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E-BLAST: Winter is Coming: Snow Clearing Updates & Reminders

As I'm writing this, I can see the first flurries of the season floating down outside my window. Snow always feels magical at this time of year, when it gently dusts tree branches and puts us in the holiday spirit. Unfortunately, the magic fades pretty fast, especially once that first winter storm inevitably hits.


A beautiful snowy scene from the East Don Ravine.


I know we had some serious challenges with snow clearing in Don Valley North last winter that may be making folks nervous about this season. Today, I want to update you on the action the City is taking to better monitor our winter maintenance contractors and share some helpful reminders for our coldest months. Let's get right into it.


REVIEW OF NEW WINTER MAINTENANCE CONTRACTS


In March of last year, I wrote a detailed E-Blast about the challenges we encountered with our new winter maintenance contractors. This was the start of a seven-year contract, so it's imperative that we get those kinks ironed out and make sure you are receiving the level of snow-clearing service you deserve. To this end, my Council colleagues and I directed staff to conduct a comprehensive review of the first year of these contracts and report back with concrete steps to improve service this season. 


Council received a report on this first year of service from our Auditor General back in July, and another update will be considered at Audit Committee tomorrow. The Auditor General has prepared a very handy at-a-glance update on their work to review our winter services, which you can view here:



The long and short of it is that we are making progress on improving our winter services, but there are still a number of key recommendations that need to be fully implemented for us to see service levels come up to snuff. In particular, we need to ensure that all contractor equipment is equipped with working GPS for proper tracking. We also need to consistently enforce contract penalties and make sure our field auditors are conducting proper audits to support the enforcement of those penalties. This may sound somewhat technical, but the end goal is to make sure we are keeping tabs on our contractors and employing built-in penalties when they aren't delivering proper service to you. If this is done consistently, it should lead to better service delivery across the city.



As I always say, you are our most effective performance evaluators. If you experience a one-off snow clearing issue, your first stop is to contact 311, either by phone or online. The 311 team keeps track of all winter maintenance concerns centrally and this helps us direct contractors to the right place to get those issues solved. If there is a recurring issue with snow clearing on your street this winter, whether that be an unplowed road, sidewalk, or windrows left in front of your driveway for too long, please contact my office. My team will make sure that these issues are flagged to a supervisor. The earlier you report these challenges to us, the better able we are to get it sorted out early in the season so that you can enjoy proper snow clearing for the rest of winter.

I'm cautiously optimistic that the implementation of many of the Auditor General's recommendations will improve winter services this season, but I'll be keeping a critical eye on these services as we move through winter. As Budget Chief, I'm also looking at this with a stronger fiscal lens this year. It's essential that our contractors deliver. If they don't, we need to properly employ the penalties and clauses to help our City recoup some of the costs associated with their shortcomings. If we're putting all of our City departments under a microscope to find efficiencies and save costs in 2024, we have to do the same with our contractors.


WINTER MAINTENANCE SERVICE LEVELS: ROADS, SIDEWALKS, & WINDROWS


Speaking of reporting concerns, I find it's always helpful to remember the level of service to expect from our winter maintenance teams. Below is a handy chart that shows when different types of roads are salted and plowed, and how long it takes the contractors to complete each round of salting/plowing.


Click on the table for more information


Note that sidewalks aren't included in that table. That's because they are dealt with separately. The City only clears sidewalks when 2 cm or more of snow has accumulated. Before that, it's up to residents and businesses to clear the sidewalks adjacent to their property within 12 hours of the end of a snowfall. When the City clears sidewalks, we start with the busiest streets, particularly those that connect to schools and transit stops. Small local roads are often the last to receive sidewalk clearing, which can take up to 13 hours to complete and continue for up to 72 hours after snow has stopped falling. You can find all the details on sidewalk clearing below:



I also want to take a moment to talk about windrow clearing. This is when a second plow comes by and clears the pile of snow at the end of your driveway after the road has been plowed. According to service standards, windrows are supposed to be cleared within two hours of residential street plowing being fully completed, if the windrow is at least 25 cm high. This can get a bit messy when multiple rounds of plowing are required. Windrow clearing issues were among the top complaints heard by my office last year, so rest assured it's something I'm going to be keeping a close eye on this season. Please let me know if you experience issues with windrow clearing on your street and my team will flag with staff.


Our local Bestview Park covered in snow.


MAKING THE MOST OF THE WINTER SEASON


I want to end off by sharing some of the best things about winter in Toronto. We may have to deal with shovelling and waiting for our roads to be plowed in a storm, but there are also so many great winter activities for all ages to enjoy. There's everything from skating at indoor and outdoor rinks, to tobogganing and skiing on city hills, and so much more. You can find details on all the winter amenities in the city below:



If you feel like making the trek downtown, there is also fabulous programming going on this week during the Cavalcade of Lights at Nathan Phillips Square. And speaking of holiday lights, I want to take a second to plug my very own Don Valley North holiday contest. Until December 13, you can email me a photo of your holiday decorations, indoor or outdoor, for the chance to receive a certificate and have your photos shared here in the E-Blast and on my social media channels. I can't wait to see how our neighbourhoods get in the holiday spirit!


Enter our DVN Holiday Contest by emailing photos of your indoor or outdoor decorations to councillor_carroll@toronto.ca by December 13.


I hope you and your families have a safe and wonderful winter season this year. Remember, my office is always just an email or phone call away should you need any assistance. The DVN team is here to help.

 


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