Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Saskatoon Snow & Ice Management Audit Report offers little hope for improved conditions of city sidewalks for seniors and persons with disabilities




December 18, 2006



His Worship the Mayor
And Members of City Council
City Hall
Saskatoon, SK S7K 0J5



Dear Mayor Atchison and Members of Council:

RE: Snow and Ice Management Audit Report (December 2006)

As a resident of Caswell in Ward 1 I am writing to express my disappointment with the Snow and Ice Management Audit Report prepared by Robert Prosser & Associates.

For persons with mobility difficulties the report offers no hope of improved snow clearing and removal service for city sidewalks (including residential), ramps, crosswalks, lane crossings and bus stop areas. It seems the same miserable level of service that has plagued and embarrassed the city for many years will continue.

The deplorable state of city sidewalks and the negative impact this has on seniors and people that use wheelchairs, scooters, walkers, and canes appears to have been given little to no consideration.

How the auditor can conclude that the current level of service is “appropriate” and “reasonable” is beyond comprehension.

Please note the following:

– The Snow & Ice Management Program maintains only 20% of the City’s 1,200 kilometers of sidewalks.

– Table 1: Contracted Service Comparison on page seven shows that figures for Actual Contracted Expenditures for Sidewalk Plowing and Clearing for 2003, 2004 & 2005 were not available to the auditor. No explanation is given why.

– Table 6: Productivity Trends on page sixteen shows that a significant amount of information pertaining to sidewalks (i.e. operating cost per km maintained; % of sidewalk kms maintained; and kms maintained per FTE) was not available to the auditor. No explanation is given why.

– The auditor examined current systems, practices and controls for minimizing the risk of public injury caused by snow, ice or slush on sidewalks. Public injury can result in associated liability claims being filed against the City. Per management, the City invests very little in sidewalk snow clearing and sanding – i.e. budgets were $138,835, $124,474, $122,436, and $181,434 in 2003, 2004, 2005 and 2006 respectively. There was no recommendation, however, to increase this budget.

– Property owners in the Central Business District and the Broadway, 20th Street , 33rd Street and Central Avenue Business areas are required, by bylaw, to clear snow and ice from adjacent City sidewalks. Bylaw No.8463, replacing Bylaw No.2780 on January 23, 2006, is enforced on a complaint basis only. The city has just one bylaw inspector to handle snow related bylaw complaints.

– There is no snow clearing or sanding on residential sidewalks or walkways except where conditions are expected to cause spring drainage problems. Snow and ice initiatives in residential areas are left up to residents in these areas. Apparently this is acceptable.

– Two to three operators are currently assigned to operate the sidewalk plows. These individuals are often pulled from sidewalk duty for sanding or snow clearing operations, as required. Sidewalk maintenance is given a low priority in overall snow and ice management in order to meet other service levels associated with snow clearing, snow removal and ice control. This appears to be acceptable as well.

– A service level objective is currently in place and priority routes drafted for sidewalks that are cleared and sanded by the City – i.e. clearing all priority sidewalks within 5 days following a winter storm. The current service level for sidewalks (i.e.) is based on what management feels can be accomplished given existing staffing levels. Where weather conditions are extreme, equipment breaks down or other unknown factors play a role, service levels can become difficult, if not impossible, to meet. No recommendations were made to improve the service level objective.

– Saskatoon and Regina do not clear residential sidewalks. Calgary and Edmonton has a bylaw requiring residents to clear snow from adjacent sidewalks. The City of Winnipeg clears the entire network of sidewalks, including those in residential areas. The merits of expanding the bylaw coverage on a city-wide basis in Saskatoon are not discussed in the audit.

– Supervisors conduct inspections of sidewalks in areas designated in Bylaw No. 8463, in conjunction with complaints that are issued by the public. There are no routine inspections in place to ensure that property owners are complying with service levels prescribed in the Bylaw. The auditor recommends “that a system be put into place for measuring, monitoring and reporting on the extent of compliance with sidewalk snow clearing service levels.” Timely and effective enforcement is not included, however.

The following information is from various administrative reports. It is not clear whether the auditor consulted such records.

A June 1, 2006, report from the general manager, infrastructure services to the planning and operations committee states:

“To clean all bus stops would take up to 4 days following a snowstorm. To clean them within 24 hours would take up to four times the existing resources, and a corresponding budget increase would be required.

Transit Services have expressed concerns with safety in regard to the way the bus stop is left after snow is cleared. The only way to resolve their concerns is to have the bus stop manually cleaned.

If a bylaw was implemented that required all owners, occupants, or controllers of property adjoining a public sidewalk to clean the area within a designated time, this would eliminate the majority of the concerns regarding bus stops and accessibility of sidewalks during the winter.”

Yet this is not discussed in the audit. Why?

In Rough terrain equals back pain for Saskatoon transit drivers (StarPhoenix, Dec. 15, 2006) Dan Bichel, president of the Amalgamated Transit Union, local 615 and Saskatoon 's transit manager Jeff Balon reportedly said more money is needed in the snow removal budget. They would like to see all bus routes included as Priority 1 streets to be cleared within 12 hours after snowfall ends. Clearing snow from the city's 1,600 bus stops also needs to become a higher priority, says Bichel. In a couple of instances this winter, people have fallen as they tried to climb over a snowbank at a bus stop and have slid under the bus. The drivers realized what had happened and didn't pull away from the stop. Bichel worries someone will eventually get hurt.

The May 17, 2006, report from the general manager of infrastructure services to the Administration and Finance Committee included a March 9, 2006, letter from Roadways Superintendent of Operations Paul Bracken to resident Jamie McKenzie that states:

“As far as the clearing of the sidewalks around the bus stops, Public Works simply does not have the manpower or equipment to clear all sidewalks around all bus stops. If we picked a few areas to do, others would make the same complaint and pretty soon we would have to be doing the entire city, which is just not possible.”

There appears to be nothing in the audit report that will help alleviate the transit department's concerns. In fact, transit is barely mentioned. One wonders if transit staff and management were even consulted.

The audit included the “collection and review of relevant information and documents provided by City staff,” and “interviews with management and staff involved in the program.”

The auditor’s contact with persons outside of management and staff directly involved in the program appears to have been quite limited. This audit would have benefited from interviews with community associations, disability groups and other civic departments.

Thank you for your time.

Sincerely,

Joe Kuchta
Saskatoon, SK


cc:

Janice Mann, City Clerk
Robert Prosser, Robert Prosser & Associates
Dan Bichel, President, ATU Local 615
Jeff Balon, Transit Manager
Gaston Gourdeau, Roadways Manager
Doug Drever, Public Work Branch Manager
Lori Coolican, The StarPhoenix
Dorothy Johnstone, Caswell Community Association

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