- As another day of snow arrives, I thought I would provide some information on the City’s winter control efforts. Here are some answers to common questions we have received to date from you or residents in our community:
How do other municipalities handle winter maintenance?
Winter maintenance varies from municipality to municipality. Some municipalities use City-owned equipment and use their own staff; in other municipalities, some locations are contracted out.
Guelph uses a mix of both of these options. On primary and secondary routes, we use City equipment, which have plows and salt/sand hoppers. On residential streets we use contractors that have plows only. Usually City plows and contractor plows do not overlap, though a City truck may plow a street where a concern is raised or if the street was missed by a contractor. While utilizing contractors to plow the City’s residential streets keeps our capital and staffing costs down, we only plow during significant events and as such often residents voice a lack of service compared to the primary and secondary streets. Under our current agreement, the City has limited ability to comment on the type of equipment used by contractors or the level of experience their operators may have. The use of multiple contractors with a variety or equipment and operator experience causes inconsistencies in our collective effort to clear snow.
How does the City handle icy conditions?
When icy conditions occur, we are responsible for applying materials to all streets and we prioritize based on the Minimum Maintenance Standards. It does take time for the City’s 13 salt trucks to provide service on all streets. Our staff are the only ones providing this service; contractors are not used to salt and sand because some do not have the equipment for it.
Will the City be reviewing its practices related to winter maintenance?
In April 2019, our winter control contract ends. At this time, we will be reviewing the contract to reduce inconsistencies and place requirements on the equipment our contractors use. Later this year, we will also be conducting a route optimization process to identify where we may be able to find improvements and efficiencies in our current service level. We anticipate that this process may highlight the need for additional City trucks and drivers.
Why can’t the City consistently respond to snow and ice storms?
It is really important for us to highlight that each storm is different and our response to each storm has to be unique in how we respond and the resources we use. A one size fits all model does not work for Mother Nature. The same could be said for comparing municipalities’ equipment, staffing and service levels. While we cannot specifically speak to reasoning, there are significant yearly differences in precipitation and temperatures, resulting in changes to our processes, materials or routes mid-storm to address changing conditions.
For example, the temperatures during the February 6 storm dropped significantly just after midnight. This quick temperature change with the heavy rain resulted in an ice layer forming on City streets and sidewalks, and as discussed previously, our resources to tackle icy conditions beyond the minimum maintenance guidelines is limited. Compounding the issue is road salt does not work effectively in temperatures below -9 and its use in these temperatures is not environmentally or financially responsible.
Can the City’s plow blades cut through ice?
Unfortunately they cannot. For safety reasons and to prevent damage to roads, vehicles and drivers, the blades float on the surface. Our drivers can feel something as small as grains of salt on the road. Hardened windrows and ice present health and safety concerns to our crews.
Can other equipment help cut through ice better than plow blades?
In some areas, graders could cut the ice, however, doing so would likely not have the desired effect and could result in damage to catch basins and other road infrastructure. Ice would then be deposited at the end of driveways and become the responsibility for home owners to clear.
Why doesn’t the City use chemical de-icers and treated salt?
While these materials may work in large concentrations on driveways and areas where there is no moving traffic, their use on City roads and sidewalks is impractical, cost prohibitive and may be environmentally unfriendly. Instead, we apply sand until temperatures return to a consistent level where salt will be effective. The use of these materials is usually reserved for extreme measures on the main roads.
Can we increase the service level of plows to residential streets to prevent ice from forming?
Council has directed staff to plow residential streets after 10 centimetres or more of snow has fallen. Increasing plowing may not have an affect on flash freezes, however, it could reduce snow accumulation on residential streets. Changing this level of service may have a financial impact. We intend to review the opportunity to plow more often or at a lower accumulation during the route optimization process.
Should the City pass a bylaw requiring residents to clear their sidewalks?
Although other municipalities do have bylaws in place, municipalities are still responsible for maintenance under the Minimum Maintenance Standards. Regardless of who shovels or plows the sidewalk, the City is still liable for any trips and falls.
Moving to this type of program would require additional resources to monitor the City’s sidewalks, enforce the bylaw and if necessary, clear, invoice and attend Court for any charges.
In addition, the City would still be required to clear sidewalks along common areas such as in front of parks. Though we could look at this option again, we did review this matter a few years ago and it was dismissed as it was not a good fit for Guelph residents, especially those who would be receiving a fine, only to watch a sidewalk plow pass their home to address a common sidewalk. We do still ask residents to help us keep sidewalks, fire hydrants and storm basins clear where it is safe for them to do so.
We are always looking at improving customer service and moving forward we have a number items underway or starting soon:
- 2/3 of our existing salt trucks/plows are being replaced this year and we are hopeful this new equipment will result in fewer breakdowns and better application of sand and salt
- Our winter control contract ends this April and our goal this year is to review the contracts, reduce inconsistencies where possible and place requirements on the equipment being used
- Route optimization will help identify improvements and efficiencies and address any gaps in service that may be present
- We continue to explore the use of other equipment, such as the ice breaking equipment being used by Montreal
- Following the above, we will have a better idea on how to improve our winter control efforts moving forward. Once completed we can report back to Council on any budgetary impacts.