Toronto expanding sidewalk snow clearing to older downtown neighbourhoods

Toronto is set to expand residential sidewalk snow clearing to include dozens of older neighbourhoods near the downtown core and in parts of East York that were previously left to residents to shovel out.

About 85 per cent of the sidewalks in the city were already cleared by city plows but the remaining 15 per cent did not receive the service because they were either too narrow or were otherwise inaccessible due to the presence of utility posts, fire hydrants or other obstructions.

That lead to a gulf in service delivery with taxpayers in older neighbourhoods largely concentrated in the downtown core responsible for shoveling the sidewalk in front of their homes within 12 hours of a snowfall while others in more suburban neighbourhoods could rely on a city plow to take care of that for them.

That, however, appears poised to change following the success of a pilot project that experimented with the use of a new narrower plow to clear more than 200 kilometres of sidewalks over the last two winters.

A report that will go before the city’s infrastructure and environment committee next week recommends that the city expand sidewalk clearing to the more than 103,000 households that are not covered by the existing service in time for next winter.

Staff say that 91 per cent of the 1,230 kilometres of sidewalk that will now be plowed will be cleared by the narrower mechanical plows, which feature more flexible blades. The remaining nine per cent of sidewalks will be manually cleared by city contractors.

The expansion of the sidewalk-clearing program is expected to cost taxpayers approximately $5.3 million next winter.

“The bottom line is now every Toronto resident will be able to count on mechanical or manual clearing and I think that is a desired state, that everybody should be treated the same way,” Mayor John Tory said during a virtual press conference on Monday morning.

Staff say that sidewalk clearing will take place along most city sidewalks from December to March once about two centimetres of snow has fallen.

They say that in order to expand the program the city will have to purchase 50 additional narrow plows on top of the nine it purchased to launch the pilot project.

They say that there will also be a need for 17 new pick-up trucks that will be used to replenish salt supplies and deliver snow blowers to the sidewalks that need to be cleared manually.