A flurry of new signs posted at some staircases in Edmonton river valley parks may raise questions for locals who plan to use them this winter.
Signs warning of “no winter maintenance” have been placed at 34 staircases in the river valley since the end of October.
The City of Edmonton insists snow removal for outdoor stairs isn’t changing. But its actions and mixed messaging are adding to a blizzard of confusion around which stairs stopped being maintained during the winter, and when.
‘Use at your own risk’
Warning signs have begun popping up at some river valley stairs within the last two weeks, saying, “Slippery surfaces may exist on this recreational trail. Use at your own risk.”
The signs are new but, according to the city, not keeping these stairs cleared of snow and ice is not.
When Coun. Andrew Knack first heard a staircase at Saskatchewan Drive in the Belgravia neighbourhood wouldn’t be shoveled anymore — because of a post on X by Postmedia columnist David Staples — he worried council’s message to city administrators to focus more on clearing active pathways wasn’t being heard. The city announced improved snow removal plans last month after council increased funding to speed up how quickly pathways and bus stops are cleared.
Knack was relieved when city leadership told him service levels aren’t being reduced this winter. Coun. Michael Janz was given the same information.
Postmedia, at first, was offered a similar explanation by the city’s general supervisor for infrastructure and field operations. Val Dacyk, who is responsible for the unit keeping the mobility network clear of snow and ice, said some unmaintained staircases connected to recreational trails are simply being clearly marked to “establish expectations.”
“There has been no changes to service delivery for snow clearing on staircases. Signage was added to staircases not cleared in an effort to better inform users,” Dacyk said in an email.
However, she said some staircases were “cleared in error” in previous winters.
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“In these cases, it’s not that we’re decreasing service, rather, we are ensuring that the proper resources are being allocated to our priority inventory.”
But this isn’t the entire story.
At least seven of the 34 staircases with new signage, in fact, were shoveled routinely by the city each of the last two winters, Dacyk confirmed in a follow-up email.
Many others may have been cleared as recently as 2021.
The city identified seven new locations, plus two others currently closed because of construction, that would no longer be maintained this year because they do not connect to a paved pathway or are made of granular material that can’t be maintained in winter. Employees identified them when they took a second look at the “routing review” completed after a 2021 audit of the city’s snow removal protocols. The audit followed an anonymous letter alleging mismanagement in the branch.
“(These) sites were being cleared when they should not have been following the most recent rendition of the snow and ice clearing route review, which came into effect winter ’21/’22,” Dacyk said. “These staircases were cleared for two seasons in error.”
The city’s reassessment stemming from that audit, Dacyk said, is working.
Knack was given a similar explanation during a follow-up conversation with the head of parks and road services last Friday. The Ward Nakota Isga councillor was told there may be cases where stairs were cleared by city-funded workers, or someone else, by mistake.
34 staircases not shoveled — but since when?
Information from the city on exactly how many years the public was able to access snow-free stairs in all 34 now-unmaintained locations is fuzzy.
One answer from the city suggests that potentially all 34 may have been shovelled before 2021 — before the audit, and before the city analyzed its clearing routes. Asked specifically how many years the 34 staircases have not been shovelled, Dacyk said, “The last review of inventory happened in 2021. Prior to this review most of the inventory existed on a different inventory system, which means some of the inventory was being cleared prior to 2021 and some was not being cleared. In relation to the 34 staircases that are no longer being maintained, all 34 were listed on the inventory in 2021 and since then have been removed following the completion of the audit.”
The city has yet to directly answer how many total years the seven newly identified staircases had been shovelled.
City council unanimously agreed last month to add $2.08 million in 2024 and $904,000 in 2025 to the snow-clearing budget.
Nine staircases that won’t be maintained this winter (including two because of construction) are located at Saskatchewan Drive and 74 Avenue, the southeastern edge of Hawrelak Park, Saskatchewan Drive NW west of 7833 Saskatchewan Dr., near 13854 Ravine Dr. NW, southwest of 62 St. Georges Cres. NW, 93A Avenue and 98 Street, Kennedale Bridge, Hermitage Ravine, and Ada Boulevard.
Hearing some staircases won’t be cleared anymore is “frustrating” for Knack, because residents may now have expectations for maintenance through the winter.
“When you suddenly stop doing something, even if you weren’t supposed to be doing it in the first place, that is likely going to create some frustration among some residents closer to those areas,” he told Postmedia on Friday.
While Knack thinks Edmonton should ideally spend more money to remove snow and ice in general, he appreciates the need to focus resources on meeting the department’s targets, including stairs the city is prioritizing for clearing.
“This is the best you can do in an imperfect scenario. In a perfect world, you would also deal with those seven locations that you had already been doing, whether that was supposed to be the case or not,” Knack said. “There is a limited pool of funds so they are going to have to focus on what they have always been doing.
“Hopefully, we will still at some point more substantively fund snow removal on that side of things, because there is still an accessibility issue.”
Janz said having a good snow-clearing plan is important, but his biggest take-away on the city’s struggles with snow and ice removal is how thinly resources are spread because of the city’s geography.
“We are a big, sprawling, inefficient city. And it seems one of the reasons it’s really hard to get ahead in snow removal is every year we’re adding new cul-de-sacs and neighbourhoods that we have to clear,” he said. “It’s really hard to have a conversation about improving snow and ice when you continue to dilute and spread out the numbers of roads and surfaces that need to be looked after.”
34 staircases not shovelled
- Near 11153 Saskatchewan Dr.
- Saskatchewan Drive and 74 Avenue
- Southeastern edge of Hawrelak Park
- Saskatchewan Drive NW west of 7833 Saskatchewan Dr.
- 94 Street and 100A Street turnaround
- 93 Street NW and 101A Avenue NE stair 2
- Sheriff Robertson Park stairs
- Dawson upper granular
- Rundle Park
- Near 13854 Ravine Dr. NW
- Southwest of 62 St. Georges Cres. NW
- NW of 142 Street NW bridge (near 9408 142 St.)
- Near 115 Laurier Dr. (far east side)
- Near 115 Laurier Dr. (east side)
- Near 115 Laurier Dr. (river trail)
- Mill Creek Ravine stairs 4
- Mill Creek Ravine stairs 6
- Minchau stairs 4
- Minchau stairs 5
- Cloverdale stairs
- Mill Creek Ravine stairs 1
- 84 Avenue and 93 Street stairs
- Minchau stairs 3
- Saskatchewan Drive and Queen Elizabeth Park Road stairs
- 93 A Avenue and 98 Street stairs
- Mill Creek Ravine stairs 9
- Mill Creek Ravine stairs 10
- Mill Creek Ravine stairs 11
- 50 Street and 107 Avenue stairs
- Mill Creek Ravine stairs 3
- Minchau stairs 1
- Kennedale Bridge
- Hermitage Ravine
- Ada Boulevard