Winter maintenance of sidewalks varies significantly among municipalities across Canada. Some municipalities plow, salt, and sand the sidewalks, while others view it as the property owners; responsibility. If this method is chosen for the abutting owner to clear the municipal sidewalk of snow and ice and keep it clear, the municipality must realize that they cannot transfer their liability for damages from a slip and fall to an abutting property owner.
Quick Fact: In most jurisdictions, municipalities cannot transfer their liability for damages from a slip and fall to an abutting property owner.
An important aspect of winter maintenance is striking a balance between the amounts of salt needed to provide a safe walking area and minimizing the effects of salt on the environment. It is recommended that each municipality develop a salt management plan and convey this information to the public through newspapers and other media options. The Transportation Association of Canada (1999) has prepared a salt management guide that addresses key issues related to road salting.
When the municipality clears sidewalks:
● It is important that the municipality outline by way of council resolution, the accepted level of service for clearing, salting, and sanding sidewalks. This standard should be communicated to the public;
● It is important that the sidewalk pedestrian zone be kept safe and clear during the winter. Street furniture, such as benches or garbage containers, should be removed during the winter months if they will impede snow clearing operations.
● It is also important to identify any driveway retaining walls or other objects that a private property owner may have constructed within 300 mm to 500 mm of a back edge of the sidewalk. If these objects conflict with municipal snow plowing operations, it is recommended that the municipality discuss the issue with the property owner and require the property owner to remove any obstructions within the public right-of-way.
● It is difficult for sidewalk plow operators to follow a winding or sloping sidewalk. When clearing snow always consider the alignment of the sidewalk.
● For pedestrian concerns consider plowing sidewalks near transit stops, schools and hospitals as early as reasonably possible.