Category Archives: Walking As Wayfinding

Supreme Court Plows Through Issue: Is Municipality responsible for snow clearing on sidewalks?

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January 18, 2022

Can You Sue The City Over Snow? Supreme Court and BC Court of Appeals Plow Through the Issues

Written by:Sandy James Planner

Two recent court decisions inform how cities will be handling snow removal on sidewalks.

In a ruling that came down in October the Supreme Court of Canada ordered a new trial for Taryn Joy Marchi who hurt her leg climbing over a snowbank in Nelson B.C.

In court the City of Nelson argued that snow removal was immune from negligence claims because it was a “core policy decision”. The Supreme Court of Canada had to decide whether snow removal was a “core policy decision” (which makes the municipality not answerable to negligence or liability claims, or whether it was an  “operational decision”  taking while undertaking city policy, which is open to liability claims.

Ms. Marchi had traversed over snow from angled city parking on the street to a city sidewalk. There was no way to access the sidewalk except through a snowbank. Ms. Marchi successfully argued that providing an access in snow from the city parking lot to the sidewalk was not a “core policy  decision” but was an “operational decision” taken by the City of Nelson. You can read more about this case here.

This of course has ramifications for other Canadian municipalities. The Supreme Court found that  angled parking spaces would not have been cleared if it was not intended for residents to use them, and had a pathway in the snow been cleared in a path from the parking to the sidewalk Ms. Marchi would not have injured her leg. A new trial has been ordered.

Another trial again in British Columbia examined whether residents are liable for clearing the snow in front of their houses. As Jason Proctor notes in this CBC report, Canadians have been suing each other for decades about sidewalk snow removal in front of their houses and slips and falls.

In 2017 Darwin Der slipped and fell on black ice on the sidewalk in Burnaby. His case went to the B.C. Court of Appeal with a lawsuit against the couple who owned the adjacent house, arguing that the property owners owed a “general duty of care to remove snow and ice from their section of the sidewalk.”

The court of appeal judges disagreed, saying those residential property owners had shovelled the sidewalk the previous day and had salted it that day. They had done their civic duty and that “The snow and ice accumulating on public sidewalks and the potholes on the street in front of the house are the legal responsibility of the municipality, not the adjacent property owner.”

So at this point all eyes are back on those municipalities.

The new trial in Ms. Marchi’s case will establish whether it is policy or an operational decision when  Nelson plows the on street parking out, but forgets to provide a pathway through the snow  onto the sidewalk; and as it stands, if you do the basic shovelling on your sidewalk in front of your house, any ice or potholes contributing to falls are the city’s fault.

Japan Uses Local Convenience Stores to Aid Seniors “aging in place”.


Those 7-11 corner convenience stores are a staple in North American cities and in Japan. Mimi Kirk in City Lab notes that the Japanese convenience stores provide the same items as North American ones-with one exception-

“convenience stores in Japan offer services that make them hubs of their communities. Customers can pay a utility bill, buy concert tickets, or make copies at a 7-Eleven or a similar retailer like Lawson or FamilyMart. In the aftermath of the 2011 earthquake and tsunami, convenience stores even set up emergency support centers and sent employees to aid survivors, among other good deeds.”

As Japan’s seniors population ages, the stores have become street corner mini community centres with healthier food, home food delivery and  “seating areas so that older customers can gather to socialize and practice their karaoke skills.”

Elder friendly services are increasing with 100 new locations in apartment complexes offering these services as well as room cleaning, clothes mending and dealing with maintenance problems in apartments.

Ryota Takemoto, a researcher with an institute focusing on Japan’s real estate sector states “We must prevent [the elderly] from losing their access to a convenience store so that we can use convenience store networks…as an economic and social infrastructure where aging is advancing fast.”

It’s an interesting adaptive innovation that may find credence here as we encourage more seniors to age in place in their own communities.

30 Kilometer Zones Reduce Pedestrian Accidents, Injury



Some municipal transportation staff  believe that lower speed limits do not in fact slow vehicles, making it safer for pedestrians and cyclists to also share the street. In Edmonton new lower speed signage around schools HAS slowed traffic.

As reported in the Edmonton Metro News last Friday in areas around schools subject to new  30 km an hour zones, there has been a marked decrease in car accidents with pedestrians and cyclists. There is also some handy information about stopping distances on the City’s website, as well as some very sobering statistics:

  • Children aged 5 to 14 years are at the greatest risk for pedestrian-related deaths
  • Children aged 10 to 14 years have the highest incidence of pedestrian-related injuries 
  • The most common action that results in injury or death of a child is crossing at an intersection

In Edmonton twelve school zones had new pedestrian crossing lights, freshly painted sidewalks, reader boards indicating drivers’ speed, and reflective stop sign poles implemented.

Collisions causing injuries to cyclists and pedestrians fell by more than 70 per cent from an average of seven before the change was implemented in 2014 to just two during the school year in 2015.

This is all part of Edmonton’s Vision Zero strategy to stop road deaths and injuries within the city. Some residents are now asking for the 30 km/h to be extended throughout the neighbourhoods.


The Future for Seniors? It’s all about Walkable Communities


The New York Times reports on a new phenomenon-the seniors are leading the way in retirement by showing us how we SHOULD be living-in walkable communities.

While people look for a comfortable house that works for families when they are younger,  “aging in place” is not necessarily the right term for older folks-“aging in community” appears more apt. This is especially important as the baby boom goes into their senior years, and will need access to shops and services, and may not necessarily be able to use a car.

In the age of the Fitbit and a growing cohort of active, engaged retirees eager to take their daily 10,000 steps, retirement communities have been slow to change. Eighty percent of retirees still live in car-dependent suburbs and rural areas, according to a Brookings Institution study.

Retirement communities are normally in two types: isolated gated communities, or large homes on golf courses, such as Tsawwassen Springs. The challenge is both of these types of developments are car dependent, and not great for walking, with curvilinear streets and dead ends. There is a new shift-getting out and walking to shops and services. Among senior housing projects, examples include Waterstone at Wellesley along the Charles River in the Boston area and The Lofts at McKinley in downtown Phoenix. 


Walkability, though, is much more than a hip marketing pitch. It’s linked to better health, social engagement and higher property values. Research shows that walkable mixed-use communities can reduce disabilities for the aging, enhance social contacts and creates community. The challenge is building senior friendly mixed use developments within existing cities, as mainstream retirement developers had traditionally favored suburban or exurban sites that involve sprawling “greenfield” building on relatively cheap farmland. The new approach, by contrast, is for dense, urban or town-centered sites that are accessible for services and socially vibrant.

Changes that will be needed to accommodate seniors are rezoning mixed use developments and infrastructure changes such as wider sidewalks, bike lanes, more public transportation options and longer pedestrian signal walk times. That way instead of moving to remote locations away from family and familiar services, Grandma and Grandpa can stay where they have always been and be part of the whole community.

The Case for Density Transit and Walking



Five years ago an extraordinary team of people from the two universities, the two health authorities, the metro Vancouver municipalities and regional government and TransLink got together to run a conference with an innovative idea-that creating communities around walkability was the intersection between health, happy places, liveliness and aging in place.You can view some of the proceedings from the Walk21 Metro Vancouver conference here.

Now Co.exist and others accept as doctrine the innovative concept that the conference was trying to impart-that a walkable city  is a sustainable, sociable well designed city that puts the health and well-being of residents first. In fact while the relationship between walkability and health status has already been established, this study “published in the Lancet, looked at 14 cities in 10 countries, all of which had a similar design, in order to determine whether or not the cities’ layouts themselves were the reason for increased health, as opposed to different lifestyles in different countries. The physical activity of the 14,222 adult participants was measured over four to seven days using Fitbit-style accelerometers. The principal data point was the average number of minutes walked per day.”

Looking at cities in Australia, South America, Europe and three cities in the United States there were some surprising findings, specifically that  urban factors that meant people walked more included “residential density, park and public transport density, and intersection density. Parks are obvious in their effect—people take walks in parks. Residential density is important because if you live in a compact neighborhood, you can easily walk to do your errands. And public transit density is important because not only does it obviate car use, but people have to walk to their nearest station instead of their driveway”

Mixed use development, density, and convenient transit go hand in hand in making walkable places. We’ve now got the evidence to convince policy makers of the important interconnectedness of these three things to design for walkable sustainable communities that support happier, healthier residents of any age.




Why Cities and Walking Go Hand In Hand



When I visit a new city I always inquire at a hotel or information booth for a walking route that will help me understand the place. I love walking in cities. It is a way to understand the rhythm of the place, to find out what is important and valued by the locals, and a chance to see how urban life fits in to the framework of a city’s grid.

Asking for directions for a walking route that best captures a city can create quizzical looks. In Cincinnati the walking route suggested to me crossed over the Ohio River into Covington Kentucky, went through cattle stockyards, and next to a stadium. I later found out that the Ohio River meant the difference between slavery and freedom for African-Americans, and how thousands of people escaped across the river, some to eventual freedom, some who were returned, and some that were killed. I found a piece of history that is just now being interpreted and accepted, and I had the honour of understanding that place by walking to and through it.
In Barcelona I met a reporter for Radio Spain while walking through the neighbourhoods surrounding La Rambla, a tree-lined pedestrian mall full of families, public art and artists. We discussed how walking positively impacts health and sociability, and how public spaces feel somehow more adequate and fulfilled if there are people overlooking and walking through them. We visited a magnificent square tucked behind a cathedral, with soaring walls, defined boundaries, and an active collection of families hosting picnics. A few laneways in another direction was another square, also with a church on it, and an olive tree in the middle.

This was a place where school children had been killed during the time of Franco-the space still held that grief, despite the fact that there was no marker depicting what had happened. There was a collective hurriedness in the place, where people walked quickly through, the memory of the past still in the present.



To really understand Manhattan, I walked from New York City’s City Hall in the south all the way northbound past Central Park and the Metropolitan Museum. I was able to walk through neighbourhoods I had studied, read and heard about, and marvel at the texture and complexity of this extraordinary urban place. The walk enabled me to mentally link together the string of pearls that made up neighbourhoods, streets, and places, engage with people on the street, discover some great places for bagels, and experience the brash and direct kindness and curiosity that New Yorkers are known for.

Urban walking is not only about the discovery of place. Walking allows me a deeper understanding of myself. As a city planner I realize that if we could organize our cities and places around walking and walkability, places where citizens can age in place can be created, with a delightful denseness and complexity that is sociable and engaging. Not everyone knows what a multi-use neighbourhood is-but to talk about communities and cities as urban and walkable describes an inviting social texture that everyone understands.


Easy effortless urban walking is the primary building block of a successful community. Great urban walking environments are also accessible for people pushing strollers or wheeling in wheelchairs.

By exploring cities by foot I now understand the importance of the connection to the sidewalk, the street, shops and services, and how we as humans crave that connection and liveliness. Quite simply, exploring cities by walking them has changed the way I think and how I work, by realizing the connection between planning, urban walking, and sociable spaces. I truly believe that the 21st century city will be about reclaiming cities and spaces for urban walking and vitality. My urban walks in cities around the world have shown me the richness of places that embrace walking, and why encouraging walkable environments in cities is quite simply the right thing to do.


Championing Micro Mobility & Walkable Places