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Residents who cleared snow from 30 Toronto streetcar stops ask, 'Why isn't the city doing this?'

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Volunteers ventured between 30 streetcar stops clearing mountains of snow that were blocking access to public transit in downtown Toronto on Sunday after a major storm swept through southern Ontario Friday night.

With advance notice of the snowfall, forecasted to be the city’s biggest of the season set to peak on Friday night, the group of community volunteers began organizing last week, they told CTV News Toronto.

Volunteers on Dundas Street shovel a path to the streetcar on March 6, 2023 (Jun Nogami).

“Realistically, if the city had cleared streetcar stops, cleared sidewalks, cleared bus stops across the city on Saturday evening or any time on Saturday, we would have been more than happy with that,” Gru, a community organizer who rallied eight volunteers, told CTV News Toronto on Monday. “If, once again, we see the city refuse to step up and clear a path, especially for people with mobility aids, then we kind of need to step up as a community."

Come Sunday morning at 10 a.m., more than 24 hours after the winter storm, piles of snow were still blocking access to public transit, so the group decided to take the matter into their own along the 505 streetcar route. With shovels in hand, the volunteers started on either end of the route and worked their way toward each other.

Friday's snowfall was "heavy and wet," according to Environment Canada climatologist Dave Phillips making it especially hard to push, plow, or shovel, but the group was able to clear 30 stops, they said.

The City of Toronto said due to the volume of heavy snow on Friday night, sidewalk plows will need to make multiple passes into this week at the 7,400 kilometres of public sidewalks.

At this point, the city said all sidewalks have received at least one pass of clearing. “But we recognize that many areas still need attention and we are prioritizing these areas for clearing,” a City of Toronto spokesperson told CTV News Toronto.

Volunteers shovels an accessible route to the streetcar on Dundas Street after a major storm in Toronto (Jun Nogami).

As an all-season cyclist, University of Toronto professor Jun Nogami said he grabbed a shovel on Sunday to gravitate awareness to the city’s snow clearing priorities – motorists over pedestrians.

“The city prioritizes snow clearance for roadways above all else and people, like transit users, pedestrians and cyclists, often get left in the lurch,” Nogami said. He pointed to mountains of snow building up at street corners and lodged into bike lanes as evidence.

Near the centre of the clearing route on Dundas Street, a person passing in a wheelchair expressed how their efforts made a difference in his life, Nogami recalled.

“He gave specific examples of times when he wouldn’t be able to cross, he mentioned Spadina (Avenue) at Nassau (Street) near Kensington Market, where he couldn't cross safely in the usual spot because of a snow bank, so he had to go in a wheelchair in open traffic to make his way to the transit stop,” Nogami said.

Another appreciative person echoed that sentiment in response to a group photo of the volunteers posted on Twitter late Sunday afternoon.

“As someone who is in a motorized chair and can't get around the city when the @cityoftoronto does not do their job, thank you! You all rock. They refuse to understand that doing the sidewalks doesn't matter if we can't make it over the street corners or onto transit,” the comment read.

Gru said virtually every response communicated gratitude and asked, “Why isn’t the city doing this?”

He pointed to the pain manifesting in his body after hours of digging through the heavy, dense snow as a sign of the limitations of a volunteer group like this one.

“Community members that go out and do actions like these can’t do it every day … [in a way] that makes addressing this issue sustainable in the long-term.”

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