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Snow Mole Report 2023: Really, How Safe is Winter Walking in Ottawa?

Why Snow Moles?

Winter brings safety and accessibility issues related to snow, ice, and infrastructure challenges. Therefore, our top priority is pedestrian safety and accessibility, especially for older adults, people with disabilities, and those who use mobility aids.

The goal of the Snow Mole Campaign has been to advocate for improved snow-clearing policies and practices to improve the walkability and safety of pedestrians in winter in Ottawa.

Snow Mole Campaign

Launched in 2017 by the Council on Aging of Ottawa (COA), following a successful all-season audit in several areas, it was named to identify with winter moles who burrow under the snow for safety as well as ‘mole’ agents who work undercover to collect information.

2023 Snow Mole Findings

Snow Mole data has contributed to positive changes in the City of Ottawa’s urban and rural snow-clearing practices, but work remains to be done. In 2023, Ottawa pedestrians continued to experience barriers and safety hazards while walking in winter.


Of 156 Snow Mole audits:

  • 67% were over 65
  • 34% used ice grips
  • 18% used a mobility aid
  • 15% used walking poles

“We want to make sure that older adults are able to go out in the wintertime to get their physical activity and not be seasonally isolated.“

The Good News

Safe walking surfaces reported:

  • Streets 78%, sidewalks 85%
  • One reported fall due to icy conditions
  • 69% were able to reach the pedestrian crosswalk button
  • 91% were able to cross the street in the allotted time

The Not So Good News

Unsafe walking surfaces reported: 

  • steps/stairs 35%, ramps 41%
  • 55% reported high snowbanks made   walking difficult
  • 86% reported walking on the street because of too much snow on the sidewalk
  • 45% noted curbs and streets were not clear enough at crosswalks
  • 32% noted benches available on their route
  • 33% noted benches clear of ice and snow
  • While older adults were resourceful and used walking poles and ice grips, 66% reported fear of falling sometimes keeps them from going out for a walk


  1. Prioritize pedestrians first in the city’s snow-clearing policies for sidewalks, paths, and roads without sidewalks.
  2. Ensure ongoing awareness and safety training for sidewalk plow operators.
  3. Plow for complete pedestrian trips to connect sidewalks to transit stops, corners, and curbs to pedestrian crossings, streets, roads, and parks.
  4. Increase the frequency of snow bank removal on residential streets.
  5. Increase the frequency of applying salt, grit, and sand to roads and sidewalks.
  6. Improve sidewalk infrastructure for better plowing and to make walking safer for all.
  7. Implement solutions to address ice buildup problems.
  8. Improve data collection and reporting of outdoor winter falls, conditions, and fall-related injuries.
  9. Improve safe winter access to parks and community amenities.
  10. Support a community-wide Adopt-a-Bench campaign to clear snow and ice from city benches to improve safety and accessibility for all.

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