For the first time in recent memory, snow-clearing crews with the City of Vancouver will start clearing residential side streets with the help of the municipal government’s construction crews.
During a press conference this morning, Jerry Dobrovolny, the City’s general manager of engineering services, said a decision was made Monday night to halt all construction work and reassign 150 city crew members to salt and sand residential streets.
This is in addition to the crews that are already assigned to salting, sanding, and plowing using 46 trucks. More trucks have been hired to assist their efforts.
While arterial streets are clear, many streets across the city are still covered with snow and a thick layer of smooth, hard ice. Some residents have even been spotted skating and playing ice hockey on the ice sheets.
“It doesn’t matter if it’s a holiday or a weekend, we keep crews out,” said Dobrovolny. “We had crews salting, sanding, and plowing all through the weekend, and that’s why the arterial streets are in such good shape today.”
He says the decision to redeploy other crews towards snow and ice clearing efforts was based on the forecasts for an extended period of cold weather this week and more snowfall this weekend.
“Typically we don’t go in and clear the neighbourhood residential streets because there’s so many more of them, and typically the weather breaks,” he said. “We’re hoping that even in the last week we had temperatures above zero, we had continuous rain and the expectation was that it would start breaking up the ice as it did in past years. But it didn’t break up the ice this time, and so we’re back into a deep freeze.”
The municipal government has already used between 6,500 to 7,000 tonnes of salt this winter season, which is about seven times more than each of the last two seasons when just 1,000 tonnes was used.
But while some stores are experiencing ice melt and salt shortages, the City is not concerned about its supply levels even with the anticipated weather yet to come.
Dobrovolny said the City’s salt storage was full last week, and it is anticipating another shipment over the next day or two.
“I’m confident we’ll have a full supply of salt, and how much we need is dependent on the weather pattern,” he said. “Our amount of salt that we use varies based on the weather conditions, but right now I’m confident that we’ll have enough salt. We’re using a lot of it, and we’re using our resources to get more.”
However, the effectiveness of salt as an ice melting mechanism is dependent on the temperatures.
“We’re using both salt and sand and plows, so depending on the need,” he added. “If it stays about -5 or -6 degrees, then the salt is effective in melting the ice. When it drops below that, it doesn’t become as effective so we use sand to create traction. Right now we use a mixture of salt and sand to provide both traction and melting.”
In addition, trucks spray brine when streets are dry as it helps to melt any snow that may fall and prevent frost from forming.
When there is an accumulation of 5 cm or more of snow, a plow blade is quickly affixed to all brine and salt trucks so that these vehicles double as snow plows.
From 9 am to 8 pm on Wednesday, January 4, free salt will be available at 10 fire halls across Vancouver. Supplies will be limited, and residents are asked to take a maximum of two buckets and bring their own bucket and shovel.
Click here to see the locations.
So far, Dobrovolny says the City has spent $2.5 million on snow and ice mitigation, as of the end of December 2015, which is more than three times the original $750,000 snow removal budget allocated for the winter season. The cost overruns are being pulled from the City’s contingency fund.
“This winter is not typical,” he said. “We’ve had not only heavy snowfall we’ve seen in 1,000 days, but also the extended [cold] period is atypical.”
The costs will likely continue to climb with the forecast of sub-zero temperatures for at least another week and more snowfall this weekend. As well, besides working on residential side streets, City crews are assisting the Vancouver School Board with providing snow and ice clearing services to 13 schools with accessibility issues and coordinating with the Park Board on other priority areas.
In comparison, these are the annual snow removal budgets of other Canadian cities:
The municipal government is reminding property and landlords that they are responsible for clearing snow and ice from sidewalks that enclose their property by 10 am the morning after a snowfall, seven days a week. Those that do not comply could be subject to a $250 penalty or could be charged for the cost of City crews to clear the sidewalk.
Nearly 3,800 properties have been inspected and 1,700 first warning notices have been issued. The City says it has a compliance rate of 90% from businesses, 85% from apartments, and 85% from single-family homes.
“We usually start with a warning before we do tickets and court system,” said Dobrovolny, adding that the focus has been on commercial properties. “We try not to go straight to enforcement.”
Beginning today, an additional 50 bylaw enforcement officers will be redeployed to investigate snow and ice buildup on sidewalks.
Those who are unable to clear snow on their own from their properties are encouraged to call the City at 3-1-1 and request for snow removal services from the volunteer-based Snow Angel program. There are over 70 volunteers in the program, and to date this season there have been 320 requests for snow removals by the Snow Angels.
Another 115 city crews have been redeployed to assist sanitation crews to reduce the backlog in sanitation due to trucks being unable to access snow and ice-covered alleyways. Dobrovolny says the process is cumbersome given that crews need to drag bins out into arterial routes and side streets.
Separately, but also similarly, the private contractors responsible for emptying the recycling bins on a regular basis are also having issues with entering the alleyways, resulting in multi-week backlogs in recycling from missed garbage collections. The contractor, Smithrite, is deploying more crews to help clear the backlog.