Snow Mole Report 2021

Jun 24, 2021 | age-friendly, INFO-FLASH News archive, pedestrian safety, walkability

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Walking in a Winter Blunderland

Ottawa is a beautiful city that enjoys four seasons, with winter being the longest and the most challenging for pedestrians. Navigating across, over and around snow, ice, slush, snow windrows and puddles can be difficult or impossible. Swings in temperatures cause freeze-thaw cycles and create ice buildup on sidewalks, pathways, and roads.   

Winter conditions can make winter walking dangerous – particularly for older people and those using mobility aids. Older adults can become housebound and socially isolated in the winter months, fearful of falling on ice and unable to climb over high snowbanks. People using wheelchairs and walkers as well as mothers pushing strollers are challenged by narrow sloping sidewalks, snow windrows and curb cuts covered by ice. 

In an average year, there may be as many as 500 to 600 emergency department visits per month due to falls on ice and snow. Older people are most likely to be hospitalized after a fall, with broken bones and other injuries that can lead to a loss of independence, increasing frailty, a fear of walking outside and increased isolation, moving to an assisted living facility and even death. 

Uncleared areas around pedestrian crosswalk buttons at intersections and at bus stops/LTR stations pose additional mobility and accessibility barriers and hazards for pedestrians who need to use public transit. Inaccessible and uncleared benches, particularly at bus stops, further impact older adults and other vulnerable pedestrians.

Snow Mole Report 2021

Snow Mole Report 2021 CoverThis document is the fourth annual Snow Mole Campaign’s Final Report for 2021 that summarizes the data collected and key findings, offers a comparison with data collected during 2020 and gives a list of recommendations to improve winter walking for Ottawa’s older adults and those using mobility aids.  The findings in this report reinforce recommendations from previous years Snow Mole Reports.

Walkability and pedestrian safety in winter have been a priority of the COA since 2016. In 2019, we focused on winter walking through the Snow Mole campaign and piloted the use of an online tool to collect the data in addition to paper-based audit tools.

For more information on results and recommendations from previous years, go to:

Snow Mole Report 2019: Winter Walking in Ottawa

Age-Friendly Walkability Progress Report 2017: Safe Streets for Seniors and other Valuable Pedestrians in Ottawa

An Age-Friendly Walkability Report 2016: Safe Streets for Seniors & Other Valuable People in Ottawa

The Value of the Annual Snow Mole Campaign

This annual project offers the voice of residents, particularly older adults, and other vulnerable pedestrians, on winter walkability based on “boots on the ground” information they themselves collect.  The 2021 Snow Mole Campaign and Final Report once again alerts the City and community to how age-friendly and accessible the city truly is in the winter.

The City’s Older Adult Plan, Action Plan 2020-2022 includes actions to apply an older adult lens to review the City’s Winter Maintenance Quality Standards (WMQS); improve the safety condition of sidewalks in areas highly frequented by older adults, and make improvements in accessibility to public transit and explore actions to improve mobility of older adults.  The City’s New Official Plan (due for Council vote in Fall 2021) promotes the concept of “15-minute neighbourhoods”: inclusive, walkable neighbourhoods where daily and weekly needs can be accessed within a 15-minute walk.

These actions and objectives must be realized, and pedestrian barriers and safety hazards must be reduced during the winter months, to achieve an age-friendly city that puts pedestrians before vehicles and makes the city safe and accessible for seniors and other vulnerable pedestrians during all seasons.

2021 Recommendations

The following recommendations are based on based on the data, comments and photos submitted during the 2021 Snow Mole Campaign and a comparison to the 2020 Snow Mole Campaign, providing direction for increasing mobility, reducing barriers and safety hazards, enhancing inclusivity, and reducing falls and injuries.

While some audits noted an improvement in sidewalk clearing in some areas compared to the 2019/2020 winter, it was evident even half-way through the 2021 Campaign that certain barriers and safety hazards persist in 2021.  For this reason, five recommendations from the Snow Mole Report 2020 are repeated.

Previous recommendations that remain relevant in 2021:

  1. Prioritize safety and put pedestrians first in city snow clearance from Class B (snow packed) to Class A (bare pavement) on high-density residential sidewalks. 
  2. Ensure that annual training of sidewalk plow operators includes awareness of the high importance of key issues related to safety (especially for senior pedestrians, those using mobility aids, and children).  
  3. Remove snowbanks on residential streets before they become hazardous to pedestrians; and before thawing and freezing into ice buildup that is difficult to remove and dangerous to walk on. 
  4. Plow to connect sidewalks to transit stops, corners and curbs to pedestrian crossings and residential streets to pathways. 
  5. Implement solutions to ice build-up problems due to plowing and freeze-thaw cycles (i.e.: mapping of residential street drain locations by Ward and ensure that drains are kept clear). 

Additional recommendations:

  • Improve safety and accessibility at public transit stops and shelters by clearing them of snow and ice, including bench seating at transit stops.
  • Ensure that benches along sidewalks and pathways are accessible and cleared of snow and ice.
  • Increase the frequency of applying salt, grit, and sand to streets and sidewalks, especially during thaw-freeze cycles.
  • Repair damaged sidewalk and intersection infrastructure during non-winter months to reduce pedestrian hazards during all seasons and support winter maintenance efforts.
  • Improve safe, walkable access in the winter to day-to-day needs, including community amenities, public transit stops, through timely and improved maintenance with specific attention to areas connecting seniors’ residences, medical facilities, and schools.
  • Improve opportunities for safe, healthy activity by clearingmore pathways to and through city parks and pathways during the winter months.
  • Assess the performance of winter maintenance standards, on an on-going basis, in improving pedestrian safety and increasing walkability during the winter months:
    • by using pedestrian-related walkability metrics and other safety indicators such as injuries, vehicle and pedestrian collisions and claims, and
    • through improved data collection, sharing and collaboration amongst City departments and agencies.

Download the Snow Mole Report 2021 NOW!