‘No idea where they are’: Missing back lane address numbers in Winnipeg leads to confusion during emergencies

A Winnipeg community group is working to get address numbers put up in back lanes as hundreds of homeowners have been fined for violating the bylaw that requires them.

Winston Yee is the City of Winnipeg’s manager of bylaw enforcement. Yee said a bylaw requiring homeowners to have an address number in the back lane dates back to 1976.

“Where a property is adjacent to a back lane, the number assigned to the building must be attached to the building or to a fence or accessory structure so as to be clearly visible from the back lane,” the bylaw states.

Building numbers are also required to be at least 8 cm in height and of a colour that contrasts with the colour of the structure so the number is clearly visible.

“It’s been in place primarily for safety reasons. Some of the back lanes in Winnipeg are quite long,” said Yee.

So far in 2019, the city has issued 756 orders for people to get numbers up in back lanes, based on complaints. They received about four weeks’ notice to get the number in place. Of those, 385 of them failed to get a number and were handed a fine.

Yee said the number of people violating the bylaw is an ongoing issue and it’s important that first responders can easily find an address. He also said the city has received feedback from community groups.

“At times people are going down a back lane. They might see a disturbance, or a fight, or a medical emergency and they call 911,” said Yee.

“They have no idea where they are, they see an address or in many cases if they don’t it causes a bit of a delay. So it can be a bit of an issue if first responders don’t have an exact location.”

Winnipegger Sara McGowan experienced the confusion when she reported a fire.

“I wasn’t able to look out in the back lane and say, ‘there is a fire at so and so on Furby’, so I gave our back lane address so they could locate the fire,” she told CTV News.

Paula Wurtz didn’t know there was a bylaw requiring building numbers be put up in the back lane.

“I think it’s important to first of all know it’s a bylaw, and I think it would help,” said Wurtz. “I just didn’t know about it.”

River Heights Crescentwood Safety Association working to get back lanes numbered

In River Heights, an area often hit by vehicle break-ins and vandalism, Marli Sakiyama has been looking for ways to deter crime. She founded the River Heights Crescentwood Safety Association

READ MORE: ‘Fed up’ Winnipeg neighbourhoods using solar, LED lights to deter crime

Last, year she got 50 motion detector lights installed at properties. Now she wants to see back lanes numbered. Her plan – buy numbers in bulk and hire workers to put them up at residents’.

“Not everyone is able physically to get the numbers up on their garage because we are looking at numbers very high, at the top peak of the garage,” Sakiyama said.

By getting back lanes numbered collectively, Sakiyama hopes it encourages people to sign up for her program, and increases safety at the same time.