Manitobans have strong opinions about winter. Now that the snow has landed we can finally clear up one matter of debate. Can a snow plough navigate a traffic circle? I have contacted the City of Winnipeg for confirmation, but I understand the data is not yet in on this important matter.
The first snow fall always brings up several debates around snow clearing practices. One question we often get asked what is better for the environment sanding or salting your sidewalk?
We recommend against using any form of salt to clear your sidewalk. “Salts are soluble, they’re mobile. They’re going to find their way into surface water and groundwater” according to Ryerson University biologist, Andrew Laursen.
Salts and de-icers are harmful to vegetation, can kill trees, poison wildlife and pets, and damage vehicles and infrastructure.
Not only are salts bad for the environment, the most common salts, sodium chloride and potassium chloride work only in temperatures above minus 7 Celsius. Sand is a better alternative, but the large amounts of sand used by the City of Winnipeg also come at an environmental cost. Sand production is an intensive contributor to greenhouse gas emissions. In Winnipeg the city wastes 3.5 million dollars by not recycling road sand, sending it to the dump each year.
More information about the salt vs sand debate can be found at Treehugger.
The most environmental option for snow clearing is to get out your shovel, but even so, there is debate about how deep to go. Keeping the sidewalks cleared of excess snow is an important element of maintaining our active transportation system year-round. Too often pedestrians are confronted with insurmountable snow drifts that have been cleared from side streets or drive ways. However, is it always best to have the snow cleared right to the concrete? In Manitoba, the sleigh is still a significant mode of transportation in winter, practical for transporting kids to school or carrying groceries. For this purpose, leaving a thin layer of snow helps ease passage, while also preventing the build-up of dangerous icy surfaces.
I live in Calgary. Calgary bylaws state that residents must clear sidewalks adjacent to their property to the cement within 24 hours of a snow fall. That rarely happens, may not be necessary, but provides a useful benchmark for enforcement of the bylaw. Practically speaking the purpose of clearing a sidewalk is, as others have commented, to facilitate safe pedestrian traffic. Uneven packed snow can be dangerous. Ice can clearly be dangerous. Deep snow may be impassible. Ironically, slush may be the most slippery of all. Residents should just use common sense and help ensure the pathways facilitate safe pedestrian passage. The bottom line, I suspect whether you live in Winnipeg or Calgary, is that any injury sustained that is linked to inadequate clearing of a sidewalk may become a concern for the home owner!
Thank you Josh
Nicely handled. I still don’t think sleigh traffic is “significant” but your follow-up does cover a lot more of the freeze-thaw issues.
On a lighter note – Transit inspired me to walk home yesterday (6km) rather than wait a second half hour for a traffic/snow bound bus – so my ‘active transport’ card is full for this week!
Post by Randall McQuaker-
More information about winter walking. The City of Houghton (in Michigan) did a walking study in 2002, which looked at a whole bunch of local issues around pedestrian mobility. On page 7 of the report, is this:
“Snow and the condition of the walking surface itself are major factors with mobility. A packed snow surface actually is one of the best walking surfaces. Two to four inches of fresh snow and walking becomes more difficult. If the snow is old or has thawed, and the surface is icy, then walking becomes more difficult and dangerous, especially when combined with a sloped surface.”
Which adds to the point that clearing to bare concrete may not be the best or safest strategy for any of the potential sidewalk users, with or without sleds.
This is complicated, to be sure. It might be different where one might expect above zero temperatures for a relatively long period after a snowfall, which could evaporate any meltwater. Clearing to bare
sidewalk would make sense, and people could use wagons for passengers and goods all year long. But that is not something that is typical of Winnipeg’s normal winter climate. More typical is maybe a day of above zero weather, followed by more weeks of deep freeze. Ice frozen to bare concrete is not a happy experience for walkers, particularly older folks.
That said, the winter melt in Winnipeg is a problem whatever one does with sidewalks. If one leaves hard-packed snow, and that softens into slush under footsteps, and then re-freezes into irregular ruts … that’s a horrible mess, as well.
Link to Houghton report is at: http://www.wintercities.com/Resources/HoughtonWalkabilityPlan.pdf
In case you don’t want to wait for the City to say that their plans work, I can say from personal experience that at least Grosvenor ave, with it’s new traffic islands, has never been plowed better.
Which is actually sad, since it’s far from perfect, but at least the new obstructions haven’t made it worse.
On the ‘clearing to concrete’ point I’d like to know what Josh Brandon means by “the sleigh is still a significant mode of transportation”.
“Significant” Really? Would that mean 10% of all traffic? 5% ? anything measurable? My casual observations, from living near an elementary school, is that some of the very smallest children are sometimes transported by toboggan. (dozens perhaps out of 450 students+ staff+ parents+ area residents)
Doesn’t a plan that puts 95+% of the population at greater risk suggest that something else could be better? It’s a theoretical argument of course since the real world never has 100% shoveled to concrete anyway but if your site endorses weak reasoning and promotes concepts detrimental to the majority then they will be unlikely to respect your other (better) concepts.
George, thanks for the confirmation about the snow ploughing. As for the point about clearing to the concrete, you raise a good point. It is great to see this space being used to promote debate. We certainly don’t have all the definitive answers ourselves.
Your point shows that there is a need for developing a common practice among households of snow clearing. In some other cities, sidewalks are regularly cleared by the City. In Edmonton, there is a bylaw that every landowner must clear their sidewalks of snow or face fines. Here it is left to the individual household to decide whether or when to clear their walk. Without consistency, it is difficult to plan on any mode of transportation, especially for parents with small children. One house is too snowy for pushing a stroller, while the next has no snow for a sleigh. Even if this concerns only a minority of families, it is still worth considering and debating. Our goal should be to make active transportation an option for everyone.