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Snow jobs

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This image, captured by Spacing’s web developer Michael Pereira after one of our recent snowstorms, pretty much says all there is to say about the problems of snow clearing for pedestrians in Toronto. Some enterprising person has put a skid down so that pedestrians can cross the pool of briny slush at the intersection. But it doesn’t help the woman in the wheelchair, who is stymied by this pool.

Apparently, on Friday the Works Committee did discuss the Pedestrian Committee’s motion regarding snow clearance for pedestrians, and at the very least called for improved enforcement of the city’s snow-clearing bylaws. But while the city has made small improvements in the most recent snowstorms, there is still a lot to be done. I do not think there is any reason why sidewalks on main roads cannot be cleared as quickly as the roads themselves.

I also want to address a couple of excuses the city uses. An article in the Star about last week’s snowstorm said:

[Transportation Services director] Noehammer urges residents to clear sewers and storm covers in front of their homes so melted snow and rain can drain away.

This is problematic. Those sewers are on the road, they aren’t even on the sidewalk. The city is now asking residents to not only clear their sidewalks, but also the road? Clearing sewer grates is the city’s responsibility, it’s time it took responsibility for this basic and necessary task rather than pushing it off on residents.

And, a Sun article states:

However, thin sidewalks and on-street parking make it impossible for municipal officials to provide the service in central Toronto.

I don’t believe this is true. It may make it more difficult, but there are lots of sidewalks in central Toronto, including residential ones, that could be ploughed effectively, certainly many more than are currently ploughed. According to staff, the city can plough a sidewalk only 1.5 meters wide, which takes care of most in Toronto. And on many residential streets, the parking is only on one side. The real reason is that the old pre-amalgamation City of Toronto didn’t plough sidewalks, and the city can’t afford the extra equipment or manpower it would take to extend the ploughing throughout the central area. Which is fair enough, but don’t pretend it can’t be done — admit it just won’t be done.



  1. that photo should be taped into every plowing vehicle in the City – it’s brutal.
    The urban core is now dominated by north york thinking and it jumps over bridges when it thinks that motorists might sue if they can’t maintain the design speeds of the roads all the time – which entails quick plowing without worrying overmuch about some details.
    I’m in the former East York area north of the Danforth and it has sidewalk plowing which seems unnecessary as most folks in this immediate area do take shovels in hand to clear the sidewalks. There are still areas at streetcorners that have benefitted, but it seems that it’s unnecessary compared with what might make that woman’s life more fair…

  2. If anyone is curious, those skids are at Queen and Victoria. As of yesterday evening they were still there.

  3. Yup, I recognized that skid right away, since I live a block away and have been using it a lot this week. Originally there were two skids, not sure what happened to the other one. The worst thing about this intersection is that it’s the NE corner, right next to St. Michael’s Hospital and pedestrians traveling between the hospital and the “accessible” Queen Subway station, have to make their way across this sea of brine to access the hospital. Many of these pedestrians are elderly and/or have mobility issues. There is also no on-street parking at that intersection, so there’s no excuse for not removing snow from sewer grates.

    (and a side note: This is definitely the worst and arguably most important intersection in the area, but many others aren’t much better.)

  4. Thanks for that Globe article link.

    This quote from the article blew my mind:
    “One of the city’s three working mobile snow-melting trucks was expected to hit the roads last night as well.”

    I’m at a loss. Why weren’t all of them out there constantly as soon as the storm hit? Isn’t that what they’re FOR? Why would the city buy three snow melting trucks and not use them immediately when the biggest storm in years hits the city?

  5. Maybe that Toronto Life article was right, about the toilet of city hall, and the low-quality of our bureaucrats. Maybe it’s time for a mass firing?

    Maybe time to bust that union?

    Trouble from top to bottom. Out with the old — I don’t mind paying top dollar for civic infrastructure, we just need to ensure we’re paying that dollar for competent people.

    One of three snow melters!!!

  6. Wow, I’m amazed at all the excuses. They’re so tired. This is my first winter in Toronto (just moved from montreal) and I just had my 64 year old mother visiting. I was horrified at how disastrous sidewalks and intersections still were several days after the snow fell. Montreal has a lot to answer for, but the snow removal is surprisingly efficient and Montreal doesn’t have the benefit of Toronto’s wider (yes, wider) sidewalks and somewhat milder weather. The city needs to get it together. There’s no excuse they can give that can excuse my mama’s wet feet!

  7. It’s only going to get worse with the way the weather has been too. I’m in Etobicoke and the plowed parking lots were lousy. I’m sure the downtown street corners are abysmal.

  8. It is pretty easy for residents to clear sewers of snow, and I don’t really see it being above and beyond to expect residents — who will benefit from having less water in the street and at the curb — to keep them clear. When I lived on a residential street, someone (me, sometimes), would dig out the grate. The problem is not so much in residential areas as in business districts, though,using the wetness of my jeans as an indicator — where apparently no one cares.

    As for snow-melting trucks — could it have something to do with what the weather forecast is? If there is rain in the forecast that is likely to melt snow there might be some protocol that dictates holding off on unnatural snow melting activities. This may be more logic than is actually used, though.

  9. On Spadina, one block north of Queen at Buwler, there was a milk crate used to bridge the huge brine puddle.

  10. Snow clearance is in a bad state all around. It seems like with this last snowfall the city and many businesses are making a very half-hearted effort. Surely it will all melt in a month or two, right?

    I was appalled to hear the head of city snow removal on CBC (Wednesday night?) stating that the snow clearance was 90% done on city streets when very obviously it is not even close even today. The 90% done syndrome is project management 101 – you should never believe it when someone says it.

  11. Queen/Victoria update: that corner is now brine-free.

    I also noticed an interesting convoy of snow-related vehicles along College St. tonight at 7:45pm. On the SE side, a yellow snow blowing machine was traveling east, filling a dump truck with snow, while a few (didn’t see exactly how many) empty dump trucks were parked just behind (to the west) of the two vehicles in the right lane/bike lane. On the opposite side of the street (NE), three empty dump trucks inched westward in the right lane/bike lane. On the NW side of college, three empty dump trucks sat parked in the right/ (nicely cleared) bike lane. I wonder how many engine-idling dump trucks, driver salaries, and metres of bike lane blockage could have been spared by the use of one snow removal machine?

  12. I just want to echo what Molly has said. Trying to divide up things per responsibility, the city vs. the citizens, forgets that the city is made up of citizens, and that we should all try to do our part within reason. For the most part I think it’s reasonable to expect citizens to take care of a patch of sidewalk and to help keep drains clear. What I’m reading here comes across as a lazy-person’s complaint in that regard: looking at a problem and trying to get others to do something about it when it’s within your power to partially resolve it.

    Besides, this is the first winter in years that this is a problem. If the city has been caught unprepared I think that’s understandable.

    What I’d like to know is: after he snapped the photo of the lady in distress, did he help her?

  13. Always some self-righteous busy-body wants to know “what did he do after he snapped the photo”?

    I’m sure he deflated her tires and pushed her into the puddle.

    What kind of question is that?

    What I’d like to know: why is Timothy sitting at his warm computer when he could be out there helping people?

  14. I was simply trying to point out an underlying assumption, which is self-isolating rather than communitarian. The photo gets snapped of the woman and used to illustrate a story accusing the city of not doing it’s job properly. I’m sure he or someone else helped her. Now, is that a bad thing? Is it fair to say that in cases such as this, it’s wrong to expect help? Instead the argument is being made that the woman shouldn’t need help because the sidewalks should be so designed that she can tell anyone who wants to help to fuck off and stop being condescending just because she’s in a wheel-chair. In other words the city’s job should be to ensure that each one of us can ignore one another. “I don’t want some stranger holding out their hand to help me across a puddle!?” And, “Clean the drain? For fuck sakes, it’s bad enough I have to shovel six-feet of sidewalk! Gawd.” These example voice are somewhat exaggerated but I’m basing them on familiarity with jerks I have known. It’s also based on imagining people with shovels in their hands. Understandably, that isn’t going to be everybody – apartment dwellers and the like.

    That being said, the points made are valid. We can’t always expect help and should be able to navigate the city’s streets without it. But help isn’t a bad thing. And helping the city’s crews, who have some thousands of kilometres to deal with, shouldn’t be a big deal.

    My ultimate point though is that complaining that the city isn’t doing enough should be cautioned by an awareness of what one has done to contribute. Expecting them to just magically ensure that you aren’t inconvenienced by the weather could be read as selfish. I mean, this is Canada after all. Snow is part of the experience.

  15. Re. the drains issue. The point is that the problem is *caused* by the city’s actions. The city ploughs the roads and dumps the snow where the drains are. It may be reasonable to expect citizens to shovel their sidewalks of normal snowfall, but it’s not reasonable, or even safe, to ask them to stand on the roadway where traffic is passing, probably in a slippery puddle, and shovel a huge mound of packed snow and ice in an attempt to find the sewer grate.

    We all pay taxes to the city so it can buy equipment that does this task far more safely and efficiently for us. The city has this equipment, and we are asking it to use it more effectively.

    We express our community instincts in part by pooling our money together through taxes so that our government does certain tasks. It is reasonable to push the government to use these taxes more effectively, in a manner that benefits those of us who walk as well as those of us who drive.

  16. Timothy… ever been in a wheelchair? Even for a day? Try it, and I’m sure VERY VERY fast you’ll appreciate every opportunity to not have to wait for people to open doors for you, to push you up a stair, to help you across a puddle. Do you know how many friggin times in a day people in wheelchairs have to accept help to deal with awkward desings? Do you have any idea how fucking TIRED they are of it? Of course help is not a bad thing, but having to need help – is.

    I’m not a wheelchair user myself, but I guess I have empathy that works.

    And the argument that “oh, we’re in Canada, snowbanks for sidewalks is part of the deal” is lame. There is no need for the nonsense that goes on here, and cities with tougher climates, like Montreal or my native city in Siberia with 1.5-mln inhabitants prove the point.

  17. An article in Sunday’s star has an interesting quote:

    “The situation has even caused one Toronto resident, Mike Nemiroff, to coin the phrase ‘Snow Moval’ — what the City of Toronto does instead of snow removal.”

  18. The reason the snow melting trucks were not on the streets is because they were setup at fixed locations around the city. I saw a CTV news report showing one of the melting trucks setup at Exhibition Place and the snow was being trucked there for melting. The report also suggested that in a couple of days, the melting trucks would get mobile and “hit the streets”.

  19. Re: Dylan: good points, acknowledged and thanks for clarifying

    Re: chephy: yes I imagine people in wheelchairs are pissed about it as I would be too. That’s not really the point here. Accessibility is a systemic problem at all levels, and here we’re all inconvenienced by the snow, some more than others. So what’s the accessibility solution in this case? Ramps for puddles? Than let’s advocate for ramps…

    I don’t think the ‘oh we’re in Canada’ thing is lame. Cities with tougher climates have understandably tougher expectations of what they’ll have to deal with and budget for. They have invested in the appropriate equipment. Toronto hasn’t had a winter like this in 30 years … which may be part of Global Warming or just the luck of the draw, I don’t know. But to expect Toronto to overnight be as efficient as Montreal with something it’s not used to is unreasonable. Seems to me that in Montreal they dump a lot of the snow into the river, which is their business. If the city started dumping snow into the lake I imagine there’d be an environmental group up in arms because of the salt and dirt.

    Toronto is over a hundred years old, and a century ago they didn’t have petrol-powered plows clearing sidewalks, and they had harsher winters with more snow than we’ve gotten. What the hell did they do? Write the paper to complain, picket city-hall, or deal with it?

  20. Timothy> That photo was taken outside a HOSPITAL. It’s a PUBLIC building. In this case, the only “lazy citizens” to blame for the snow not being cleared from sewage grates are those who are NOT making a stink about this to our public officials.

    While it might be impossible to clear all of the city’s intersections after a snowstorm to a degree that would make them perfectly accessible for those in wheelchairs, you would think that this should be a BASIC requirement for places, like say, a major hospital, where the clientele consists exclusively of people requiring help.

    If you want to go out to Queen/Victoria and stand in traffic with hipwaders and a shovel and try to find the blocked sewer grate, be my guest. Or, if you would like to stand at that intersection 24-7 helping the MANY mobility-challenged people who traverse that intersection every day (helping one person across does nothing to address a systemic problem: I helped a couple with a cane and walker cross, but did the puddle go away? No, it did not.), again be my guest. But as people here have suggested, it might make a bit more sense to have the city stop CREATING the bloody puddles in the first place by having them change their plowing practices so that they stop blocking the sewage grates. Unlike advocating for ramps (a band aid solution), people here are look to address a root cause of the problem.

    Perhaps we are impatient and demanding a lot of a city that hasn’t been through this before. But if we make a big enough stink about it this year, we can expect that next year the city will have figured out how to address the problem. If we say or do nothing, then nothing will change. Active citizenship (and indeed, helping people) does not just involve pitching in with a snow shovel, it ALSO involves complaining to those with the power to address systemic problems. By getting mad at US for complaining, you’re effectively sitting on your hands when it comes to addressing the systemic problem we’ve addressed.

    B.Smith> Thanks, that would explain the convoy of dump trucks I saw last night.

  21. Melissa > I’m not getting mad at you guys for complaining. You’re confusing an attempt to clarify an argument (as Dylan did) with chastisement, which wasn’t my intention. You’re critiquing the city, I’m partially playing devil/city’s-advocate. With the exclusion of the given examples in this thread, my feeling is partially that this is making mountains out of snowhills.

  22. What about today? The puddles and slush are annoying if you don’t wear proper boots. More if you’re using a walker etc.

    But today was dangerous. Dodgy ice that almost put me on my backside several times a minute.

    My guess is that city bureaucrats travel everywhere by car, like the sensible TTC workers I see in their cars. They can travel the TTC for free but they choose to drive.

    We need Hazel to run for mayor and turn the hose on City Hall.

  23. Let’s hand out heavy fines for my asshole neighbours who can’t be bothered shoveling their walk all winter. We’ll either get more money in the coffers or we’ll get sidewalks cleared, a win-win situation.

  24. I observed insta-snow SNAFUs in Ottawa earlier this winter, including dipsticks too lazy to shovel their own driveways and instead parking across the partially-cleared sidewalks. The city’s response to clearing sidewalks in general was unimpressive and days slow, despite the cheerful assessments from city management on the radio. We were invited to call in with news of the little places they’d missed, when a typical walk was still an adventure in winter hiking.

    I think they contract out to the lowest bidder for at least some of their snow removal, and it sure shows. Food for thought for the “rahr, rahr, stupid unions,” crowd.