Improving sidewalk snow clearing

After a big storm on Feb. 8, the City of Toronto is reviewing its snow clearing policies. While the review may have been spurred by drivers, it provides an opportunity for the City to improve its policies on sidewalk snow clearing in the old city of Toronto, which are currently rather slapdash.

A few years ago, after pressure from the then-Toronto Pedestrian Committee, the City started ploughing the sidewalks of main streets in the old city (previously, it had been up to property owners to do it in the old city of Toronto). However, this remains an unofficial policy – it has never been explicity stated in the City’s official Level of Service for snow clearance, which only promises sidewalk snow clearance in suburban areas, so it’s not implemented systematically. It should be, however — a recent study shows that 46% of people living downtown walk to work. Plus, of course, business owners rely on people walking to their shops. But heavy snowfalls create serious hazards and obstacles for people using sidewalks, from sidewalk ice (particularly threatening for seniors) to the huge snow mounds and snow-melt lakes that form at intersections. Given how heavily these sidewalks are used, it makes sense to have a policy to clear them as part of the City’s standard service.

As for residential areas in the old city of Toronto, the City claims that the sidewalks are too narrow for mechanical snow clearing, and requires property owners to clear their own sidewalks. Even if we accept that claim (it’s debatable), the result is a real problem. It only takes one person to not clear their sidewalk to render it impassable to anyone for whom a fall could be catastrophic, like a senior with brittle bones, or who has mobility difficulties.

A few simple measures the City could take to improve sidewalk snow clearance by property owners:

  • After any major snowfall, have bylaw enforcement officers actively survey the old city for un-cleared snow on sidewalks, rather than only responding to complaints. Let everyone know they will be doing so, too.
  • Have a public education campaign ready for any major snowfall, such as the old “Be Nice, Clear Your Ice” ones.
  • Expand, improve and publicize the program that clears snow for seniors. At the moment, it only promises to clear snow within 72 hours, where property owners are legally required to clear them within 12 hours. Maybe they could hire youth to take care of locations near them, or something.

If you are interested in this issue, you can write to the Public Works and Infrastructure Committee (before March 19) by clicking “submit comments” at the top of the agenda page for this item.



  1. Two points: 1. I live on a street in the Beach. Everyone is pretty good about clearing snow from sidewalk. Then plow comes down the street and pushes snow from the road up onto the sidewalk, pretty much covering half the walk. So we get to shovel the walk twice, and the piles from the plows are difficult to move. (I won’t bring up the windrows and lack of clearance for city people lucky enough to have a driveway, since apparently that’s just our problem, unlike our suburban friends.) 2. Speed humps are a problem during snow melt. Although the humps taper at either side, the snow piles up creating a road wide barrier, so huge puddles build up in front of each hump.

  2. 311 currently makes it easy to report city property that hasn’t been ploughed, but it’s not as easy to report a neighbour that consistently fails to shovel. They should make that as easy as reporting a pothole.

  3. It’s also an accessibility issue, Dylan. It shouldn’t take the wheel-chaired equivalent of blind human rights lawyer David Lepofsky launching a lawsuit against the City because he can’t get around for weeks after a snowfall. Apparently it would cost just $7 a year per household to provide snow clearing services in the old City of Toronto (that’s what the costs are in Winnipeg). Clearing snow effectively would also be a boon for stroller-pushing parents. Not to mention, it’s very unfair that the City will clear the roads of snow for tax paying car drivers but not the sidewalks that the same taxpayers walk on.

  4. I like how everyone gets all medieval on ‘citizens clearing their sidewalk’. And then, where do they clear it? into street parking spots. Yay, go Team Toronto.
    i would like to see enforcement of the ‘no plowing out’ bylaw – this situation magnifies the post-snow-fall problem, with people half-parked , obstructing narrow downtown streets.
    Property owners need to be part of the solution, and if it is too much work to push the snow back towards your building … tough. Don’t plow it into bike lanes etc.

  5. If we are talking about downtown main streets, then I don’t buy the “too narrow to plough” argument. I suspect that the city just does not make it official on the advice of legal department.

  6. Ah, reading comprehension, man. My bad. That said, as far as I can tell, the city is trying to plough the side streets as well, even though rather haphazardly. They just don’t want to promise anything, again, back to legal department.

  7. I work in North York where the sidewalks are “cleared” by the city. In reality that means shovelling the top layers off and tamping down the remainder into a slick icy surface. No grit or melter is put down so it’s like walking on a sheet of smooth ice. I’m always relieved to get back to my downtown neighbourhood where at least the unshoveled snow on my street has a little bit of traction.

    I’m all in favour of snow clearing, but if they’re going to do it, do it right. The half-assed method being used in some areas makes the footing more dangerous than just leaving it alone.

  8. I’d like Parking Enforcement officers to take on the responsibility of warning and ticketing negligent property owners that refuse to clear their sidewalks; I found it a serious problem this year, especially on cross-streets where the corner house has the responsibity for the sidewalk on the side but doesn’t clear it. After all, they’re already ticketing cars in central neighbourhoods 24 hours a day without mercy; there’s not enough non-parking bylaw enforcement officers to enforce the sidewalk clearance rules.

  9. The other problem this year, I’ve found, is that the city didn’t do a good job clearing the snowbanks or parking spaces on the side of the road. The snow melts and ices up the sidewalks again, and cars are completely blocking bike lanes (with getting tickets) because the parking spaces next to the bike lanes are full of hard packed snow.

  10. and what if there is no tenant, or land owner to clear the sidewalk?

  11. Montreal is capable of plowing all sidewalks in their city, despite their sidewalks being just as narrow as those in Toronto. I fail to see why we cannot just purchase the same sidewalk plowing equipment they use.

  12. I’m with Sandra. I work in NY and can attest to the fact that pedestrian conditions are approach the perilous, and the way the snow is plowed (automobile-centric) can make it a lot tougher. Then once I am back home, the less managed snow is still easier tread upon either because so many humans put their prints in it or because it just allows better traction. (Maybe it’s just the comfort of being closer to home too, I don’t know.)

  13. The city plows the sidewalk in front of my home. However, I also shovel a narrow path before the plow comes, when I do my driveway, dumping that snow on my lawn. I let the plow do the whole sidewalk, but they create a windrow on both sides of the sidewalk. Then I clear the windrow of my driveway, dumping it on my lawn.

    Sometimes, the plow comes before I do my driveway, but that’s because I don’t rush out to clear the snow. At least with the plow clearing the sidewalks before I do, people are still able to walk on cleared sidewalks without me.

  14. If you think it’s bad in old Toronto, try going outside the city, around here, they only plough about 1/3rd of the sidewalks, here, along with this, there is no town requirement to shovel your walk. Some of the unploughed sidewalks, are still buried under metre high snowbanks, they will probably appear sometime in the next month or so…. Some of these sidewalks are well used, but they still don’t see a plough in winter time.

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