As yet another snowstorm walloped Toronto, Adam Tracey offered a dire description of an ice-coated Sheppard Ave. sidewalk near Yonge St.
“It’s a death trap,” Tracey said of the south-side pavement near his home in a busy neighbourhood where the city is supposed to clear sidewalks within hours of the end of a major wintery blast.
Two snow plows make their way along a Scarborough Bluffs street during the height of the Wednesday snowfall. (Jack Lakey / For the Toronto Star)
“It’s been that way for about a month. Today my wife was going to pick up the kids and she just said, ‘I won’t be able to get them with the stroller. You’ll have to get them because I can’t.’”
He added that children approaching a neighbourhood school are endangered by ice-hardened snowbanks, a narrowed road and a “gamut” of vehicles including a school bus that side-swiped a friend’s van.
Tracey is far from alone in bemoaning City of Toronto snow and ice removal in this oddball winter of snow, thaw, ice and hail. The city’s 311 lines have been burning with complaints. Winter snow removal and salting calls from Jan. 1 until Feb. 19 topped 20,000 compared to 7,046 in the same period last year, a 185 per cent increase.
Article Continued Below
Separate from the 311 data, a new Forum Research poll suggests Torontonians are unsatisfied with some specific snow-clearing practices, but a majority are satisfied with the city’s overall war on the white stuff.
What do you think?
The 311 data shows that calls for laneway salting and sanding jumped from only two last year to 34. Pleas for removal of snow causing sightline problems for road users jumped more than 11-fold. Sidewalk snow-clearing calls to 311 more than tripled.
People have complained many of those calls yielded little or no action. Some residential roads haven’t seen a plow since before late January’s record snowfall.
Article Continued Below
Environment Canada says Toronto got 50 cm of snow in January and February of 2018. That’s significantly less than this year when 90 cm fell between Jan. 1 to Feb. 26.
The biggest impact has been on people who use wheelchairs or strollers, prompting Toronto ombudsman Susan Opler to say she’s monitoring complaints about snow removal, especially for pedestrians downtown and in East York where sidewalks aren’t plowed by the city.
After a flurry of complaints, Mayor John Tory asked city staff to review service levels but told Torontonians any resulting change is unlikely to happen this winter, and they have to be “reasonable” about what the city can do this year.
The winter operations budget, including city staff, salt and contracted-out plowing, was $78.4 million in 2015. It jumped in 2016 to $88.34 million but then fell in the next two years and is proposed to be $87.45 million in 2019.
Eric Holmes, a city spokesperson, said the level of snow-clearing service is “applied as consistently as possible from winter season to winter season.”
This year, he said, “has been particularly challenging due in part to heavy snowfall combined with extreme weather conditions like high winds and extreme cold, as well as ice pellets and ice rain on occasion.”
The Forum Research poll was conducted before the latest storm and provided exclusively to the Star.
Among findings from the interactive voice response telephone survey of 1,077 Torontonians conducted Feb. 21 to 22, and considered accurate to plus or minus 3 percentage points 19 times out of 20, are:
A majority 55 per cent were unsatisfied with snow removal from Toronto sidewalks, with 29 per cent not satisfied at all. Dissatisfaction is highest, at 63 per cent, in the old city of Toronto where the city will shovel sidewalks only for seniors and people with disabilities.
Some 56 per cent of Torontonians support extending city sidewalk clearing from the suburbs to parts of downtown and East York that do not receive the service. Only 8 per cent would support making the city equal by clearing sidewalks citywide only for disabled people and seniors.
Just over one-third of Torontonians said snow removal has been worse this year than in the past. Just over half, 54 per cent, said they are satisfied with snow removal services on Toronto roads.
David Rider is the Star’s City Hall bureau chief and a reporter covering Toronto politics. Follow him on Twitter: @dmrider
TOP STORIES, DELIVERED TO YOUR INBOX.