Public health officials call for better sidewalk snow removal

Toronto might be in the clear when it comes to snow tonight, but when it does start to fall, health officials want the city to do a better job at clearing it.

Toronto Public Health is out with numbers showing that 30,000 people ended up in the emergency room over 10 years due to slips and falls on icy sidewalks.

It cost the city $6.7-million annually in liability claims.

Health officials are now asking councillors to change the threshold so that city workers are clearing all sidewalks after 2cm has fallen, instead of 8cm.

Trevor Tenn, road operations manager, says they would have to do a thorough review to determine how much that would cost, but that it would be "substantial."

He points out that last season, crews already started clearing sidewalks on pedestrian-heavy routes, as per council direction. That includes bus routes, arterial roads and near schools. City staff say the increased level of service cost an extra $2.9-million last winter, bringing the cost of clearing sidewalks and bus stops to $10-million. In 2015, the city's total snow removal budget was $85-million.

Mayor John Tory told reporters Wednesday that while he is sensitive to the issues some pedestrians face, especially seniors, he wants to the find the solution that makes the biggest difference to the most number of people, and at the least possible cost.

"Because in Canadian winters, almost anywhere you go, no matter how diligently somebody has cleared the sidewalk... you're going to have the possibility for there to be an accident," Tory says.

The city does not clear sidewalks downtown because there are too many obstructions for the machines they use. Businesses and residents are responsible for clearing snow in those areas. Board of Health chair, councillor Joe Mihevc, says it would likely cost $7- to $8-million to do manual clearing where it's not possible to use machines.

Mihevc also questions whether it would be worth adding to the city's budget pressures to clear sidewalks sooner, even if it would save money by reducing liability claims in the long run.