Seniors Having A Difficult Time With Sidewalks On Baseline Road By Mazen Abouelata

On a rainy day in late February, Barbara Giles, a senior resident on Baseline Road, sipped her Tim Hortons coffee as she told a story of her journey back home on the sidewalks of Baseline Road this winter. She went out of Carlingwood Shopping Centre with two bags of groceries, she said. She mentioned that she can’t walk for long periods because of her injured back, so she depends on the bus. She said she took the Route 150 bus (Tunney’s Pasture) from Lincoln Fields transit station.

She coughed before describing the “three-plus-foot” snow bank she encountered on Baseline/Clyde. Giles said she tried to get across, but she kept falling forward because she couldn’t keep her balance.

Finally, she recalled seeing a van stop by the road. Smiling as she remembered, Giles said the driver got out, took her hand, and helped her get across the snow bank.

“I felt I was going to fall FLAT on my face into the traffic,” Giles said in an interview.
Barbara Giles sits at the Tim Hortons right across the road island where she encountered the snow bank. She sips her coffee as she tells the story of her journey from Carlingwood Shopping Centre to her home. (photo by Mazen Abouelata)

Giles may have been lucky to find someone to help her, but there are many seniors along Baseline Road who might not win the battle against winter’s conditions on the sidewalks. Some seniors use canes and walkers to keep them on their feet, but slippery sidewalks and high snow banks can make this task difficult. Longer walking distances in “bitter cold conditions” also adds up to the challenges seniors face in the winter.

“My concern is the bus stops and corners that people can’t cross with walkers when there are snow banks. Walkers get stuck,” Giles said.

Coun. Rick Chiarelli, transportation committee councillor, said that over half the population along Bel Air, Copeland Park, and City View consists of seniors, many with mobility issues. Community service stores and shopping centres are scattered along these neighborhoods, such as Walmart, Tim Hortons, Value Village, and RBC Royal Bank. Giles said many seniors walk along Baseline Road to access these stores.

Rick Chiarelli talks about the suggestion that he co-sponsored with Keith Egli, in which he wanted to put an additional station at St. Helen's Place to shorten the walking distance for seniors. (photo by Mazen Abouelata)

A project that might affect sidewalks on Baseline Road is the Baseline Rapid Transit project, which was approved by City Council on Feb. 8, 2017. The project involves a rapid transit corridor along Baseline and Heron routes. Vivi Chi, project manager, proposed in a transportation committee meeting to build 24 transit stations along the corridor, each distanced by 575 metres.

Building these stations would be at the cost of having a longer walking distance between them, the transportation committee discussed. The walking distance would be up to 250 metres, in which Chiarelli explained to be “two and a half the length of a football field.” In the committee meeting, he expressed the difficulty that the distance will pose on seniors, especially in winter.

“In bitter cold and icy conditions…making them walk that much further seems self-defeating,” Chiarelli said to the project team.

In the City Council meeting, Chiarelli co-sponsored a suggestion with transportation committee chair Coun. Keith Egli to put an additional transit station at St. Helen’s Place to shorten the walking distance for seniors in this area. It will slow down the bus trip by 45 seconds, he said, but “it is worth it.”

“That puts two stations relatively close together, but it cuts the additional walking distance for the average person by the length of one football field,” Chiarelli said.

Though this transit station satisfies the senior community along Baseline/Clyde, seniors along the rest of the Baseline corridor still face the same problem. Chiarelli acknowledges the trade-off, but he said that rapid transit can only be achieved if there aren’t as many stops.

“You get the best deal you can get,” Chiarelli said. “The best deal we could get was an additional station in the area that serves the most seniors.”

Marjorie Shaver-Jones, Copeland Park Community Alliance representative, said that all her needs have been met through the transit station at St. Helen’s Place. However, she said she is still concerned about the project team’s plans to deal with snow removal along the sidewalks.

“I’m only left with more questions,” said Shaver-Jones in a phone interview about the project team’s plans on snow removal.

According to weather data from Ottawa.weatherstats.ca, Ottawa’s total average snowfall was 314 cm last year. That is a 79.4 per cent increase to a snowfall average of 175 cm between 1981 and 2010 in the government’s data release, Canadian Climate Normals 1981-2010.

Increased snowfall causes traffic jams along roads like Baseline, as well as poses a threat to seniors who are unable to walk through such conditions. Snow plows and snow trucks are responsible of clearing the snow off the roads and sidewalks. Giles said the City of Ottawa is doing its best in clearing sidewalks, but there are times when snow plows “don’t go down low enough when there’s a lot of ice and freezing rain.”

Sandra Gonzalez, 68, is a senior resident who used to live on Deerfield Drive, a road that connects with Baseline Road. She works at a homecare facility for seniors. She said in an interview that the seniors she helps don’t go out in the winter because they are afraid of slipping on the ice on sidewalks.

“They are prisoners in their own house,” Gonzalez said.

Gonzalez never fell on these sidewalks because she practices extreme caution, she said. During the interview, she stood up and tip-toed to demonstrate how she walks “like a handicap” on slippery sidewalks.

“I learned to tip-toe on ice because the worst thing you can do is go straight on your feet,” Gonzalez said.

Chiarelli said in an interview that the City of Ottawa didn’t clean residential sidewalks properly. He emphasized the importance of clearing the snow off the sidewalks to give seniors enough space to walk.

“People on scooters or wheelchairs need the space on the sidewalk. It’s not good enough to say that we’re only giving you half a metre when you need more than that,” Chiarelli said.
Snow plows are parked in empty spaces along the sidewalks, ready to head out to the roads as soon as the snow reaches a certain height. (photo by Mazen Abouelata)

Snow plows and snow trucks arrive on the main roads and sidewalks within four hours of the snow reaching a height of 7 cm, Chiarelli said. He explained that the main roads get the priority for snow clearing before the sidewalks. Chiarelli said he is not convinced with this priority system when it comes to clearing main roads before sidewalks.

“This so-called priority rating is bogus because you do not use the same equipment or people to clear streets as they do to clear the sidewalks. It’s a decision not to clear them,” Chiarelli said.

Another concern that seniors along Baseline Road have is the removal of existing snow piles. Linda Lahaise, 69, said snow removal comes at the cost of leaving snow piles on street corners and sidewalks. She said that it is dangerous for both drivers and pedestrians.

“The snow removal may be fine along the main roads, but they don’t come along fast enough to pick up the snow they’ve left on street corners,” Lahaise said.
A snow bank (right) blocks the view to the intersecting road by Baseline, which poses a danger to drivers and senior pedestrians like the lady (middle) walking on the sidewalk. (photo by Mazen Abouelata)

Chiarelli also agrees that snow banks are a major issue on Baseline Road sidewalks. He said the sidewalk plows clear the sidewalks, but the snow piles up on the corners, creating snow banks almost as high as a stop sign.

“You can clear the sidewalk, but it doesn’t matter if the snow bank is encroaching on it and someone in a wheelchair can’t get down it,” Chiarelli said.

Chiarelli expressed the importance of clearing snow banks to give easier access to seniors walking along the sidewalks of the Baseline corridor. He expects the project to go well if the City of Ottawa sends snow plows several times a day to clear the sidewalks and the snow banks off the corridor.

“When people say it will be easy to walk down the BRT, that’s only if the City sends the sidewalk plows within a couple of hours, and sends them out again, AND remove the snow banks,” he said.

Construction of the BRT corridor will begin in 2020. The result of this project will determine the fate of many senior residents along the Baseline route. Will Barbara Giles encounter yet another snow bank? Will senior residents have what it takes to walk on these sidewalks? Only the years to come will provide the answer.

Created By
Mazen Abouelata
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