Tara Veer: Snow removal is always a hot topic

Tara Veer: Snow removal is always a hot topic

There are few issues in municipal government as polarizing as snow and ice control, so for this month, I thought I would discuss some of the complexities of an issue that we hope will be over sooner, rather than later, with the arrival of spring.

Among the most frequent questions council receives are, “why is the city clearing my street,” and conversely, “why is the city not clearing my street”?

Before the major snow event of 2013 (when 120 centimetres of snow fell over a couple days), Red Deer had experienced a relatively low snow volume in previous years – years in which our city simultaneously experienced substantial growth and development, a fact that directly increased the surface area of our community: in other words, more roads, sidewalks, transit stops in need of snow clearing and traction control.

The shortfalls of the city’s snow and ice control program at the time were exposed, because the growth of the city outpaced the city’s snow and ice program, a fact that was only evident during a well-above average snowfall.

Since this time, council and city administration have committed to annual improvements to this area of city operations.

While there is always room, and will, for financial and operational efficiency, one of the most challenging and consistent tensions of snow and ice control is that quality service costs more, so improving service during a time when we are trying to lower the tax burden on our citizens is often next to impossible at best.

Our answer since the challenges of 2013, has been phased-in, annual improvements to snow and ice control: “annual improvements,” because it continues to be one of the most frequent complaints we receive from the Red Deer public, and “phased-in,” because we absolutely have to mitigate the financial impact on households and businesses in the new economic normal.

The following service improvements have been made to date:

* Improved clearing and traction (i.e., sanding) control on major arterials and areas of safety consideration such as hills and bridges.

* Improved timing for clearing on green routes (i.e., collector roads) within neighbourhoods.

* Fairer alignment for public and private sidewalk clearing (the expectation for private homeowners is 48 hours to clear sidewalks, but the city’s was 10 to 30 days on public sidewalks. This was unfair to the public, and the city standard is now three days).

* Alignment between transit stop clearing and public sidewalks (it made no sense to clear the transit stop if access to it was hindered because the sidewalk to it was not cleared).

* More timely and comprehensive clearing and traction control on downtown streets and parking.

* Improved communication options for citizens to avoid ticketing (i.e., citizens have options to receive a text, email or call when plows will be in their area). If you haven’t already signed up for “Notify Red Deer,” the city strongly encourages you to make use of this service.

* Improved complaint mechanisms for citizens to identify areas that need attention (i.e., public works call centre or Report-a-Problem).

As noted, improvements have been made, but council is deeply aware that more are needed, especially in the following areas:

* Grey routes (a.k.a residential side streets): This is the single-most area in need of improvement. In some respects, improved service on neighbourhood collectors and major arterials are immaterial if citizens who live on side streets happen to “bottom out” while trying to access them.

Furthermore, windrows are the bane of residential side streets. To clear and avoid windrows on every residential side street in the city (per clearing) of snow is approximately $5 million. (Yes, that was our response too, but it doesn’t change the number.)

Therefore, managing snow volume within a street is imperative, especially given our financial reality. To prevent the ongoing parking dilemma, citizens often suggest not clearing altogether, but that is not always an option, depending on the depth of the snow pack and freeze/melt patterns, as the city has a responsibility to preserve access for fire trucks and ambulances.

If the snow pack is too deep, collapses, or ruts, access for fire trucks and ambulances is hindered due to their weight. Public works crews are continuing to pilot options to see which garners the most favourable public response.

* Another area for improvement is alleyways: With alleyways used for primary access for some residences, automated cart pickup, and off-street parking during street clearing, the clearing standard will need to be addressed in the future.

* Clearing in industrial areas: Most major commerce sectors have reasonable access through major arterials and downtown clearing, but industrial areas have been identified as needing more timely plowing.

This is a summary of what council has done and heard to date, but we are inviting public feedback on the specific concerns we know our citizens continue to have regarding snow and ice control so we can address them.

The city is hosting snow and ice community consultations on the following dates and times: March 3 at 6 p.m., North Side Community Centre; March 4 at 6 p.m., Festival Hall; March 24 at 6 p.m., Notre Dame High School Gathering Area; March 25 at 3 p.m, Golden Circle; April 8 at 1 p.m., Piderney Centre.

You’re invited and we hope to see you there.

I hope this helps to answer some of the questions you may have in the short term. As always, it is council’s privilege to serve you, and we look forward to seeing you throughout the community.

Mayor Tara Veer

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