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City may reverse policy that exceeds provincial mandate for sidewalk snow removal

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Two years ago the City of London adopted a higher standard for sidewalk snow clearing, exceeding provincial requirements.

City staff are now recommending going back to the previous benchmark in order to save costs.

"Anytime we're talking about reducing service or scaling back service, that's obviously a sign of concern,” said Jeff Preston.

Preston is a Kings University College professor specializing in disability issues. Born with a rare neuromuscular myopathy, he uses an electric mobility chair. He said for himself and many others, winter mobility continues to be an enormous challenge.

"I'm pretty much inside for the winter because I’m not able to access services. With the lack of accessible transportation, with paratransit...struggling, it means that there are many of us that get trapped,” he explained.

According to the provincial mandate, sidewalks must be cleared after eight centimeters of accumulation, but in the fall of 2021 the city went beyond that requirement, moving to a five-centimetre trigger for snow clearing.

Staff have proposed reversing that decision in an effort to cut costs.

"It would be a savings of $740,000,” said Doug MacRae, the city’s director of transportation and mobility. “That combines both the sidewalk snowplowing and also the clearing of transit bus stops."

As an example, MacRae said on 13 occasions last winter there was a full deployment of equipment in order to meet sidewalk snow-clearing requirements. An eight-centimetre standard would have triggered only six full deployments.

"I genuinely thought it would make a difference,” said Ward Two Coun. Shawn Lewis.

Lewis championed the more ambitious snow clearing targets but now said, based on the number of complaints registered with the city, the new standard hasn’t reduced concerns.

"There just hasn't been a big enough improvement to say, for folks who struggle getting around in the winter, we're getting our money's worth,” he said.

Both Lewis and MacRae said the effort is continuing to improve winter mobility, including the potential for better transit options or requiring property owners to clean sidewalks to a required standard.

Preston said he's prepared to listen to what comes forward, and told CTV News London, “If the plan here is, let's scale back, let's find a different way forward, let's find a way that's actually going to result in better clearing for more people, in more parts of the city — I'm in favour of that."

MacRae said Mobility Master Plan consultations are currently underway and they're looking for input. The next budget meeting for the city is Thursday evening. 

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