'We need to do a better job': Edmonton councillor calls for improved snow clearing

Councillor Michael Walters says he wants to know why neighbourhood snow clearing has been "sluggish" this winter.

'Something’s not going well this year,' says Coun. Michael Walters

Jacob Paillard tries to push his car out of a ditch with a stranger. Paillard says he was driving along 49th Street and 98th Avenue when his car slid into a ditch on Wednesday afternoon. (Min Dhariwal/CBC)

Edmonton city councillor Michael Walters wants the city to be better at snow clearing.

The Ward 10 councillor is calling for a mid-season update from the city on its snow-clearing efforts after hearing complaints of frustration from his constituents. 

Walters made the comment on Wednesday afternoon after Tuesday's snowfall caused havoc on city streets. 

"The approach we're taking, I don't get it … I see a service that people are dissatisfied with. I think it is our job to ask our administration what exactly is up … we need to do a better job out there," he said.

"I am hearing more displeasure this year than I've heard in a long time."

Each year, city council receives a snow clearing report from staff in spring, but Walters says it should come earlier this year. 

"I think we might want to talk about that a little sooner this year just because I'm feeling a lot of frustration this year that I'm not prepared to ignore."

Tuesday's 'flash freeze' 

On Tuesday, between 5 a.m. and 10 p.m., 279 collisions were reported to Edmonton police.

Zak Fairbrother, a communications adviser for the city, said all resources were focused on clearing "priority one and two" roads to remove snow accumulation before the temperature fell. 

Priority one and two roads include freeways, arterial roads, collector roads and bus routes.

Fairbrother said Tuesday's fluctuating temperature — a high of 1 C in the morning and a low of –19 C at night — made it difficult for crews to clear snow. 

A vehicle is towed on McDougall Hill Road after snowfall slowed down the evening commute in Edmonton on Tuesday (Travis McEwan/CBC)

"The city experienced a 20-degree temperature drop overnight after which resulted in a flash freeze," he said in an email. 

Fairbrother said crews used a mixture of rock chips, sand and salt on the roads. The city is not using calcium chloride on the roads after city council voted to ditch the anti-icing agent last fall. 

"We're focused on using the tools we do have at our disposal," he said. 

Collisions continue Wednesday

Police said there were 229 collisions reported on Wednesday as of 4 p.m.

Jacob Paillard, a student at The King's University in southeast Edmonton, was driving along 49th Street and 98th Avenue on Wednesday afternoon when his car slipped into a ditch. 

"I looked away for a second and I started spinning out so tried to counter-steer a little bit, but it wouldn't work. I just hit the ditch," Paillard said. 

Neighbourhood snow clearing

Walters said he asked the deputy city manager of operations to provide him with an update on what's causing the "sluggishness" on neighbourhood snow removal. 

Jacob Paillard's car slid into a ditch on Wednesday afternoon. (Min Dhariwal/CBC)

"It doesn't look good, like the sidewalks aren't good. The roads aren't good. The paths aren't good. Something's not going well this year," he said.

Fairbrother said temperature also posed a challenge for residential road clearing. 

"The warm temperatures we experienced destabilized the snowpack, which caused those ruts to form quickly and makes it difficult for us to blade those snow packs to a level [of] five centimetres," he said. 

"We need temperatures to be colder to actually keep that snowpack stable and solid." 

Walters said he knows city staff are working hard and dealing with changing weather conditions, but residents are frustrated.

"This job is one basic service that people expect and when it's not going well and people are frustrated, we need to talk about it."

With files from Natasha Riebe and Min Dhariwal