourhood and get to where they need to go throughout all seasons. Safer sidewalks are essential to our quality of life and well-being.

Olivia Medeiros and Pam Banks are members of Greater Sudbury Safer Sidewalks, a grassroots group of residents who believe everyone has the right to walk around their neighbourhood and get to where they need to go throughout all seasons. The group is working toward positive change to make it safer and easier to get around on foot or with a mobility device in Greater Sudbury. Residents interested in joining or receiving a copy of the survey results can e-mail gssafersidewalks@gmail.com or connect in the Walk Safe Sudbury-Greater Sudbury Safer Sidewalks Facebook group.