Macdonald: There is NO Business Like SNOW Business

CommonSenseCalgary-handout2.jpgThe City of Calgary's Snow and Ice Control Policy of 2011 (SNIC), that tackles snow removal has been tested several times over the years, but not like it has been recently. In the first two months of 2017, Calgary has received "more snow on the ground" than in each of the past eight years. 

Let's take a Common Sense look at the City of Calgary's snow and ice control program.


First off, Common Sense Calgary, earlier reported that the City of Calgary had received 30,000 complaints about snow removal and apologizes for this error; it turns out that this statistic is from an earlier snowfall event in 2014. This year, during February's heavy snowfall event, the City received less than 1,000 calls to the 3-1-1 call centre related to snow and ice on public and private roadways. Definitely a significant difference, however, Common Sense asserts that the City can still improve their snow and ice removal strategy. 

To start, according to, Calgary received a substantial amount of snowfall between Saturday, February 4 and Monday, February 6, 2017.  Approximately 22 cm of snow fell on the City between these dates and the SNIC was severely tested by this nearly record setting snowfall.

According to Mac Logan, General Manager of Transportation for The City of Calgary, over these dates "we had 270 calls to 3-1-1 about snow and ice work and we also had 445 calls about private property not clearing their snow."  Along with the fact that there was so much snow and ice on the roadways, Super Bowl Sunday created an additional challenge from a workforce standpoint, as according to Logan during an interview on QR77, "we didn’t have as many people on that Sunday night as we would have liked.”

Nevertheless, with icy roads and a huge, sudden dump of snow, according to the Calgary Herald, the Calgary Police Service reported a total of 375 collisions in the city in a 12-hour period over Saturday and Sunday, in addition to 21 collisions involving injuries and 60 hit-and-runs. To top this off, City officials say 2,759 tickets were issued during the 60-hour ban and 11 vehicles were towed to the City impound lot.

The SNIC maintains that reasonable conditions on roadways and sidewalks will minimize hazards and economic loss to the community. In addition these safeguards should ensure safe access for emergency vehicles providing Fire, Police and Emergency Medical Services; guidelines for management and operating personnel in the handling of winter maintenance operations and specify citizens’ responsibilities regarding sidewalk snow and ice control on private property.

The City's approach to snow and ice removal prioritizes roadways, and clears cycle tracks and snow routes through a pecking order that attacks the most critical thoroughfares first, and then the rest by assigned geographic sector.

Whatever improvement we have seen over recent years, Common Sense tells us we can always do better, so here are a few ideas to consider from the standpoint of money, manpower, and machine:

  • Augment staff with experienced summer seasonal employees for declared snow events. 
  • Have more cross-trained employees. If union contracts do not allow, augment with pre-qualified subcontractors whose employees run various types of snow clearing equipment. It should be noted that Calgary and area have some of the best road building and maintenance contractors in the country with fleets of idle equipment. Pay a premium for emergency and short notice call out. 
  • Negotiate with unions to ensure where and when equipment will be deployed based on need. This should not be guided by employee seniority on specific equipment.
  • Further expand the contractor roles for pathways, sidewalks, parks, cycle lanes and cycle track networks. 
  • When the snowpack on the streets is under 6 inches thick, do not allow plows or graders to create wind rows. (Wind rows create parking issues and are prone to freezing)

Yes, reducing complaints, accidents, towing and tickets, takes a lot of work, but when City Councillors focus on improving the efficiency of this program, then ideas of all kinds should be on the table. Do you have a Common Sense idea about improving the snow and ice removal program in our City? If you do, contact 3-1-1 or your local Councillor and tell him or her how you feel.