Every winter my office receives calls, emails, and social media messages about snow and the conditions of our roadways. From concerns about sidewalk and pathway clearing, to windrows and access to public transportation, people are frustrated with our winter conditions and The City’s ability to effectively remove snow and ice and ease mobility issues.
I have noticed a significant shift in our conversation about our priorities and the need for a new approach to snow removal. As we become more urban, inadequate snow removal on sidewalks, pathways, crosswalks and in front of bus stops has become unacceptable to some. Today our values not only include having safe roadways for cars (undoubtedly critical) but also involve creating a more accessible city for pedestrians and cyclists.
It is true that other Canadian cities are doing a better job of clearing snow from infrastructure for their citizens. Calgary’s Winter Operations budget is $38.7 million currently (an increase of $600,000 from 2017) and is one of the lowest. For comparison, Montreal’s budget for winter maintenance is $155 million. Toronto’s is $94 million and Edmonton’s is $63 million. Obviously, increased capacity to manage snow and ice would come at a cost and a substantial shift in our priorities.
Having built a city that for decades has allowed urban sprawl to go largely unchecked has also produced challenges to snow removal. If we were to place every piece of roadway in Calgary from end-to-end it would be enough to go to Halifax and back, twice! That is a lot roadway to clear every time it snows and if we wanted to see better winter maintenance operations in our city we would need to invest at least another $50 - $60 million to the snow removal budget.
Calgary’s underinvestment in winter maintenance operations is largely due to climatic realities - we are situated on a high-plains desert with one of the lowest precipitation rates in the country and a frequent freeze-and-thaw cycle due to our chinooks. As such, former and current City Councils have decided to invest your tax dollars into other city services rather than having the winter maintenance budgets we see in other cities.
My question to all of my Ward 9 neighbours is this: Is it time that the City of Calgary start significantly investing in our Winter Operations budget?