Ottawa·Explainer

Feeling like your street's the last to be plowed? Here's why

Did you know the city's snow-clearing standards only kick in after the last flake has fallen?

City crews working round the clock after snowfall, but they may take a while to get to you

Crews have been working around the clock since last Wednesday to deal with record snowfall. (CBC/Robyn Miller)

Whether you're trudging down a snow-clogged sidewalk, fish-tailing around an icy corner or blinded by towering snow banks as you try to back out of your driveway, chances are you're asking this question: Is my street the last one in the city to be cleared?

The short answer is, maybe.

City crews have been working literally around the clock since last Wednesday to plow roads, clean sidewalks and cart away snow banks to deal with the record amount of snow that's fallen this month. But no matter how hard they work, they can't clear snow away everywhere at once.

"Right now we're dealing with an overwhelming number of service requests just due to the nature of the stories we've had over the last week-and-a-half," said Bryden Denyes, a manager with the city's roads services. 

If residents are having trouble getting out of their homes due to snow build up, either on the road or sidewalks, he encourages them to call 3-1-1 — but he's not making any promises about when crews will show up.

"Unfortunately, I can't give a time frame," he said. "But I will say that our supervisors are reviewing and monitoring and trying to respond to service requests as fast as they possibly can."

So what's the city's plan when it comes to snowfall? 

Bryden Denyes, a manager with the city's roads services, says the city is overwhelmed by service calls due to heavy snowfall. (CBC)

Commuter roads, downtown sidewalks a priority

Understandably, city crews work to clear snow off bus routes and main streets that are heavily used by commuters as soon as the snow starts to accumulate. For this most recent storm, crews began clearing the so-called "priority road network" around midnight Tuesday. But, of course, many of those were snow-covered again by the time of the morning commute.

Side streets are a different story. The city doesn't even begin to clear those until seven centimetres of snow has built up. And even then, it could be a while until the crews show up in your residential neighbourhood.

"If it's a long, consistent storm, it may take us a little bit longer to get into them because we have to make sure the priority road network is clear," Denyes said.

The sidewalk-clearing crews have their own priorities: the ByWard Market, which attracts tourists, and downtown core sidewalks are cleared first. Many of them need to be cleared by snowblower, which is time consuming. It's only after sidewalks in these areas are cleared that crews move to those in residential areas.

Crews will remove snowbanks when residential roadways are less than five metres wide. (CBC)

Standards kick in once snow stops

City council has approved snow-clearing standards — time frames in which crews need to clean up the roads and sidewalks. The time frames vary depending on the service. Some include:

  • Major roads, arterials and major collectors: Within four hours.
  • Minor collector roads: Within six hours.
  • Residential roads and lanes: Within 16 hours.
  • Sidewalks in the downtown core: Within six hours.
  • Downtown residential sidewalks: Within 12 hours.
  • Residential sidewalks: Within 16 hours.
  • Bus stops: Within 24 hours after cleanup.

But here's the rub:  the clock only starts ticking after the last flake falls. Technically, snow was still lightly falling on Tuesday evening. So the city standard timelines sometimes don't kick in until well after we consider a storm to be over.

Crews have also been carting away snowbanks to one of the city's six specially designed snow disposal sites.

There are standards for these too: for a residential street, for example, the city will clear way your snowbanks once the roadway opening is less than five metres wide.

The city then has 14 days to cart the snow away from the time it was reported.

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