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Accessibility committee forced to cancel meetings due to inaccessibility

Access to services, especially in winter months, presents challenges for citizens with disabilities
Accessibility - McKeown bus stop
A snowed-in McKeown Avenue bus stop from February 2017. Photo by Stu Campaigne.

"We had to cancel a few months of meetings because getting there was just not going to happen. It wasn't accessible enough. And to see areas of parking filled with snow, things like that didn't sit well with us." - Nora Long

In February 2017, concerns were raised by citizens and transit riders that snowbanks around bus stops were causing safety and accessibility issues. The Municipal Accessibility Advisory Committee MAAC) delivered their annual report to the Community Services Committee Tuesday, and it also cited snow removal and accessibility as major issues.

As part of the report, Nora Long, Chair of MAAC, included a copy of a letter that she had written and addressed to City Council, care of the City Clerk. The letter, dated October 11, 2016, included suggestions to improve "the manner in which snow is removed in the vicinity of accessible parking spaces and bus stops in the City of North Bay." 

Long noted that MAAC had received "a number of concerns and complaints from the community." A MAAC sub-committee was formed to research and provide recommendations that may require changes to the municipal snow clearing protocol. The sub-committee attached the following to the October 2016 letter:

Recommended Guidelines for Snow Removal of Transit Stops

  • In addition to sidewalks and roads, curbs an area at least 3 metres wide must be cleared to allow passengers to enter and exit safely.
  • Areas around Bus Stop signs must also be cleared.
  • Effectively clear the entrances to sidewalks along bus routes.
  • Clear snow by hand in these areas if necessary.

"They [the City of North Bay] really try hard and I would say that they're doing what they can. I think that they would like to do more, I honestly believe they'd like to do more. Like everything else, they're restricted by budget," said Long following Tuesday's meeting at City Hall.

A chronological order of events surrounding snow removal issues from winter 2017 from BayToday's archives:

From the MAAC report: "These important considerations affect the safety and mobility of many in our community with special needs who rely on these areas being properly cleared as they head out into one of the many snowy days that are part of our winter existence in Northern Ontario."

According to the report, the snow removal sub-committee began meeting in October 2015. The group gathered information from City departments and familiarized themselves with municipal regulations for snow removal standards, focusing their studies on "snow accumulation and when actions are taken to ensure these areas are cleared to allow access and safe use by all our community's users."

According to guidelines related to  the ongoing implementation of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA): 

Municipalities should plan accessibility for all aspects of its transit system that will be used by the public by improving accessibility throughout the community’s infrastructure (e.g. curb cuts, sidewalks, access to bus stop locations).

The MAAC report also pointed out that inquiries made with other communities in Northern Ontario showed that none had policies regarding accessibility-related snow removal issues. In fact, those communities were interested to see if any of MAAC's recommendations resulted in policies being changed in North Bay, leading to the inference that the city "may be seen as a regional leader on these issues."

Coun. Mike Anthony, who is the City Council representative for MAAC, addressed Long following her report, saying "your snow removal report, the group got very proactive. Last summer, you were meeting with staff to have something in place by the fall [of 2016].

"We did have some high-profile issues in the media. Although it wasn't public, you know that I  contacted our group and I was trying to get things done on that whole bus snow issue. There were some short-term fixes, rather late, that were implemented. I think we've learned from it and moving forward, things will be better."

Anthony asked how important it was for the group to be heard on these issues, to which Long responded, "Very important. It affects so many. Even the people who sat around the committee table struggled to come to meetings. We had to cancel a few months of meetings because getting there was just not going to happen. It wasn't accessible enough. And to see areas of parking filled with snow, things like that didn't sit well with us." 

Long, who is a volunteer with MAAC, said following the Tuesday meeting that "we work well with the City. We work together to try to find a happy medium. We want issues resolved, and the City wants issues resolved as well, they're just not always in a position to resolve them. Definitely more can be done and I believe it will be."