Dec. 10, 2014
By Kim Zarzour
As the snow piles up outside, so, too, do the frustrations of Richmond Hill residents.
Winter woes such as slippery sidewalks, slushy bus stops and impassable park trails were discussed at length this week at Monday’s committee of the whole meeting.
But windrows - those cumbersome mountains left at the end of your driveway after the snow plows move through - got the most attention.
A presentation by staff on new standards for winter maintenance provoked an hour’s discussion during the first meeting of town’s new council, fresh on the heels of an election campaign that often put windrows front and centre.
Grant Taylor, director of public works operations, told councillors the town provides free windrow clearing for 1,340 seniors and those with disabilities who register for the program.
The clearance commences after road plowing operations are finished, he said, and staff aims to have the windrows cleared within 30 hours after the cessation of a winter snowfall.
But many councillors said they heard from residents that 30 hours was not fast enough.
FEEL TRAPPED IN HOMES
Regional councillor Vito Spatafora said residents whose age or mobility issues prevent them from removing the pile-up at the foot of their driveways say they feel trapped in their homes, especially fearful of an emergency situation.
Councillor David West said he, too, heard concerns. “Seniors I’ve spoken with who were really debilitated by the fact they couldn’t get out of their house...I think we need to step up the timeline on that particular aspect of our snow removal.”
Eight or 12 hours may be a more reasonable timeline to have the windrows removed, Spatafora said, suggesting the issue be reviewed as part of the budget process.
The challenge, commissioner of community services Shane Baker said, is the fact that windrows are cleared “in-house”, using employees who are also clearing roads. Those staff members are required to have an eight-hour break after 13 hours of work, he said.
Contracting out windrow clearance, as they do in other municipalities, may be one way to speed up the process, Baker said. The job is outsourced in Markham and the city is able to clear windrows at 2,800 homes in eight hours.
Baker said staff will report back on the cost and feasibility of contracting out the job during the upcoming 2015 budget.
Clearing windrows townwide, however, may prove costly. Doing so in Vaughan costs taxpayers more than $3 million, he said.
Some winter frustrations are not controlled by the town, Taylor said. Snow around super mailboxes, for example, is cleared by Canada Post, and regional roads by York Region.
COMPILING INFORMATION BOOKLET
Councillor Karen Cilevitz suggested a booklet for residents outlining how and why snow removal is carried out may provide clarity and answer some concerns.
Staff is in the initial stage of putting an information book together, Taylor said.
Slippery sidewalks in winter are another sore point among residents, Mayor Dave Barrow said.
“Just in the last snow event, our plows came along and flattened it all down and it immediately froze and became ice and if you want to walk through rutted snow, as opposed to that, it probably would have been easier...This is why you hear people saying ‘it was fine until you people came along’.”
Taylor explained that salt used on the town’s 653 km of sidewalks can burn grass and is “environmentally questionable”.
The best practice, he said, is a 50-50 salt-sand mix, but there are issues with back-to-back storms, melting and pooling in ice dams.
“It’s a constant struggle.”
Clearing sidewalks is a much more difficult operation, he said, but staff are deployed as soon as practical after snow accumulation of 5 cm or more on primary routes.
Regional councillor Brenda Hogg said accessible sidewalks should be a top priority if the town wants to support the use of public transit - but she takes many of the frustrations with a grain of salt, so to speak.
“Everybody complains, winter’s inconvenient, last winter was absolutely brutal,” she shrugged. “It’s going to be different every year.”