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Canadian Urbanism Uncovered

More deaths by snow plow: a sad day in Montreal

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At first I didn’t believe it. Three pedestrians were killed in two separate accidents involving snow plowing equipment in Montreal today. Including the young woman killed in Côte-des-neiges killed earlier this winter, the total number of deaths is now up to four.

The first accident occured as an elderly couple were crossing on a green light at Sherbrooke and Champlain and a snow plow driver, not seeing them, turned right. Six hours later, an 76 year-old woman was hit and killed as well. For the full story, see CTV News’ coverage.

While I don’t want to contribute to any emerging public hysteria about the danger of snow plows on this sad day, these incidents can’t help but make one wonder about our approach to the beautiful, inconvenient white stuff. Given our heavy snow falls, Montreal impressively manages to dig itself out and keep on rolling through the winter. This is in sharp contrast to London, which literally came creaking to a halt with 20cm of snow on Monday.

The public (and thus our politicians) puts tremendous pressure to get the snow cleared quickly, but have we gone too far? Are we now sacrificing human lives in the name of efficiency? Or is it simply a few incidents of bad luck and human error?


  1. I do find some peoples’ demands to have the roads cleared so quickly rather unrealistic. After a major snowfall many of these crews put in ten or twelve hour days for days on end. Asking them to do even more is ridiculous, though I see it in the Op/Ed pages of the papers all the time. Tragedies like this are the result.

    Of course its also important to educate people on safety around these big dangerous machines. When I moved to Montreal nobody told me anything about how snow clearing works, I just had to learn on the fly last year.

    Ultimately though we should be trying to find a way to live with the snow rather than constantly combatting it.

  2. Ma théorie: Les motards contrôle les déneigeuses comme ils contrôlent les remorqueuses et se conduisent comme des kamikaze au volant ! A quand les souffleuses incendiées?

  3. I tend to agree that we are deluding ourselves if we think that things should function at the same pace in winter as they do in other seasons. There is a reason that animals hibernate!

    As for snow-removal priorities, personally I think that the sidewalks should be done first, then the arteries which serve public transport (it is unconscionable that a bus-route is moved because a street has not been plowed – how exactly are people going to get to it?! Move the parked cars, not the buses), and only lastly the other streets. Note that I did not mention bike lanes. Until there is some sort of unified system which provides connected pathways throughout the city, I feel that this is a wasted effort (and I am a cyclist). Keep the sidewalks clear first.

  4. I think it’d be difficult to pick out why these four deaths happened, as it’s very possible that each was caused by a different issue. Although I will say, I actually feared for my life due to a snowplow recently. I was at cote-vertu, and was about to walk out between two bus shelters, but stopped to throw out some garbage. Thankfully I had stopped, because if I had walked I would have been hit by one of those sidewalk plows that was going FAR too fast and definitely would not have seen me. The shelters blocked the sound from me, and blocked the sight of me from him. Had I not stopped to use that garbage can, I am convinced that it would have at the very least broken a bone or two, if not worse. When I say it was flying, I mean it was going upwards of 25kph, and it wasn’t even clearing snow.

    That kind of speed was unnecessary, especially in a place so heavily trafficked. I would not be shocked to hear of someone getting injured there, since it’d be so easy to not be noticed. If I’d blame anything, it’s these guys moving too fast– it really can’t save that much time. If they’d just use caution, I’d be satisfied.

  5. It’s all about the cars. Car consumers are so desperate to have their parking place, their ease of access, their “freedom” to go from door to door with no inconvenience that we have put all other needs underneath the need of the automobile. We should spend the money on a proper public transportation architecture and individuals should be walking, skiing, biking or taking the metro/train/bus in the winter. Jobs should give employees more leeway to be late and to leave early in the winter as well to relieve congestion, particularly after a large storm. It’s insane the way drivers want the snow cleared as fast as possible, but also think they should be allowed to drive and park all over the place while the snow clearance is going on.

  6. Next time your house is on fire, or someone you love has a health problem, you will wish the roads to be cleared for the emergency crews. Circulation fluidity is essential and serves everyone even if you don’t own a car.

    What an unthoughtful comment of yours.

  7. Please. “Emergencies” Whatever. If essential services were really the concern, we’d definitely have all non-essential vehicles off the roads. How many times have I seen Montreal drivers not pulling over when an emergency vehicle approaches.

  8. Safety is being sacrificed for efficency. One, because the trucks used are far too big to be safe in a crowded city. Articulated vehicles or large multiwheeled vehicles are not designed to work in crowded areas. The field of vision of drivers is adequate (more or less) for highways only. Secondly, it appears that payment is on a delivered load basis and not hourly. This obviously encourages drivers to cut corners (literally). Finally, permitted working hours are too long and drivers will inevitably become careless.
    I think it appalling that any lives should be lost to facilitate such a banal activity is facilitating traffic movement

  9. Je sais que ce n’est probablement qu’une technicalité, mais les accidents n’impliquaient pas des «pelles», ni des «grattes», mais bien des camions de transport de neige. Sauf pour les trottoir, où la vitesse est parfois inconsidérée, j’en conviens. Cependant, le processus de déneigement des rues ne peut se faire à grande vitesse et est généralement accompli avec la présence de superviseur qui s’assurent de la sécurité de l’opération. Mais une fois la neige dans les camions, considérant que les compagnies de camions sont payées au nombre de voyages, la vitesse et le niveau de danger peuvent augmenter radicalement. Ceci dit, ce ne sont pas tous les opérateur qui circulent comme des fous, il ne faut pas généraliser.

  10. When I was young, I was terrified of those snow plows !

  11. It is tragic but saying we shouldn’t clear snow is silly.

    How many more people would die in traffic accidents if this was the case?

    Even people walking on the snowy sidewalks, tripping, etc.

    The problem generally is you have pedestrians who are in a different world (evolution has taught us when the elephant is running, keep your distance…) and the driver was not paying attention to the right place at the right moment… two stupids.

  12. Also for clearing bike lanes, why is there even bike lanes? Why would someone ride a bike in Montreal winter? I see them yes, but they must be crazy. Uncomfortable and unsafe…

  13. Until at least 1949 these horse ploughs were still in use in Montreal

    We moved from Snowdon Jct in 1951, and by then, the City was using small Case tractors and Cletrac bulldozers to clear sidewalks ( And peel off catch basin covers and protruding sidewalk plates. The lettering on many a Duranceau maple leaf or J. Accurso plate was ‘smeared’ by the spinning steel tracks or chains of a sidewalk plough.

  14. Up until Montreal’s public works began its mechanization beginning in the late 1930s, it was standard procedure to hire teams of unemployed men to manually clear the streets with shovels (type “vintage snow removal Montreal” into Google Images for revealing photos). After Mr. Sicard sold his first street snowblower invention to Outremont in 1937, horse-plow usage diminished until inevitably they were put out to pasture–much like our caleche horses will likewise be. As for snow-removal-related accidents, these have occurred over the past generations for many reasons including pedestrians not paying attention late at night when many snow removal teams are out performing their duties with the expectation that fewer people will actually be wandering around–especially children. Dump trucks laden with snow must drive to the nearest quarry or designated snow-dumps established for that purpose and longer allowed to do so directly into the St. Lawrence River. These drivers are paid by the load, therefore the more loads they dump, the more money they make–an obvious reason why some drivers may be in a hurry and not paying attention to errant pedestrians. See the Coolopolis link below where a former snow removal contractor discusses his job experiences followed by readers’ questions and comments. As for cycling in winter, I personally avoid it for the simple reason that it would take one unseen icy patch to potentially send me flying under the wheels of a passing vehicle. Cycling should be fun and not a risky business.

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