There has been a lot of discussion about the conditions of our winter roads over the past few weeks and I want to provide some thoughts on what has been happening and what needs to happen going forward. Until about 4 weeks ago, the correspondence I received was fairly consistent with every other year. There were the odd days where there would be a spike, typically related to a road that was icy, but nothing out of the ordinary and usually the issue was resolved in a timely manner.
But over the last month or so, we saw some pretty significant temperature swings and I started to hear a lot of concerns with the conditions of the local roads within our communities. As the current snow pack started breaking up, the ruts became very difficult to navigate and it created safety concerns, not just for those who were driving, but for those who were trying to walk through the community and needing to cross at each intersection.
Another specific concern was for those living in a cul-de-sac. Residents were putting their address in “Know Your Snow Day” tool to find out when their road would be bladed and then not seeing any change once their day arrived.
A verbal report was provided by our City Administration outlining what work is happening and what is expected to come as part of a policy discussion in June/July. We also had the chance to ask some questions and I want to share a few new things that I learned.
- The City doesn’t have dedicated equipment to complete neighbourhood blading in culs-de-sac (the plural of cul-de-sac is not, in fact, cul-de-sacs as I learned this week).
- We treat culs-de-sac separate from the other local roads and they are addressed on a different schedule.
- We have to contract out work in a cul-de-sac due to our lack of dedicated equipment.
Along with those new things that I learned, there was the opportunity to talk about some of the actions that we may need to take when we review the policy in June/July. Here are a few of the actions that I believe we need to take in order to provide better overall service.
Enforce a Parking Ban During Neighbourhood Blading
The City of Edmonton can put a parking ban in place on the roads where the “Snow Route” sign is installed. Those are typically on the collector roads and bus routes that run in between communities or in the middle of a community. When it comes to neighbourhood blading, we ask for people to remove their cars from the roads but there is no requirement to do it.
When cars are left on the local roads during a neighbourhood blading, it makes it harder for our crews to provide the best service possible. Many Canadian cities enforce a 24 or 48 hour parking ban when work is taking place and that allows crews to provide a higher level of service in a shorter amount of time. I know it can be inconvenient to find room in your garage or on the driveway but if we want to see better service when we blade a neighbourhood, we need to create rules that allow for that to occur.
Specific to blading a cul-de-sac, if even one car is parked in the cul-de-sac, our existing equipment cannot blade that area. Even the contracted equipment can struggle to navigate those spaces and since we have over 3,400 culs-de-sac, removing barriers to providing better service is necessary.
Ensure We Have the Necessary Equipment to Complete All Tasks
As mentioned above, we do not have the necessary equipment to blade a cul-de-sac at the same time as our neighbourhood blading. That means many of our newer communities have to wait until the completion of a neighbourhood blading cycle to receive any attention. We need to fix that. I believe we need to think about expanding our fleet so that those who live in a cul-de-sac can receive a similar level of service as those on a standard road. We won’t be able to address this overnight but I do think we need to create a long-term plan to acquire the necessary equipment.
Understand the Neighbourhood Blading Trade-Offs
Back in 2010, a decision was made to only blade the local roads within our communities when there was enough snow to create a 5cm snow pack. That was a change from the previous 10cm snow pack that was in place since 2006. With that change came a trade-off that the windrows left behind would be larger than what we previously had. That made it more challenging to park on the street in front of your home but it helped reduce the ruts in the local roads and made it safer to navigate.
With the freeze/thaw cycles becoming more common, even a 5cm snow pack can break up more quickly which makes it hard to drive, walk, or bike on our local roads. We will be reviewing the snow pack policy during the June/July discussion so I want to get your feedback on the trade-offs of moving to a policy that allows us to blade as close to the pavement as possible.
If we were to blade to pavement, the windrows left behind would be even higher than before. For communities with boulevards, that shouldn’t create much of an issue as the snow can simply be pushed up on the boulevard. For those that have sidewalks directly up against the road, it would mean more work to shovel the windrow onto your property in order to be able to park on the street.
If you live in a newer community with a front-drive garage, chances are that blading as close to the pavement as possible would result in large windrows in between homes since we are required to move a windrow that is higher than 30cm. That could restrict visitor parking even more than the current situation.
For reference, the reason we aren’t looking at removing the snow is that it costs substantially more to remove the snow as we are required to take snow to dedicated snow storage sites. The difference in cost is 10-20 times as much so the main debate is whether we should keep the existing 5cm snow park and shorter windrows or move to as close to the pavement as possible with larger windrows.
Build New Communities Using Winter City Principles
Even with the proper equipment, we need to stop allowing culs-de-sac to be built. Since it costs us 11-12 times more to provide service in those areas, I don’t believe we should continue approving new communities with that feature.
At the same time, we should require that all new communities and reconstructed communities include boulevards on every road. If you look at a city like St. Albert, they often have very clear local roads because almost every road has a boulevard so the snow can be pushed onto it.
We are a winter city and we should be designing our city with that understanding.
This is not a complete list of every action we need to take to provide better winter road maintenance in our communities but these are some of the steps we can take that will have the largest impact. We have to remember that our crews have a very challenging job to do and considering the current barriers in place, I think they do as good of a job as possible.
Our roadway network is one of the largest in Canada and therefore we have to provide our staff with the necessary equipment to do the best job. In June/July we will be able to learn the cost of improving service and then decide if we are willing to pay for any increase in service. While some of the policy changes above could help without having to change the budget, we need to at least be willing to discuss the financial impacts of more equipment.
Of course, I would like to hear from you. What level of service do you want to see? Are there changes that would not require more equipment that could help us achieve that? If not, are you willing to consider an increase in the snow removal budget to reach that level of service? I am very interested in your feedback. If you are interested in more context about the previous policy discussions, please take a few minutes to read through this post from last October.
What Gets Priority?
While writing this post I saw an article that was posted that included information that suggested that bike lanes are being cleared at the expense of our major roads. I felt the need to provide the correct information as someone that drives, bikes, walks, and takes transit in the winter.
Within our Snow and Ice Control Policy, we separate our roads from active transportation modes (active pathways). Our active transportation infrastructure includes sidewalks, multi-use trails, and bike lanes. The equipment that clears our active transportation infrastructure is different from the equipment that clears our roads and therefore is it clearly false to suggest that clearing sidewalks, multi-use trails, and bike lanes are being done at the expense of our roads.
It is fair to say that the staff who clear our active pathways could be redeployed to other equipment. But that assumes that we have extra equipment sitting idle which is not the case. When the City starts plowing arterial roads, all of our equipment is out on the streets. In fact, we often have to hire additional contracted resources in order to complete all of the necessary work. Therefore as mentioned above, it is not accurate to state that our sidewalks, multi-use trails, and bike lanes are being cleared at the expense of our roads.
But this does raise a question, what should our standard be for our active pathways? Back in late 2018, Council approved a new policy that recognized that we previously weren’t addressing active pathways in a timely fashion. I heard from many seniors and people who use mobility aids that the lack of attention given to active pathways was causing them to stay in their homes.
For example, residents of Tegler Terrace who live right across the street from Jasper Gates Shopping Centre would often have to wait up to a week before the multi-use trail on 100th Avenue would be clear of snow and ice. As you may know, a senior who slips on ice can experience significant damage (ex: broken hip, etc.) That can be a life-changing experience and result in people having to move out of their homes. That’s not hyperbole, those stories are regularly shared by seniors across our city.
After years of not having any standards, the 2018 policy was approved to provide seniors, those with limited mobility, parents with strollers, and vulnerable road users who don’t drive with similar expectations as those that do. Our policy clearly outlines that arterial roads will be plowed within 48 hours. At a minimum, why shouldn’t those the same standards be provided to those that don’t drive?
But as someone that drives, bikes, walks, and takes transit in the winter, I can say with confidence that it is much easier to drive on an unplowed road than it is to bike or walk. While I might only drive at 20 or 30km/h on those really bad days, at least my car can push through a heavy snowfall. Those who can’t drive don’t have that same luxury and so any suggestion that would reduce the level of service on our active pathways after adopting it only a year and a half ago would not be something I would support.
While it’s easy to pick on bike lanes, we often forget that infrastructure like that is also used by people who walk, people in wheelchairs, people with mobility aids, parents with strollers, and a variety of people who want to safely navigate our city just like those of us who are fortunate enough to own a vehicle. I don’t think it is responsible for us to pit different modes of transportation against each other. I think we should continue to improve service on our roads for those that have to or choose to drive while also improving service on our active pathways for those that cannot or choose not to drive. Therefore we should be willing to have a tough conversation about the budgets we allocate to an essential service like snow removal.