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State of Snow Clearing in Toronto for Non-Motorists

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Aug 2, 2007
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This is a post from Spacing earlier this week..
I've been really annoyed myself at the relatively quick rate that the city clears its roadways for cars while pedestrians are left to toil through snowbanks and worse yet, huge puddles at every intersection. I've been without footwear at work today after sinking into a very deep puddle of water formed by a snowbank clearly made to made the road a little more car friendly. Those poor rubber tires just can't get snow on them, y'know.

Clearing the snow for pedestrians

Posted by Dylan Reid


After the December 16 snowstorm, there was a lot of media coverage and comment about how poorly snow was cleared for pedestrians compared to drivers (cyclists were also poorly served).
There are three primary problems:
- the road ploughs leave huge piles of snow at intersections and transit stops, which pedestrians then have to climb over;
- when the snow starts melting, large pools of salty water that are difficult to cross accumulate at intersections because sewer grates are left blocked with snow; and
- where the city doesn’t plough sidewalks, many residents and businesses neglect their obligation to shovel, leaving narrow and slippery packed snow.
These are problems for everyone (slips and falls are a primary cause of injuries for pedestrians, and these issues also increase the risk of being hit by cars), but they are particularly dangerous for anyone with mobility problems, and for people with children, who end up essentially shut in after a storm.
At the January 22 meeting of the Toronto Pedestrian Committee, we put the issue on our agenda and submitted a report to Works Committee (which is on the agenda (PDF) for their meeting this Friday, Feb. 8 ) outlining these problems and providing a series of recommendations for addressing them.
We also heard from a manager from Transportation Services at the City. Apparently the city is at the moment working on a review of snow clearing that includes improving snow clearing for pedestrians. I went out walking yesterday (Feb. 2) after the Feb. 1 storm, and I could see that the City has started to respond to the concerns expressed by pedestrians, and there were in fact some attempts to clear snow for people on foot more effectively. But the attempts are still haphazard — the primary goal of the pedestrian committee recommendations was to make snow clearance for pedestrians more systematic and co-ordinated.
Here are some visual notes about what’s been done and what’s still to do.

The most visible improvement was that the City, within a day of the storm, was clearing a wide path at intersections on major streets, including the sewer grate so that there was no pooling of water. Here are examples from Spadina and Harbord (where you can see the snow has been pushed to a huge pile on the left where it’s not in anyone’s way), and from Queen and John.


However, even when clearing a wide path the ploughs still missed the sewer grate at several points, leaving difficult pools of water. Here is Queen and Peter.

At Queen and University, although the street corners were cleared, the median was left uncleared, leaving a hazardous pool of slush and brine to cross.

While some TTC stops were cleared, others were left blocked. This is the important transfer stop between the College streetcar and Queen’s Park subway, at 1:30 pm on the day after the storm. You can see how many people have already had to cross it, two narrow foot-wide paths have been beaten down.

While one might say that you can’t expect everything to be cleared at once, in fact that’s exactly what we should expect. The key recommendation the pedestrian committee sent to Works is that sidewalk clearing should be co-ordinated with street clearing. The little sidewalk ploughs should run the same routes as the street ploughs, immediately after them, so that transit stops, intersections and sidewalks should be cleared of the snow piles as soon as these piles are created — and this kind of situation doesn’t happen. It simply means treating pedestrians equally to cars.
We heard an even more intriguing possibility at the pedestrian committee meeting, too. One of our members pointed out that, in Montreal, streets are cleared of snow completely all at once. The city can enforce a temporary “no parking†policy along important streets designated as “snow routesâ€, giving notice for cars to be cleared, and then the city goes in with road and sidewalk ploughs at once, followed by those massive snow-blowers dumping the piles into trucks to be taken away (and now there are snow-melting trucks too — I believe Toronto even has a couple of them). In the end, there are no piles of snow anywhere along the street.
We were surprised to be told by staff that, in fact, such snow routes are designated on some streets in Toronto as well, and can be activated if the mayor declares a “snow emergency.†We recommended that this provision should be activated and enforced much more often. It would make things easier for everyone, but the biggest difference would be to clear routes for cyclists.
Finally, of course, there’s the problem of people not clearing snow from the sidewalk in front of their property. I think that more sidewalks, at least on major roads, should be ploughed by the city, but in the absence of city ploughing, it’s a law that needs to be enforced. Here, for example, is the sidewalk outside the CIBC bank at Queen and Spadina.

The bank has cleared and salted the snow in front of the entrance, but the wide sidewalk along Queen — which sees some of the heaviest pedestrian traffic in the city — has been left unshovelled, becoming packed down and slippery. I know CIBC has suffered a drop in profits this year, but I’m sure in their multi-billion dollar budget they could find a few hundred dollars to hire someone to clear their full sidewalk even on days they’re not open, so that they are in compliance with local bylaws. Surely it’s worth their while just to avoid the danger of getting sued?
I've never witnessed as many puddles at corners as I did the day after last week's snowfall. Is the City doing something different or was it a different sort of snow? Either way, it was atrocious for pedestrians to navigate. Even in big boots, my feet ended up getting wet.
Just who is responsible for clearing sidewalks in front of stores and in particular houses in Toronto? I know in some cities, it's the city. But in some cities, there are by-laws requiring the owner clear within 24-hours - it's somewhat annoying wandering down a residential street 72-hours after the last snow, and seeing the driveway shovelled, but no attempt to clear the 7-metre long sidewalk in front of the house.

Generally I don't find businesses so bad - after all, it would be pretty dumb to piss off your clients. (Though CIBC not clearing is typical of my experience with them - pretty dumb).
Perhaps some of the property tax surcharge that the Board of Trade says homeowners should pay to subsidize the business community could be earmarked for clearing away the snow and slush in front of their business locations so that their profit-generating potential won't be adversely affected by the weather.
If individual homeowners and businesses are responsible for clearing their sidewalks then enforcement is most likely complaint-based.

When I lived in Toronto five years ago it was a problem too. There's been more snow this year so the problem seems worse. I hope the review of snow clearing practices actually produces something. Municipalities really should be the ones clearing sidewalks, not individual landowners.
The photo show how the City clears stops for 1, 26 and 5 atic's buses as well when artic's ran on 19. Nothing new in 8 years. There been times when the snowbanks have been up pass the bottom of the windows to climb over.

There are stops in front of City Hall where only the front door area is clean for 40' buses let alone artic's and I show a photo of it to Council. You can find hafts stops clear city wide.

The sidewalks are under City control that I talked about. In places, stops are clear as require, but not the sidewalk to get to them.

On Dec 21, I phone Orlando about sidewalks not clear under their control in the Heartland and they said it was up to the various owners to do this and they would contact owners.

I always made sure my sidewalk was clear, but there are some ppl who refused to do it.

Seen very few business not cleaning their sidewalk during the storms both in Toronto or elsewhere.
If individual homeowners and businesses are responsible for clearing their sidewalks then enforcement is most likely complaint-based.
That's how it would work - that's what other cities do. But I honestly don't know how it's supposed to work.

Municipalities really should be the ones clearing sidewalks, not individual landowners.
Why? There are places that get a lot more snow that Toronto that have homeowners and businesses responsible for clearing their sidewalk. Why would one want to expend all that money to purchase, maintain, and operate the extra equipment necessary to do this, when it's only needed 10 or so times a year. Any resident or homeowner is already doing some, and often a lot of shovelling. The sidewalk is pretty minor for most people compared to what they already deal with.
Odd that so much emphasis is placed on walking over car use, yet there is little sympathy for pedestrians with respect to the proper maintenance of sidewalks in the winter. Clean sidewalks are a public good.
This morning my bus only opened the front doors at Dupont station as there was a huge snowbank blocking the rear doors. The stops on the other corners were cleared, but this one, probably the most heavily used one, was not.
The fact that there's a double standard of snow clearing in within Toronto is a problem too, where outer suburbs get their sidewalks shoveled while inner suburbs don't, yet everyone pays the same. Snow shoveling should be the responsibility of the property owner, including the sidewalk in front of your home. You don't do it, the city will, but will send you the bill directly. I don't want downtown tax dollars going to fund clear sidewalks in the burbs while downtown sidewalks are in horrid shape.

I say banish residential sidewalk clearing for being the relic of the former rich snobbery of the suburbs... make them shovel snow. It'll be good for them to be actually outside their homes.
The plowers arent the brightest in this city: They left a foot and a half high snow bank between two lanes on the Gardiner last night, and theres only two narrow lane on my part of Queens Quay Right now. The sidewalks are still filled with nice fluffy white stuff - I dont think a signle sidewalk plow has gone by yet.