Pandemic shifting city's review of snow-clearing priorities

·2 min read
Pandemic shifting city's review of snow-clearing priorities

Pandemic stay-at-home orders have changed how people are getting around Ottawa, and now the city wants to know whether its approach to keeping roads, sidewalks and cycling paths clear of snow and ice should evolve, too.

Each winter, city crews are responsible for clearing 2,300 kilometres of sidewalks and 12,900 lane kilometres of roads.

The city will be changing its winter maintenance standards for the first time since 2003. Coun. Tim Tierney, chair of the transportation committee, said some of the dramatic changes from the pandemic will have to be reflected in that overhaul.

"When you hear a lot of businesses like Shopify, for example, have said everyone's staying home forever, there's going to be a lot more focus on local community walkability and cycling than ever before," Tierney said. "It's not just about plowing roads anymore. It's about everything else that's not a road."

The review started before the pandemic.

Tierney said the city will consider climate change, accessibility, sustainability, equity and gender as it revamps its standards for the first time in 20 years.

Those standards determine how many hours go by before plows are dispatched to clear different types of roads, sidewalks and transit stops.

The city has launched an online survey to help it settle on new winter maintenance standards, and is inviting residents to participate.

Walkability a priority during pandemic

Shayna Ghattas, a mother of three in the city's Whitehaven neighbourhood, said as long people are being told to stay close to home, residential streets should be a higher priority than major highways when it comes to snow-clearing.

"During the pandemic and lockdown, walking is a saving grace for a lot of people, and it's not super safe to be walking in slippery conditions," Ghattas said.

They have to focus on pedestrian things. - Sahil Vora

Sahil Vora walks to work at a Tim Hortons in Lincoln Heights, and said many of his colleagues are avoiding public transit right now because of COVID-19.

"If they manage to clean the bike lane, it's OK, but otherwise they have to focus on pedestrian things," Vora said.

The city had considered increasing the snow-clearing threshold as a cost-saving measure, but more recently topped up the budget for plows and snow blowers after seven years of dipping into deficit.

The city is holding virtual town halls on its winter maintenance standards from Jan. 25-28. The online survey and virtual workshops are available until Feb. 19.