Changing winters demands a change in approach to Edmonton snow clearing, councillor says

A pilot project to find how Edmonton can improve clearing snow during the winter is set to be discussed by city council in March.

City must reconsider the way it manages snow removal, says Ward 4 Coun. Aaron Paquette

Some Edmontonians are frustrated with snow-clearing methods not being efficient enough this year, and city council will discuss in March asking for a report into a pilot project to improve this work. (Craig Ryan/CBC)

A city councillor wants Edmonton to consider revamping its entire snow removal strategy, with all options on the table including the possibility of city-led sidewalk snow removal. 

With a population of almost one million people, Edmonton can't continue using the same policies that have been in place since the city was half that size, said Ward 4 Coun. Aaron Paquette.

Added to that are changing weather patterns that create more freeze-thaw cycles, so the city must reconsider the way it manages snow removal, he said. 

"What we have traditionally done worked," said Paquette in an interview. "We know winter is changing but we haven't changed our approach. We're spreading out. We've got enough single roadway to drive all the way to Newfoundland and back. So imagine taking care of that length of road every time it snows." 

Workers are having trouble keeping up with how often major roads need to be cleared, he said, meaning residential areas don't receive as much attention.

Paquette said on March 9 he plans to introduce a motion asking administration to analyze the feasibility of a snow-and-ice clearing pilot project. The report would look at how the city could improve efforts to keep roads and sidewalks clear, before testing new solutions in select neighbourhoods that could be later expanded across the city.

The possibilities for the project could include everything from full service snow clearing to re-prioritizing which roads get cleared; Paquette suggested the idea of focusing on the core first then moving outwards doesn't necessarily work for a city as big as Edmonton.

"What if we were able to do full-service snow clearing? What would the cost be? What would that look like? And how would we actually implement it? The idea is that in the process we would be getting learnings."

Paquette wants the pilot project to involve a range of neighbourhoods from the core to the outer suburbs.

Last week, after hearing complaints from frustrated constituents, Coun. Michael Walters said the city needs to improve its snow-clearing efforts. Paquette said he has heard similar complaints that for people with mobility issues, injuries or who need strollers for their children, it can be difficult to use sidewalks and streets during the winter.

"Everyone recognizes this has been an incredibly frustrating winter, not only for the public but also for the frontline services, the people out in the machines trying to get the job done," Paquette said.

Bob Summers, associate chair at the University of Alberta's School of Urban and Regional Planning, said he supports Paquette's motion because Edmonton has done a poor job of dealing with snow and ice on sidewalks.

Summers said he hopes alternative approaches will be explored, such as having the city remove snow, relying on private snow-clearing, having community organizations help with the work, or by using awareness campaigns and harsher enforcement by handing out more tickets to people who don't keep their sidewalks clear.

It's a critical issue, Summers said, because snow clearing has a major impact on how people move around the city. If people who want to walk or cycle instead of driving face unmanageable sidewalks, they're likely to just get back in their cars