Critics slam 'disappointing' recommendation to expand city's sidewalk snow clearing

A new report heading to Toronto's infrastructure committee recommends conducting a trial snow clearing program on 250 kilometres of sidewalks that aren't being cleared right now. But critics say it doesn't go far enough.

Close to 18% of city's sidewalks aren't cleared, but trial program would boost service

John Plumadore slipped and fell on a slick sidewalk in February in his neighbourhood of Deer Park. He's among the Toronto residents questioning why city services like sidewalk clearing in the winter are different depending on where you live. (Paul Borkwood/CBC News)

Toronto's first snowfall of the winter could be around the corner, but to the dismay of some residents, it might not come with sweeping changes to the city's piecemeal sidewalk snow clearing policies.

A new report heading to council's infrastructure committee on Thursday recommends conducting a trial program on 250 kilometres of sidewalks that aren't being cleared right now, with priority given to areas where seniors and people with disabilities can already request snow clearing.

Coun. Josh Matlow, a critic of the city's current approach, which focuses on areas outside the downtown core, said the recommendation doesn't go far enough.

"It's awful; it's really disappointing," he told CBC Toronto.

Right now, the transportation services department clears sidewalks in most areas outside the core, which leaves 1,400 kilometres — close to 18 per cent — of the city's 7,900 kilometres of sidewalks uncleared.

The city's new report, based on outside consulting work from HDR Inc. and surveys from Ipsos Public Affairs, was sparked by a March request for a review of winter operations from Mayor John Tory, after his office received more than 150 storm cleanup complaints.

The upcoming test run would cost $300,000 over four months, and could allow for "more timely services and improved reliability" for some residents, the report notes.

Recommendation not 'sufficient,' says resident

But Matlow questioned why the city can't expand services to everyone, suggesting it's both an equity issue and a safety concern, particularly for vulnerable residents like seniors, people with mobility issues, and parents trying to navigate slick sidewalks with a stroller.

"A large swath of Toronto, including the old city of Toronto and parts of York and East York, do not have sidewalk snow clearing," he said.

Deer Park resident John Plumadore lives in one of those areas and slipped and fell on a slick sidewalk back in February, aggravating an earlier dislocated shoulder.

"Amalgamation has taken place over 20 years ago, and now we're just addressing the sidewalk, snow and ice issue," he said, adding the latest recommendation isn't "sufficient."

Coun. Josh Matlow says 'it took years to harmonize the zoning bylaws, and there are some services that still haven't been harmonized.' Matlow says the current system can be both inequitable and unsafe for residents. (Paul Borkwood/CBC)

Extending service just to areas where seniors can already call for snow clearing simply doesn't make sense, Matlow and Plumador agree.

"That assumes that a senior only wants to walk to the end of their walk and back into their front door if they own a house," Matlow said. "That's absurd. They want to walk down the block and go places."

The report suggests going beyond that increased level of service isn't possible yet because of "limitations" in the amount of equipment available and a lack of information about encroachments in unserviced areas of the city.

"This only creates further delays," said Plumadore. "What we should really be doing is moving on and buying the necessary equipment."

Alongside the trial, the report calls for an inventory of the sidewalks not being cleared to confirm their sizes, suggesting these efforts could inform more recommendations down the line.

The report also notes Toronto already meets or exceeds the winter maintenance service levels provided by other regional cities, including Brampton, Hamilton, and Mississauga.

Snow clearing an 'accessibility' issue

After requesting the full review, Tory said it's up to the infrastructure committee to decide the best approach on Thursday.

"The fact is, given the composition of the sidewalks and the way the neighbourhoods are set up physically in areas that don't presently received sidewalk snow clearing, there is a need to get different equipment," he said.

Michal Hay, executive director of social justice advocacy organization Progress Toronto, says Toronto's disparities spill into other areas beyond snow and leaf removal, from child care spaces to recreation spots being offered in different parts of the city. (Paul Borkwood/CBC News)

It's clear, Tory added, that residents want the city to do a better job of clearing not only sidewalks, but roads and bike paths. 

"There are many, many cities where they don't do any sidewalk clearing," he added.

But given the level of public outcry — with more than 2,000 people sending the city letters of concern over snow clearing through the website for Progress Toronto — the progressive advocacy organization's executive director, Michal Hay, says the city can do better.

"At the end of the day, this is an accessibility issue, and they should provide this service equally across the city," Hay said.


Lauren Pelley

Senior Health & Medical Reporter

Lauren Pelley covers health and medical science for CBC News, including the global spread of infectious diseases, Canadian health policy, and pandemic preparedness. Her 2020 investigation into COVID-19 infections among health-care workers won best in-depth series at the RNAO Media Awards. Contact her at:


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