The Winter Operations Review and Discussion

Snow Removal

Last week, when many of you were sweating out the summer, we were talking about winter at City Hall.  Some saw this as strange, but this is actually quite normal.  We plan for summer operations during the winter months and we plan for winter operations during the summer.  The Winter Operations Review was released at the end of June and came to Transportation Committee on July 6th.  It goes to Council July 13th, which means it will have been heard by Council by the time you read this column.  The timing didn’t lead itself to advance notice, unfortunately.  That was one of the primary flaws with the report but the main item for discussion ended up being a matter of 3cm.

The current standard for plowing residential roads is one that is based on a 7cm deployment model.  As soon as 7cm of snow hits the ground, residential plows are deployed on Class 5 roads.  In Rideau-Goulbourn, Class 5 roads are primarily village subdivisions and rural estate lot subdivisions. Collector and arterial roads are between Class 2 and Class 4 and no changes were recommended for those roads within the report. The recommendation was for the deployment threshold on Class 5 roads to shift from 7cm to 10cm. This is the one issue that got political in a hurry.

The intent of the change was being sold, by those who didn’t care to get the story straight, as a cut to a core service. Their take on it was that the City was simply cutting snow plowing standards to save money. However, that was not entirely accurate.  In actuality, the majority of the savings from a 7cm to 10cm shift were going to be rolled back into residential plowing.  For instance, one of our residential plow beats in Rideau-Goulbourn can take up to 16 hours.  If we made the change from 7cm to 10cm, we could have used the savings to split that beat into two.  In other residential areas, we could have deployed more plows onto residential beats sooner. Therefore, you may have waited for more snow to fall but, as soon as it did, you would have seen the plow sooner. The goal was to improve the larger snowfalls, like the ones we received last year on December 29th and February 16th. Whether or not plows were deployed at 7cm or 10cm makes a minimal difference in those large snow events.

Unfortunately, as I mentioned earlier, the issue got political. As soon as the report was released, a couple of City Councillors decried the report as a cut to service. They failed to read the entire report, realize the impacts of the changes and understand that there was a potential for increased snow plowing efficiency in the residential zones. Simply put, they took the easy way out. There is nothing easier politically than to rally against the City for a cut to a core service. The harder thing is to take a chance on making a change to make the service better. There were no guarantees that everyone would see better service but the status quo ensures that we all retain the existing service. I believe there are many residents that feel the existing service could be better. We lost that chance because of the politicization of snow clearing.

In the end, you will see the same standard of service next winter as you did the last. As soon as the issue was portrayed as a cut to a core service, it was too late to save the change as anyone who tried would have been portrayed as someone trying to put a political spin on a service cut. In hindsight, the City should have brought the public in sooner and spent more time explaining the issue and the potential benefits of the change.

Having said all of that, we do have a plan in place to make residential plow beats better, but it just isn’t funded. Since we are retaining the 7cm standard, we didn’t find the necessary dollars to implement that plan. However, I have committed to working with the Chair of the Transportation Committee, Keith Egli, to find those dollars and work to realize those proposed improvements.

The balance of the Winter Operations Review was focused on efficiencies that are not designed to impact service standards. The report recommendations included an adjustment of the ratio between internal plow services and contracted services and beat optimization.  The City will also be piloting reverse plow beats as well as placing a plow on waste collection vehicles. This has been done elsewhere and has worked so the City will be testing it out on the streets of Ottawa. The reverse plow beats would see your beat reversed every second storm.  This would mean that those who are usually plowed at the end of the beat would be at the beginning every second time.

If some of you are wondering why we would review our snow plowing operations at all, it stems from an Auditor General’s report on our winter operations. The Auditor General recommended that the City of Ottawa find better efficiencies in how it carries out winter maintenance. City Council then directed staff to find those efficiencies which brought us to this report.

Alright, that's enough about snow. Get back out there and enjoy the summer!

Bridge Street Rehabilitation

There is nothing more summer in this city than road construction. As many of you have already noticed, Bridge Street is being resurfaced at the moment. There have been some traffic disruptions as a result of the work and some of the construction vehicles have also been caught in backups, according to the contractor.

In order to avoid delays, the contractor has requested permission to complete the milling and paving works at night. We are working with them to accommodate this request but have made it clear that no night operations are to take place in front of the seniors’ residence. It is expected that nighttime work will only last a couple of nights. Last month, Moodie Drive was resurfaced by this same contractor strictly at night with no issues raised so I suspect this to go smoothly and quickly.

Coach Houses

You may recall a discussion on allowing coach houses within the City of Ottawa that I mentioned in my column a few months ago. The discussion, at that time, centered around only allowing them on properties connected to municipal services. The feedback we received clearly spoke to a desire to see these on privately served lots as well and we have worked on a proposal that accomplishes this.  Learn how the City is proposing to permit Coach Houses, small accessory dwelling units in the backyards of residential properties, www.ottawa.ca/coachhouses.

Send your comments to Tim Moerman (tim.moerman@ottawa.ca) for consideration in the Staff Report to Committee and Council by e-mail before July 22, 2016.

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If you have any comments, questions or concerns, please feel free to email me at Scott.Moffatt@ottawa.ca or contact me by phone at 613-580-2491.