Slip and slide: Edmontonians frustrated with lingering icy conditions, some city sandboxes empty due to high demand

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Edmontonians left sliding and skating down city streets are calling on crews to more rapidly address icy conditions caused by a recent freeze-thaw cycle.

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The freezing rain overnight into Wednesday caused slippery conditions with colder temperatures producing sheets of ice across Edmonton’s streets. On Thursday, residents were still struggling to move on foot or bike throughout the city, with the ice wreaking havoc on sidewalks and bike lanes.

The ice build-up also led to high demand for the city’s community sandbox program, with some residents encountering empty bins. Mill Woods resident Trevor Quigley said he has frequently picked up sand from the city’s free program in past years to address icy conditions in his neighbourhood, but on Wednesday he was met with six empty bins. Quigley said he also tried getting sand at the southeast maintenance yard, but it, too, was out of sand available to the public.

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“We’ve been using those sandboxes for years and years and occasionally, of course, one of the sandboxes is empty and then filled up within a day or two,” he said. “This time I went to the six nearest community leagues to me and they were all empty.”

Philip Herritt, the city’s infrastructure operations director, said crews are refilling the more than 700 sandboxes when possible and also focusing on addressing public sidewalks and other infrastructure with the available sand the city has. A map of sandbox locations in the city can be found here.

“We have dispatched employees and equipment to reduce slippery conditions on roads and city-maintained sidewalks across the city. Our priority is increasing traction for the safety of Edmontonians,” Herritt said in a statement to Postmedia. “Crews are out inspecting and they are applying the appropriate material for the conditions (sand, salt and chip) to roadways and walkways to improve traction.”

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But Paths for People chairman Stephen Raitz said the city should be better prepared to address these increasing frequent freezing rain events and had time to get ready for the one earlier this week, which was in the forecast. Not addressing pathways sooner for those with mobility issues could leave them stranded at home, he said.

“The conditions are bad and with the forecast we should have been able to get ahead of this,” he said in an interview with Postmedia. “Some people have absolutely no option whatsoever so we’re hoping the city can work to address it.”

Calcium chloride, which was discontinued on Edmonton roadways in 2019, is being used as an anti-icing brine on bike lanes to address the icy conditions. The anti-icer hasn’t been used on shared-use paths or sidewalks, Herritt said, even though council has allowed for its continuation in those areas.

As of Thursday afternoon, Alberta Health Services spokesman Kerry Williamson said emergency crews in the Edmonton Zone have responded to 128 calls related to the icy conditions since Wednesday.

“This is significantly higher than an average winter’s day,” he said in a statement to Postmedia. “EMS crews were extremely busy and we are grateful for their hard work and dedication in challenging circumstances.”

Call data to 311 about icy roads and sidewalks wasn’t available from the city Thursday.

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