Why is there no salt on Charlottetown sidewalks? And other snow-clearing questions answered

Snow clearing is more challenging in some years than in others. (Kevin Yarr/CBC - image credit)
Snow clearing is more challenging in some years than in others. (Kevin Yarr/CBC - image credit)

The City of Charlottetown wants residents to have a better understanding of its snow-clearing methods.

Complaints following a snowstorm about snow-clearing are common, so earlier this week the city issued a release outlining its snow-clearing strategy, hoping with better understanding of the strategy residents will have less reason to complain.

Public works manager Scott Adams provided a little more detail on CBC's Island Morning.

So first…

Why is there no salt on the sidewalk?

Simply put, conditions are not always right for salt to work on sidewalks, or for it to make a significant difference.

"We don't want to use too much salt. [It's] not great for the environment," said Adams.

So, if warmer temperatures are expected, or if the snow can be scraped to reveal mostly bare concrete, don't expect salt to be spread around. Also, if more snow is on the way the city won't salt, because it will just be scraped away again.

Tom Steepe/CBC
Tom Steepe/CBC

At around -10 C salt becomes ineffective. It won't lower the melting temperature that low, so, again, the city won't salt.

And here it can get a little tricky. You may see salt on the roads, but not on the sidewalks. That's because concrete, unlike asphalt, is more white than black, so it doesn't absorb as much heat from the sun.

"[Asphalt is] usually a little bit warmer than concrete. Concrete, the sun doesn't have the same effect on it to hold the heat," said Adams.

The city will salt the sidewalks when there is freezing rain, when relatively warm weather turns cold quickly, or in other cases where sidewalk conditions are poor and salt could improve them.

Why is there a parking ban?

The city used to have a ban throughout the winter months, but now issues warnings only when it is expecting snow-clearing equipment to be active.

There are safety issues regarding working around parked vehicles, but the main reason is ease of operation.

The city is able to get the work done a lot faster if there are no parked vehicles in the way.

When will the downtown be cleared?

The first priority is to get the streets and sidewalks cleared. After that, the city will have a look at the space between the two.

"Our practice is, a major snowfall, if we get windrows between the sidewalk and all the parking stalls, then that's when we switch into our snow haul mode, and that's usually in the next night following the snowfall," said Adams.

There is a safety issue here, in terms of providing people direct access to the sidewalk from their vehicle.

"We don't want to see people climbing up over snowbanks, we don't want to see people walking in the street to get to an area where it is open," said Adams.

It is also an important service for downtown businesses, providing comfortable access for customers. Finally, if the city did not haul away this snow, there would be nowhere to put the snow from the next snowfall.

When will the sidewalks be cleared?

The city has divided its 155 kilometres of sidewalks into 13 routes, with each assigned a plow.

But the going can be a little slower on the sidewalks than it is on the streets.

'There's only specific equipment that we can use to clear those sidewalks. They're a little slower moving than our trucks, so it just takes a little bit longer," said Adams.

The city's aim is to have sidewalks cleared 24 to 36 hours after the snow stops falling.

The timing of a storm can affect priorities. A weekend storm will see more focus on the downtown, while a weekday storm would see early attention paid to the areas around schools.