With nearly 40 per cent of Red Deer residents dissatisfied with residential snow plowing, city council is grappling with how to improve the service without increasing costs.
Coun. Vesna Higham said she’s lived in the city for 25 years and served on council for six years — and has never heard more public complaints about neighbourhood snow plowing than last winter.
Virtually all complaints centred on neighbourhood plowing, not the clearing of busier streets.
Many residents told Higham the city was wasting money by plowing subdivisions too late in the season.
She was also questioned about why graders were skimming snow off roads instead of going down to the pavement. And accessibility concerns were raised, as small snow berms were left on both sides of the road.
In a report to city council, public works manager Greg Sikora said the snow and ice control program has achieved targets, stuck to schedules and optimized the workforce — despite many challenges with last winter’s unpredictable temperature shifts and vehicles left parked in the street, slowing the plowing process.
Despite the department’s best efforts, the latest Ipsos Reid citizen survey showed just 61 per cent satisfaction with snow and ice control.
Council was shown this is down three per cent from last year, about 10 per cent lower than 2016 and 2017, but not as low as the 45 per cent in 2014.
Sikora said last winter featured an unusual warming trend in January and a frigid span through late February and early March, when the cold traditionally lessens. Due to frequent freeze/thaw cycles, he said roads equipment was kept busy grading and sanding.
Since 2015, Red Deer neighbourhood streets have been graded down to five centimetres of snow to increase efficiency, lower costs and parking complaints, said Sikora.
And, instead of creating the giant snowy windrow of the past that prevented residents from parking on one side of their street, snow is now left as two small windrows that only reduce parking by 20 per cent, Sikora told council.
The neighbourhood plowing method also costs less than half of the grading-down-to-pavement method.
Yet, based on the high number of residents’ concerns, Higham proposed asking city staff to explore the cost of grading down to pavement, but doing residential grading over a longer period.
This wasn’t supported by the majority on council.
Coun. Michael Dawe said with provincial budget cuts soon expected, council could face a “tidal wave” of costing concerns, so he couldn’t support anything that would likely lead to more spending.
Council instead asked administration to look at making “workable” improvements in the 2019-20 season, as well as phased improvements for the three-year operational plan. These are to be brought back for review in December.
As the cheapest way of improving snow plowing is getting all residents to remove their parked vehicles from the street, the city will also be raising awareness to get more people to sign up for the ALERT notification program for street clearing, available on the city’s website.