Tuesday, December 17, 2013

The Lowdown on Snow, Yo

In case you hadn't noticed, there's been a lot of talk about snow removal lately.

I thought I'd take some time to share some info on the subject and explore a few options.  Councillor Kevin O'Toole also has a good post on the subject that you can find here

To begin: this snow sucks...big time.  My fellow Councillors and I, as well as administration, know quite well how terrible the residential roads are.  I have dug out my fair share of vehicles, helped pull out a school bus, and have gotten my one ton dually stuck a few times.  I admit that even I had a few choice words to say to the City as my bumper was dislocated from my car trying to get out of a snow rut.  I get it.

So how did we get here? 

The simple answer is that we got an ungodly amount of snow in a very short timespan.  140 cms in 3 weeks to be precise.  That's 87% of the average snowfall we get in an ENTIRE winter.  That's half of what the snowiest city in Canada (St. John's, Nfld) gets in an ENTIRE winter.  That's a heck of a lot of snow by any measure.

What 's been even worse about this particular snowfall is that it has been continuous.  This means that we have had to have most of our crews continuously on Priority I and II routes slowing down residential street removal.

What has the City's response been? 

We have had every available piece of City equipment working round the clock to clear the roads.  Our staff are tirelessly working as long as labour laws allow...and the overtime is stacking up.  In addition to City crews, we have contracted as many private companies to help with removal as there are available.  If there were more, we'd have them.  We're now spending $40,000 a day on contracted services alone. 

What's the problem then? 

The problem is that there are an estimated 12,000 to 14,000 loads of snow left to be moved and there is just not the capacity in the region to deal with it in a timely fashion.

How can we speed things up?

1. GET PARKED CARS OFF THE STREET!!  The thing that slows our crews down the most is having to deal with parked cars.  If every street they came to had no parked cars, the whole city could be done in a fraction of the time. 

How do we achieve this?  The City can tow vehicles that are parked on the street...and they try.  However, there has been a several hour wait for tow trucks over the last couple weeks, so it's faster to just ticket the vehicle and plow around it.  You can help by ensuring your vehicle is off the road when asked and encouraging your neighbours to do the same. 

Some cities put parking bans on entire neighbourhoods over a several day period to make it easier to know when to remove your vehicle.  Or some have parking bans on the neighbourhood's garbage day.  Some cities even have citywide parking bans (although I highly doubt that'd fly in GP!)  Do you think there is a better method than just having a sign out 24 hrs in advance as we do now?  Or in other words, why are people still leaving vehicles on the street and what can we do to fix that?

The real root of the problem is that we have many residents who have no place to park but the street.  While we could talk for hours about decisions made in the past regarding parking available in new developments, I prefer to look to the future.  The City has become much more cognizant of the issue and are now requiring additional parking stalls, particularly in regards to multi-family dwellings and secondary suites.  We need to continue this practice.

2. Clearing out the entrance to residents' driveways takes up a considerable amount of time.  If we didn't do this during these crazy freak storms, we could get to more streets faster.  We could come back to finish them later or have residents responsible for them themselves.  Would you be okay with this?

3. We currently don't do snow removal in residential areas at night between 10pm and 7am.  Would you be okay with the noise associated with the graders/loaders in the middle of the night if it meant faster snow removal?

This option would be difficult to achieve as we get back to the parking issue.  There are more vehicles parked on the road at night and it is harder to contact owners at 2am.

4. As we go into 2015-2018 budget planning, we will have to examine whether additional staff and/or equipment will be needed.  This is always a tricky decision as there are some years where we get very little snow and we don't want to have a massive snow removal fleet just sitting around.  There's definitely a balance that needs to be found.

So there you have it folks...the lowdown on the snowdown (my new word).

As always, feedback appreciated.



  1. Here's a question.....

    Street cleaning left a dirty snow pile 6 feet high by 15 feet long and 8 feet wide on my lawn. Leaves salt/sand/gravel on the grass and isn't good for my trees, but there's a bigger issue.

    I live near a school and I know kids climbed on it last year and probably this year too. I can't monitor it all day of course, but kids being kids, they will obviously fall off once in a while. There is a level of concern, albeit small, that at some point a kid could fall off and hurt themselves badly which could cause some parents to seek compensation.

    Since this is on my property, I assume that I would hold the majority, if not all, of the liability in such a situation. Considering that this large, kid-magnet snowpile was not created by me, that doesn't seem entirely right, nor should I have to pay to have it removed to avoid liability.

    Again, this is unlikely, but should it occur, the consequences are measurable. Just something to think about. Thanks for the blog post!

    1. I had a chat with Legislative Services and they pointed me in this direction: Part 13 of the Municipal Government Act deals with liability of municipalities. In particular, the section on snow says:

      Snow on roads
      531(1) A municipality is only liable for an injury to a person or
      damage to property caused by snow, ice or slush on roads or
      sidewalks in the municipality if the municipality is grossly
      (2) A person who brings an action claiming gross negligence
      described in subsection (1) must notify the municipality of the
      event that gives rise to the action within 21 days after the
      occurrence of the event.

      If someone believes the City has been "grossly negligent" with an issue they can make a claim against the City here: http://www.cityofgp.com/index.aspx?page=1253&recordid=134

      Audrey or Terri with Legislative Services are more than willing to answer any questions you have: (780) 538-0338.

  2. I just have to give my 2 penn'th in - while I don't expect the city to clean every snowflake from the streets, I do feel that we have the right to expect driveable roads. I agree with the person who suggested that the crews plow to each side of a street and the homeowners then clear there own driveways. I also don't mind if they do this in the middle of the night. My neighborhood is low priority, so we won't see a plow before the new year. Thanks for the chance to vent!

  3. What about throwing a little more money at enforcement services to keep vehicles off the streets? Or increasing fines? It just seems like so many people are ignoring the parking bans repeatedly, one has to wonder if they have ever been penalized for it.

    I really appreciate how hard the crews are working and I would be OK with residential clearing at night. I'm not sure how I feel about plows pushing snow to the sides, as there are many residents who already have trouble getting their driveways and sidewalks clear and this would add to the problem. My lawn already has a six-foot mountain, so I don't even know where I would put more snow.

    Good luck! I don't envy Council for having to deal with this problem every year.

  4. #2, No thanks! I do not have the capacity to move that snow out of the driveway entrance.
    #3, Yes, come along anytime, your always welcome to plow the snow off our street!

  5. Has the issue of blocking driveways and sidewalks that belong to the elderly or disabled been addressed? My wife manages disabled homes and the people who live in these homes are responsible for their expenses and would be unable to hire people to do it for them. They are on small fixed incomes, and need emergency vehicles to be able to access them?