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Letter: Winter clearing policies just don't work for seniors

A local couple found themselves unable to get out of their driveway recently
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Parkshore Drive residents John and Katherine Diluzio found themselves in a pickle with the city's public works department just before Christmas. They expressed their displeasure directly to the city in this letter, which John has asked us to pass on to the public:

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Dear Mayor Christian Provenzano and City Council:

Re: Winter Services

We are writing to our Ward One Councillors Paul Christian and Steve Butland as well as Mayor Christian Provanzano and City Council to express our concerns regarding the City’s winter services in particular road scraping and driveway clearance, and to request that City Council re-examine these services and address our concerns. While our concerns relate to our experience at Parkshore Drive, it is clear this issue is not limited to our street or ward, but rather is a City-wide matter requiring the attention of all City Council.

The incident giving rise to our concerns occurred at approximately 3:00 pm on Wednesday December 21, 2016 when City equipment carried out road scraping to our street, depositing in its wake a bank more than 2 ft. high of large thick ice-slabs across the length of our driveway. This created an impassable barrier, barring accessibility both onto and out of our property and causing an unsafe condition particularly in the event of a medical or other emergency. We learned that at least one elderly resident in the neighbourhood was unable to have her VON nurse attend, her driveway rendered inaccessible due to this blockage, while another struggling to remove the barrier severely damaged his snow blower, requiring costly repairs. 

In our case, Katherine required to exit our property to pick-up our two grandchildren at school before they boarded their school bus to take them to important after school appointments. Katherine contacted the City Works Department explaining our problem as a result of the blocked driveway and requested the City to remove the large ice barrier, a service consistently provided by the City after road scraping during our 40 year history at this address. Katherine informed the attendant that the ice bank was more than 2 ft. high and impassable, understanding that in such circumstances the City would remove it. However, the attendant made it clear there was no driveway clearance service available for this area and provided no reason or explanation. During this time, John was undergoing medical examinations and could not be reached by Katherine who remained helplessly blocked-in.

At approximately 3:45 pm, Katherine was able to contact John who also called City Works hoping to make a further plea for assistance, unfortunately to no avail. The attendant similarly advised him that the City was not providing any driveway clearance in our area, and made no reference to our blockage being 2+ ft. high despite being so advised just minutes earlier by Katherine. Rather, she suggested utilizing a private contractor for snow removal. We did not hear back from City personnel regarding the possibility of any other assistance and were left to fend for ourselves.

We communicated our concerns to the receptionist in a clear and informative manner, ensuring she was fully aware of our urgency and the consequences of being blocked-in. Regrettably the response we received was curt, dismissive and insouciant to the risks/dangers of being left with no accessibility to the street, in our case unable to reach our grandchildren to ensure their safety and whereabouts. In addition we found the attendant unhelpful, making no attempt to pursue any possible assistance available for ice banks 2+ ft. high. Moreover we find it highly objectionable that we or any tax payer, especially the elderly and those of little means struggling to pay already high property taxes to remain in their homes, should be advised to hire private contractors to remove ice barriers left behind by City equipment during road scraping. 

In the absence of any assistance from the City, our only alternative was to call on family members who left work and arrived to remove the ice barrier, a laborious task requiring 2 hours to complete. While it is our good fortune to have family members locally, many residents do not. Taxpayers should not be required to rely on the compassion of family or neighbours for essential City services and, as a consequence, the City should not consider itself exempt from its obligations to provide these services. Had our family members not been available, the ice barrier would remain, we would continue to be blocked-in, the safety and whereabouts of our grandchildren would be at risk, and John would have been forced to leave his vehicle on the street overnight — a contravention of City By-Laws.     

We are aware from our experience that local/neighbourhood streets such as Parkshore Drive are plowed less frequently than thoroughfares and consequently experience a higher accumulation of road pack. Thus when road scraping of these streets is carried out, the result is large ice banks and major driveway blockages. Ergo it is crucial in these instances for the City to provide concurrent removal of these barriers to ensure that homeowner safety and accessibility are immediately restored.       

After the incident, we consulted the City’s Web site in the hope of better understanding the City’s winter services, unfortunately found it notably scant and incomplete, providing only cryptic comments and lacking a comprehensive policy to clarify pertinent issues/questions such as: 

1) Which services are deemed essential and under what conditions? 

2) Which streets are considered higher priority, serviced more frequently, and how is this determined?   

3) What are the criteria that allow for road scraping and removal of resulting ice banks e.g. accessibility, 2 ft.+ ice banks, blockage, unsafe condition, level of accumulated road pack, etc.? 

4) Are any public notifications issued to advise of road scraping and removal of ice barriers? 

5) With increasingly more persons with disabilities residing in their own homes, is the City’s current practice relating to the removal/non removal of ice banks in compliance with the City’s policy on Accessibility as required under the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, 2005? 

While the above is a candid account of our experience with a blocked driveway, there are significant underlying issues necessitating City Council’s review of its responsibility for and the taxpayers’ right to essential winter services, in particular the removal of ice banks in conjunction with road scraping. To eliminate or diminish this crucial service is simply unacceptable as doing so undermines the benefits of road scraping, imposes an unwarranted burden on homeowners and exposes them to unsafe conditions, all of which is irrefutably untenable, finances and budgets notwithstanding.           

In response to the serious concerns we have presented above, we urge City Council to undertake the following:

1) Review and clarify its policies and practices regarding winter services in particular relating to road scraping and resulting ice barriers, ensuring such barriers are removed and citizens are never blocked-in and left in an unsafe condition;

2) Ensure that the City’s winter services afford homeowners, in particular the elderly and those with disabilities, the accessibility required under the City Accessibility Policy in compliance with the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, 2005;

3) Ensure at all times that City personnel are knowledgeable of and conversant with City policies and services in order to provide taxpayers with accurate and appropriate advice in response to their enquiries and concerns;

4) Ensure at all times that City personnel treat citizen concerns in a positive, serious, and professional manner, making all attempts possible to be of utmost assistance in resolving their concerns; and

5) Ensure that citizens in urgent need of City services are never left to fend for themselves, advised to hire private contractors or to rely on the good will of relatives and friends as a substitute for essential City services. 

Thank-you and we look forward to City Council’s deliberation and resolution of these important issues. 

Sincerely,

John Diluzio BA, MBA, CMM III                Katherine Diluzio BA, BEd, OCT    

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