Snow And Ice Clearing Woes….The Winter Of Living Dangerously

By John Dance

With the warmth of today, it may seem like winter was a while ago, but this feeling can’t erase the sense of many in Old Ottawa East that the past winter was the worst in a long time and that the mere act of walking was treacherous for months.

Readers of The Mainstreeter have suggested many ways for the city to improve snow operations (see the story below), and one OOE resident, Dianne Breton, led a city-wide analysis – dubbed the “snow mole project” – to determine how residents were coping with winter walking.

The short answer is: “not well”. It turns out that the city’s snow clearing standards haven’t been changed since 2003, when “it was all about cars,”
according to Luc Gagné, the City of Ottawa’s Director of Roads and Parking.

Organized by the four councillors with wards in the city core, including Capital Ward’s Shawn Menard, an evening forum was held in March for residents to learn why snow clearing was so difficult this year, and to allow them to suggest improvements.

Old Ottawa East resident, Dianne Breton, a ‘snow mole’ volunteer, photographs ice covering the sidewalk leading into Main Street. Photo by Sara Miller Llana/The Christian Science Monitor.

Old Ottawa East resident, Dianne Breton, a ‘snow mole’ volunteer, photographs ice covering the sidewalk leading into Main Street. Photo by Sara Miller Llana/The Christian Science Monitor.

Residents learned that snow clearing budgets have actually declined in recent years, despite climate change making it more difficult to keep roads and sidewalks clear. Furthermore, the city’s current standards for snow-clearing assign a low priority to sidewalks.

Ottawa had its snowiest January on record this year and, as city staff explained, “Operations were further challenged by the rapid nature of the 48 freeze-thaw cycles that the city has experienced [this winter].”

A review of current standards for snow clearing will not be conducted until next year because no money was approved in the 2019 budget to do so, but a number of suggestions made at the forum are under consideration.

For instance, residents suggested that there should be better coordination of the operations of sidewalk and road snowplows so that the road crews don’t fill in the corners cleared by the sidewalk plows. Similarly, pedestrian volumes should be factored into the determination of which sidewalks get plowed first.

Other suggestions included: keeping street catch-basins free of snow and ice; ensuring sloping sidewalks get extra treatment, just as sloping roads now do; encouraging business owners to help keep sidewalks clear; and increasing parking bans and allowing parking on only one side of the street to facilitate snow clearing and two-way traffic.

Breton, who is chair of the age-friendly pedestrian safety and walkability committee of the city’s Council on Aging of Ottawa, launched the “snow mole” project that conducted 250 audits of snow clearing this winter.

Analysis of these audits produced 12 draft recommendations including developing a ‘pedestrian first’ approach for snow clearance; removing snowbanks on residential streets before they become hazardous to pedestrians and before thawing and freezing into ice buildup that is difficult to remove and dangerous to walk on; and developing realistic solutions to ice build-up problems, including blocked street drains due to plowing and freeze-thaw cycles. But simply put, Breton says, “Pedestrians need bare pavement.”

The “snow mole” project attracted the attention of the esteemed Christian Science Monitor, which in February published a lengthy story on Breton and her colleagues’ efforts. See:https://www.csmonitor.com/World/Americas/2019/0226/Snow-moles-on-patrol-Volunteers-prowl-city-s-winter-walkways.

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Filed in: Features, FP, Front Page

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