Edmonton adopts new snow-clearing tactics after last winter's bumps

The first day of winter is weeks away but in Edmonton, city officials are already strategizing for how it will keep roads clear during the season ahead.  (David Bajer/CBC - image credit)
The first day of winter is weeks away but in Edmonton, city officials are already strategizing for how it will keep roads clear during the season ahead. (David Bajer/CBC - image credit)

After shovelling more than $5 million back into its snow and ice clearing budget, the City of Edmonton is promising to better maintain streets and sidewalks during the long, icy season ahead.

With streets already slick and dusted with white, city officials held a news conference Friday, announcing a slate of new measures aimed at keeping snow-clearing operations running smoothly this winter.

The changes include new service targets for priority routes, a live-tracking map for city plows, and the promise that a large loop of high-traffic bike lanes will be prioritized for plowing.

Craig McKeown, branch manager of parks and roads services, said the new strategies will better target the city's 12,000 kilometres of roads and 500 kilometres of public pathways.

"Last winter was tough, we all know it. We recognize the tough conditions," McKeown said.

"This year, we'll be responding to residential areas in real time, looking at various equipment to use to avoid any mobility issues in those residential areas, and doing more grooming in between those parking bans."

Carol Maser, interviewed Friday at Bonnie Doon Shopping Centre, is skeptical any improvements in the snow-clearing strategy will be seen this winter. (Annie Verreault/Radio-Canada)

Carol Maser, an Edmonton resident and home-care worker, said she is skeptical that any improvements will be seen this winter.

She said now-clearing is a source of frustration every winter and she can't fathom why it can take weeks to clear certain streets.

"They say they're going to sand the roads and all that. When? Springtime?

"We're a winter city," Maser said from a parking lot in south Edmonton Friday, as she took a breaking from driving clients around the city.

"Get out there and do it, for crying out loud."

A failure to meet service targets last winter was blamed on a lack of money and staffing shortages. Then, budget constraints threatened to further undercut service levels this winter.

The city was looking at a budget cut that would have seen bus stops and some public paths waiting to be cleared for upwards of 22 days after a snowfall, up from a target of 13 days last winter.

Instead, city council this week gave unanimous approval for a one-time top-up to the snow clearing budget.

The funding, pulled from the LRT reserve, totals about $5 million over three years, including $2.13 million for 2023.

McKeown said the budget for this season now sits around $64 million and the cash injection from council should help maintain service levels.

"We're excited about that," he said. "Every dollar counts."

City freeways, arterial roads and business districts, along with collector roads, bus routes and industrial roadways will be cleared in five days.

Residential streets and alleys should be cleared in 10.

New targets for public pathways mean snow should be cleared from bus stops, paths, community sandboxes and public amenities within 14 days.

City sidewalks, bridges, stairs and public parking should be cleared within three days. City facilities, LRT stations, paved trails and priority bike routes should be cleared in one day.

Bike lanes will get targeted attention. This winter, the list of priority lanes has been adjusted to create a new winter loop — a downtown circuit that will be cleared within 24 hours.

Mark Beare, director of infrastructure operations, said the previous map of priority bike routes was a patchwork of unconnected segments. The new loop will be a reliable "ring road" connecting the most popular bike routes north and south of the river.

Bike lanes outside the priority loop will now be cleared within three days.

Amarsleet Snowhi, Connor McBlade-It

The city launched a new live map Friday that uses GPS data to allow Edmontonians to watch snow-clearing operations in action.

The map shows where plows are on the move across the city. McKeown said it's about fun and accountability.

"The technology that we have in our vehicles, the GPS , allows us to transparently show to city council and Edmontonians what we're able to provide in terms of service levels," McKeown said.

Residents can keep an eye out for named snow plows including Buzz Iceclear, Amarsleet Snowhi, Connor McBlade-It and Plowasaurus Rex.

Edmonton resident Marke Henteleff said she'd like to see more plows out but it isn't surprised that spending is constrained.

"I wouldn't mind of there was more but I understand if there is a limited budget," Henteleff said Friday.

"We live with what we live with — it's a snowy country."