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Rough ride

John Thompson
Northern News Services

Yellowknife (Mar 02/05) - Bill Burles picks his path carefully as he wheels down Franklin Avenue.

The 28-year-old Yellowknifer nimbly navigates the dips and drops from sidewalk to street in his wheelchair.

Bill Burles says the city could do a better job clearing street corners, which are tough to cross in a wheelchair.

"It's kind of like four-wheeling off-road all the time," he said, "but I'm only two-wheel drive."

Street corners are particularly treacherous, he said, adding he'd like to see the city do a better job clearing snow.

"The property owners take good care of the sidewalks, but there's two feet of compacted snow on the road."

After a heavy snowfall or a big melt, Burles said his shoulders, biceps and forearms usually ache.

"Sometimes for a couple of days after that I have trouble getting out of bed," he said.

He usually doesn't dare to venture off the main street, and Burles guesses he takes a tumble about once a week.

Still, he counts himself lucky. He was born with spina bifada, so he's never had use of his legs. He imagines the newly disabled would have more trouble. The same goes for anyone in an electric wheelchair, which he said are often underpowered for these conditions.

"I don't know how they get around," he said.

Cecily Hewitt, executive director of the NWT Council of Persons with Disabilities, estimates there are 20-30 others in Yellowknife who use wheelchairs. She said the streets also pose trouble for anyone with a cane, walker or arthritis.

"It's not just people in wheelchairs," she said. "There's all sorts of people with trouble walking."

Add all those parents who push their kids along in strollers, and she said snow piled up on street corners becomes a problem for almost everyone.

"I was out this afternoon, and you step very carefully," she said. For people with mobility problems, this often means not going out at all.

"That virtually makes you a prisoner in your own home," she said, adding her group is waiting for the city's accessible public transportation system to begin in June, which will pick up residents in wheelchairs from their doors.

"That'll really help people who are in a wheelchair," she said.

City doing what it can

Greg Kehoe, director of Public Works and Engineering, says the city is doing its best to keep 50 kilometres of roads clear of snow.

"It's a year when we've had considerably more snow," he said.

The city's weekly flyer will ask for the public's patience for snow removal, he said.

Priority for snow clearing is given to schools and areas where water and septic tanks are in use.

This year's citizen's survey, by pollsters Ipsos-Reid, asked several questions about snow removal, including one question about the corners of streets around the downtown.