Snowmobile ban proposed
Three incidents this month have raised concerns of snowmobiles in the city

Richard Gleeson
Northern News Services

NNSL (Dec 23/98) - All snowmobilers may pay the price for a few yahoos on their machines.

Several incidents this month have raised a call for a ban on snowmobiles within city limits.

Law makers limited

Yellowknife and Whitehorse are the only two Canadian cities that allow snowmobiles on their streets.

That right comes with limitations designed to protect the safety of citizens.

Municipal enforcement manager Paul Gamble said all snowmobiles driving on city streets are subject to the same laws, and speed limits as cars and trucks.

On trails and lakes within the city, the limits vary according to the area.

On Frame Lake, Range Lake and trails, like Tin Can Hill and Rat Lake, near residential areas the speed limit is 30 kilometres per hour. On trails and lakes away from residential areas, on Kam Lake and the part of Back Bay toward the Yellowknife River, the speed limit is 70 kilometres per hour.

Whether on the road or off it, those convicted of speeding lose the same drivers licence points they would as caught speeding in a vehicle, said Gamble.

Along with the speed limits is the limited capacity of officers to enforce them. Between them the RCMP and municipal enforcement have only four snowmobiles. Gamble says he considers it a bonus if his department has the manpower to patrol by snowmobile more than two days a week.

The RCMP said it has snowmobile patrols when time and manpower permit, and has none on a regular basis.

"Bylaw just doesn't have the manpower or the money to enforce (rules governing snowmobiles in the city)," said Abe Mackay, a resident who opposes snowmobiles in the city.

Paul Gamble said a small number of snowmobilers are giving the rest a bad name.

"We're only talking about, maximum, five per cent of all people who drive snowmobiles in town," said Gamble, the city's municipal enforcement manager.

There have been at least three reported incidents of snowmobiles in the city endangering life, or driving recklessly, this month.

On Dec. 10 a puppy was hit and killed by a snowmobiler driving up Con Road.

A few days before that, a woman who was checking her mailbox on Finlayson Drive had to jump for her life to avoid being hit by a snowmobile speeding along the sidewalk. The snowmobile driver, like the one that hit the dog, sped from the scene.

This month by-law clocked a snowmobile doing 109 kilometres per hour across Frame Lake. The driver was charged and will appear in court.

Abe Mackay, the husband of the woman who was almost hit while picking up mail, is leading the charge to ban snowmobiles. He agreed that a small portion of snowmobilers are to blame, but said they still present a danger to pedestrians.

"I have nothing against snowmobiles as recreational vehicles," said Mackay, noting there are plenty of lakes and wide-open spaces around town for snowmobiles to travel on. "But there is no reason for anybody to be driving a snowmobile in town. We've got buses, taxis, vehicles to get around in."

Mackay said for him it's a public safety issue. He said speeding snowmobiles are a fact of life on Range Lake, near his home. The number of near-hits reported represents only a small portion of the dangerous incidents that have occurred, he said.

Mackay was also a friend and associate of a man who four years ago was killed on Frame Lake by a speeding snowmobile.

Gamble said before he considers banning snowmobiles, he wants to hear from other members of the public, snowmobilers and non-snowmobilers alike.

"What I want to do at this point is explore all the options available to the city before changing the bylaw," said Gamble. He said he hopes to do that by generating a public discussion of the issue.

Great Slave Snowmobile Association treasurer Jim Connor, agrees with the approach and said the association wants to stop the few reckless drivers as much as anyone.

"(Sledding in the city) is a right we're going to lose if they don't slow down," said Connor.

Mackay will be speaking to the city's works and public safety committee at its Jan. 8 meeting.