DEACHMAN: Winter hazards ferreted out by Ottawa’s ‘Snow Moles’

DEACHMAN: Winter hazards ferreted out by Ottawa’s ‘Snow Moles’

Breadcrumb Trail connects Ottawa

“Our goal really is to get the city to clear the sidewalks down to the bare sidewalk.”

Mary Gick is one of the neighborhood leaders of a group called Snow Moles, an initiative of the Council on Aging of Ottawa that encourages people to “audit” their neighborhoods when they’re out and look for the good and bad things that affect pedestrians, trying to find their way in their neighborhood. Photo by Ashley Fraser /POSTMED Content of article

The Snow Moles are back again this year, patrolling the avenues and sidewalks of our fair-weather metropolis, battling the clogged drains, snow-covered stairways, half-buried benches and inaccessible crosswalk buttons that can make life difficult for pedestrians such a dangerous undertaking in Ottawa.

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These aren’t the latest Marvel or DC superheroes, they’re simply our unsung neighbors; Advocating walkers, ramblers, and passers-by who just want to get from home to the grocery store without spraining a hip, filling their boots with slush, or accidentally slipping and hitting their maker under the wheels of the #7 bus.

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How many snow moles there are in Ottawa is hard to say. It is an open club founded by the Council on Aging of Ottawa, a non-profit charity with a mission to advance the well-being of older adults in Ottawa. Snow moles “review” their wanderings around town, reporting any winter hazards or shortcomings that could be remedied with a little planning or forethought.

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According to Mary Gick, a former psychology professor at Carleton University and current leader of the Snow Mole community in Glebe — who actually wrote a snow mole song, I’m not kidding, to the tune of the JED CLAMPETT ballad — is one of the goals of Die Campaign aims to increase the concerns and distress of pedestrians so that they receive the same consideration and service as drivers and, more recently, at least cyclists. This injustice is particularly evident in the frequent sightings of pedestrians walking the streets because they feel safer there than on the sidewalks.

“It’s about putting pedestrians first, rather than cars,” says Gick. “Our goal really is to get the city to clear the sidewalks down to the bare sidewalk.”

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Summary of the article “It’s about giving priority to pedestrians over cars,” says Mary Gick. Photo by Ashley Fraser/POSTMEDIA

According to Council on Aging’s Bonnie Schroeder, herself an Alta Vista Snow Mole, the program began when a former COA co-chair noticed that studies of neighborhood walkability focused on fair-weather months, not winter months. “Nevertheless, we are a winter town,” says Schroeder.

“So six years ago we drew attention to winter walking because winter service standards don’t necessarily put pedestrians first, including people with disabilities, young families trying to push strollers and older adults with or without mobility issues.

“We want to ensure that older adults can go out to be physically active in the winter and are not seasonally isolated. So this is a wonderful way to get our community leaders and concerned citizens involved in a winter walking activity.”

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The “audits” the moles conduct – there were 270 of them last year, covering conditions from Cumberland to Kinburn, and about 40 have been completed so far this winter – are distilled into an annual report with observations and recommendations to the city . It is hoped that some of the recommendations will eventually become part of the city’s new winter service quality standards, last updated in 2003, with a further update planned for this year.

Meanwhile, on February 2 — Groundhog Day — the city council invites councilors to join their moles on an awareness walk in their districts.

Last winter, the group added stairs and ramps to their list of concerns and included them in their audit questionnaire. This year’s campaign, the Moles’ sixth, includes an “Adopt-a-Bank” program that encourages local residents to volunteer to keep a public bank accessible and clear of snow and ice near them.

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“People who go for a walk might want to rest a bit,” Gick says, “but that’s difficult when you can’t get there or it’s covered in snow.”

Gick chimed in on the moles’ second winter. She and her husband had given up their car in 2015, relying more on public transportation and walking instead. When she retired in 2018, she decided to get involved in the program.

“I realized how difficult it was to get around,” she recalls. “I used to walk to Carleton a lot when I worked there and I noticed the condition of the sidewalks, it was often very difficult to walk around safely when it was icy or worse when there was snow on ice. So I bought ice grabs and stuff like that, but I always thought about people who were older.

“And as I get older, I’d like to stay in Ottawa if I can, but I don’t want to become a prisoner in my home.”

Visit to join the snow moles or simply get more information.

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