With snow falling in Richmond today, city councillors have recently discussed updates to the snow removal plan.
Photo by Hannah Scott
City considers updates to snow removal plan
By Hannah Scott
Published 3:19 PST, Tue November 29, 2022
Last Updated: 12:29 PST, Wed November 30, 2022
Richmond councillors discussed potential updates to the city’s snow removal plans at a recent public works and transportation committee meeting.
The discussion followed a November 2021 recommendation that staff look into prioritization of walk-friendly snow removal routes that would provide pedestrian access to services.
A city staff report notes that the effects of climate change seem to be impacting snowfall in Richmond. While the current snow removal strategy focuses mainly on major roads, it also includes clearing bus stops and some city facilities.
Staff estimate it would cost $502,800 to purchase new snow removal vehicles and pay staff to operate them around key services including Richmond Hospital, Canada Line stations, community centres, libraries, and shopping plazas.
But there are some issues with that possible solution, including the fact that plows would push snow around and potentially restrict access to private walkways, driveways, and businesses.
While staff did not recommend implementing an additional sidewalk clearing plan, possible amendments are being considered to the traffic bylaw requiring businesses and residents to clear adjacent sidewalks. Staff also proposed a pilot initiative this winter to clear snow from bike lanes using existing equipment, as well as clearing snow from the Railway Greenway and Alderbridge Way multi-use paths.
According to Richmond’s corporate communications officer Kim Decker, city staff reached out to other cities to gather information about their processes, policies, and bylaws on clearing public sidewalks.
“For initiatives like this, we also speak to other municipalities, organizations, and vendors; learn about equipment options; demo equipment; and do feasibility and cost analysis on available options,” said Decker.
Couns. Chak Au and Alexa Loo were in favour of amending the motion to add the cost and clear the proposed areas, but the other members of the public works and transportation committee were not. The staff recommendation, including clearing snow from non-delineated bike routes and two multi-use pathways, was unanimously supported by the committee. The recommendation also includes operational responses regarding bus stops, wheelchair let-downs, and city facilities.
“Part of the challenge with this kind of snow removal is of course it is incredibly variable, and the level of service that we provide on our priority routes allows for a given number of passes on those routes in a 24-hour period,” said John Irving, the city’s general manager of engineering and public works. “It’s only in the perfect conditions where you’re going to be able to respond, do your pass on the pathway, and leave it in a condition that’s going to really be usable for pedestrians for a given length of time.”
Other elements of the city’s snow preparation were also discussed at the same committee meeting, with staff noting that the city has 39 pieces of equipment available for snow response. Road temperature sensors provide 24/7 monitoring of 10 locations across the city, helping staff assess when salting and brining is needed.
When preparing for snow, the city relies on a number of information sources for long- and short-range forecasting, including external weather stations and road temperature sensors, according to Decker.
“The coastal environment of Richmond makes the city’s roads more susceptible to frost conditions and weather can vary greatly and change quickly from, for example, Steveston to Hamilton,” said Decker. “During the winter season, staff continually monitor conditions of the entire city to ensure a speedy and appropriate response to snow and ice events and provide safe roadways to the travelling public.”
Annually, council budgets about $1.2 million for snow and ice management. The amount is reviewed and adjusted every few years, Decker said.
At this week’s city council meeting, councillors remained in support of the staff recommendation to go forward with the pilot projects but not the more-involved snow clearing plan. When considering the upcoming budget, councillors will discuss possible purchases of equipment for next winter. However, Mayor Malcolm Brodie said the budget will be a challenge, with costs going up and the continuing impacts of COVID.
Au asked staff about consequences for property owners who do not clear the snow in front of their property, as required by the city’s bylaw. In response, the city’s general manager of community safety Cecilia Achiam said very few tickets are written because the goal is to get people to comply.
“We go out and do education ahead of time, and then we work with the homeowner and explain to them why they need to (clear snow), and we’ve been getting good compliance generally,” said Achiam. “The ones that we seem to have issues with are if they’ve gone on vacation or something like that and there’s nobody in the home. A gap (in bylaw coverage) could be sites that are fenced off pending construction.”
Irving added that the bylaw relating to snow clearing is relatively old and many multi-use pathways have been constructed since its implementation. He said the bylaw will come back to council at an upcoming meeting.