City Council to Debate Sidewalk Clearing (Again)

Some debates at Hamilton City Council are like the seasons, they happen every year.

Sidewalk snow clearing is one of the debates, and after last year’s recording breaking cold winter, could it finally be coming to a conclusion?

A staff report, requested by Council in March, says it will cost an additional $3.6-million a year for the City to clear all sidewalks across the City. Ancaster presently pays for this service as part of their area-rated property taxes.

$3.6-million does not include any salting or deicing fluid. Homeowners will remain responsible for dealing with icy sidewalks – there is no cost estimate for dealing with ice as part of municipal clearing.

[![Snow plow near Toronto](http://joeycoleman.ca/wp-content/uploads/2013/11/1024px-Sneeuwschuiver-771x514.jpg)](http://joeycoleman.ca/wp-content/uploads/2013/11/1024px-Sneeuwschuiver.jpg)Snow plow near Toronto
#### History

Prior to amalgamation in 2001, Ancaster implemented municipal sidewalk snow removal. The other five former municipalities required residents to clear their own sidewalks.

Shortly after amalgamation, municipal sidewalk clearing was investigated, and Council decided to grandfather the Ancaster service but not extend it city-wide.

There was no appetite for a tax increase, especially with the hyper-sensitivity about taxes that followed the forced merger of Hamilton-Wentworth.

Cost of Slip and Falls Presently

In the past five years (2009 – 2013), the City of Hamilton paid $2.1-million to settle 186 claims for falls on City sidewalks.

Claims increased last winter, due to the temperatures being too cold for salt to effectively melt ice and significant freezing rain caused a shortage of melting salt. Even the City of Hamilton ran out of road salt this past winter.

The City’s staff report notes that municipal sidewalk clearing may not decrease claims, but will change the legal burden the City must prove in claims from proving enforcement of the current bylaw to providing clearing that meets a reasonable standard.

City’s With Snow Clearing

Burlington, London, Oakville, Toronto (except Downtown), Ottawa, and Winnipeg are among Canadian cities with municipal sidewalk clearing.

The standard of service varies, but in many places, it can be numerous days after a snow event (of at least 5cm) before the City clears the snow.

Hamilton’s $3.6-million program will not include salting or other icy service mitigation.

Next Steps

Officially, the staff report is an “information report” and there is no suggested action.

Councillors can vote – as they’ve done in the past – to receive the report and there will be no further action on the idea. (At least until next year when we repeat looking at the idea again)

To move the idea towards implementation, a majority of Councillors will need to vote to refer the report to the 2015 budget process for consideration by the new Council in January 2015.

Intersection Sidewalk “Windrow” Clearing

A separate report looks at the cost of clearing snow at pedestrian intersections across Hamilton, if Council does not look at clearing all sidewalks.

As any pedestrian can tell you, climbing snow banks or worse – wading into a puddle of slushy salt water, to cross an intersection is one of the great annoyances of Hamilton winters.

City staff estimate it will cost $1,352,270/yr to only have plows clear the snow banks and open drains to prevent water pooling. If the City wishes to also place salt and have manual labour fully clear the intersection ramps, the cost estimate is $2,154,300/yr.

If Council votes to research this further, staff are asking to hire a consultant to provide a more detailed cost estimate and implementation plan.