Imagine a mid-winter walk down one of Nelson’s sidewalk stairways through freshly fallen snow or frozen slush — from Victoria Street through IODE Park down to the Hall Street Plaza, for example – without worrying about broken bones.
The city’s 2010 Active Transportation Plan states: “Coverings for stairs should be placed on the priority snow plow routes as a minimum. As funding becomes available, this should be extended to other stairs within the pedestrian network.”
Nelson council has recently ramped up the priority of the plan, stating it wants to decrease our dependence on cars and make it easier to walk and bike. This could include covering the stairs to make them safer and decrease snow clearing costs.
For an example of a steep city that has embraced covered stairs, look south to Trail, which has 63 sets of covered stairways throughout the city, many of them with lighting, amounting to about 1.25 miles (2 km) and 6,610 vertical feet (2,000 m).
Most of the stairways were built in the 1930s and ‘40s, and in the 1980s the city decided to roof them.
“This was a very costly venture,” according to a statement from Trail’s public works department, “but in the long run was a cost saving to the city … Prior to the 1980s, city employees would have to hand shovel all these stairways after each snowfall.”
Trail’s mayor Lisa Pasin, in an email to the Star, said the stairs are iconic part of Trail.
“The stairs in Trail have red roofs,” she wrote, “which provide a sharp contrast to the terrain, allowing the stairs to be highly visible and recognized as a unique feature in the City of Trail.”
Although Nelson has far fewer stairs, they are still useful routes between upper and lower parts of town. The main outdoor staircases are on the 300 block Hall Street, Hendryx Street from Baker to Silica, Hall Street from Baker to Carbonate, Victoria Street from Cedar to Park, and Pine Street from High to Morgan.
In the face of council’s recent decisions that prioritize cycling infrastructure, it’s unclear whether covered stairs are a priority.
“Covered stairways were a part of the discussion during the working group,” councillor Brittny Anderson told the Star, referring to council’s update of the Active Transportation Plan. “Now staff are working on grant opportunities, operational opportunities, etc., to implement the plan.”