Winter weather: Who's in charge of plowing your street?

Alexandra Aversa clears snow from her driveway in the Ottawa area. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

Winter weather can wreak havoc on municipal streets and sidewalks that impact your commute and whether you can leave your neighbourhood.

Complaints of cities being slow to get out the plows and tackle the roads mean you might have to call them yourself. For those with disabilities and other accessibility issues, including the elderly, a late plow can mean being stuck at home, or in the snow.

But who’s responsibility is it for your sidewalks to be plowed, or the road near your child’s school? Depending what city you live in, there can be some uncertainty on who should be cleaning up.

The rules might vary, but here’s what you need to know about clearing winter weather in your area.

Who is supposed to plow my street and sidewalks? And how fast do I need to get rid of it?

Usually, the municipality you live in is responsible for clearing streets, but will normally prioritize which ones to clear first based on frequency of use. Ottawa handles major highways and arterials right when a storm begins, but tackles residential roads after snow has fallen. Halifax tackles all roads, but some smaller ones are the responsibility of the provincial government.

Vancouver has a strict policy that all residents and business owners must clear their sidewalks by 10 a.m. the next day following a snowfall.

For sidewalks, it really depends where you live. Business owners and residents in Toronto’s downtown core are required to clean sidewalks themselves. London and Edmonton have similar policies. In Ottawa, the City clears residents sidewalks for them. Halifax also cleans residents’ sidewalks, but it prioritizes which sidewalks to address first based on frequency of use. Montreal’s policy is also to clear all sidewalks. But it can be tough to ensure everything is clear 24/7, so be careful.

Canadian cities can greatly differ on whether you are the one responsible for cleaning sidewalks or not. It’s best to contact your municipality if you’re unsure about their policies, so you don’t end up facing fines for not clearing a sidewalk.

Who do I call if a public sidewalk or road isn’t plowed?

You can contact your municipality’s 311 service centre if there’s an area that you go to often, that hasn’t gotten the treatment it needs. This could be your park, near your child’s school, or even bike lanes. Most municipalities have set up 311 accounts on social media, so you can contact them there.

I’m unable to remove snow on my property- who do I contact?

If you’re a senior or a person living with a disability and need assistant clearing snow, the City of Toronto requires that you fill out an application form. Without signing up for the program, you could be fined.

In 2018, Calgary enacted a policy that requires residents to shovel their sidewalks within 24 hours of a snowfall, or face fines. Their fines are nothing to scoff at, with a $150 for the first offence, $500 for the second and $750 for the third. But Calgary doesn’t have the snow clearing program Toronto does for those living with a disability, meaning if you have accessibility issues, there might be additional challenges.

Is my landlord responsible for clearing snow, or am I?

That’s something to check in your lease. But if there’s a dangerous area, it’s best to bring it up to your landlord as soon as possible. For instance, the Ontario Landlord and Tenant Act specifics that if it’s not specifically outlined in the lease, an informal agreement between yourself and the landlord could work.

How long should it take for the city to plow areas I frequent?

It should take about 13 hours for sidewalks to be cleared after the snow has stopped, but it could take longer if they end up needing to be cleaned again, according to the City of Toronto’s policy on snow clearing.  “Low pedestrian volume sidewalks” will be cleared after snowfall and if the snow has reached eight centimetres high. This all could take up to three days after a storm depending on the severity, their policy reads.

The City of Ottawa takes on more plowing responsibility than Toronto. Their policy states that public sidewalks should be cleared within three days. They also state that major roads, arterials and collectors will be cleared within four hours of the last snowfall. Minor collector roads will be cleared within six hours, and residential roads and lanes within 16 hours.

Municipalities like Halifax have urged residents to check timelines before they call to ask where plows are, as they might still be within the time promised.

Are you happy with your city’s policies on snow removal? Comment below and vote in the poll above.