Clearing the air on clearing the roads

Over the weekend, Edmonton City Council and a local media outlet received an open Letter addressed to the people of Edmonton, written by a group of City employees who said they worked with the Parks and Roads Services branch. The content of the letter raised some questions about the City’s winter road maintenance practices this season. We felt it needed a response.

Winter road maintenance is one of the core functions of the City of Edmonton and is central to our commitment to maintaining safe and reliable roads and sidewalks for Edmontonians – whether they are travelling in a vehicle, on a bike lane or on foot.

Over the past decade, we have seen significant changes to Edmonton’s weather patterns, including more freeze-thaw cycles and more freezing rain. This past winter, for example, has been the coldest since 1979 and we in fact put more sand down in February than we did during the same period last year.

The winter season was also marked by dramatic swings in temperatures and conditions throughout the season. These changes have required Edmonton to pilot test alternative approaches to winter road maintenance to effectively ensure people can get where they’re going safely.

The focus of our winter road maintenance is to support Vision Zero’s goal of safe travel. We achieve this by removing snow and ice from roads, bike lanes, bus shelters and bus stops, and public sidewalks using any number of tools – including sand, plows, salt, chip and anti-icer brine. Simply put, our focus is on ensuring the right tool is used in order to reach bare pavement conditions as quickly as possible. Bare pavement remains the safest condition for commuters.

This approach is based on the City’s extensive and ongoing research into best practices across Alberta and other North American jurisdictions, as well as our review of existing research on snow and ice control techniques.

Every tool we use for snow and ice control aims to create safe conditions first, while balancing environmental and other impacts. This is why we are conducting a thorough review of the impact of our snow and ice program on our environment, infrastructure and vehicles.

We recognize that any change in work, habits or practice can be hard for some employees. We are disappointed when employees choose to raise concerns publicly rather than directly. Our City Operations leadership team always has and continues to meet with employees regularly, and answer their questions and listen to any concerns they may have. We encourage City of Edmonton employees to share their perspectives, insights and observations at work.

The facts around snow and ice are clear: Anti-icer works in our northern climate and is used in nearby jurisdictions, including by the Province on the Anthony Henday, and by Strathcona County and St. Albert as part of their pilot projects. Sand, salt and anti-icer all continue to be used depending on conditions; it’s about using the right tool for the right condition. And for any of the major snowfalls this past winter, we completed our plowing of priority roadways (arterials, collectors and bus routes) within 48 hours.

We value transparency and will continue our engagement with employees to ensure their wisdom is part of our winter road maintenance program development.

City administration will be providing a comprehensive update to City Council on the results for Alternative Practices to Snow and Ice Control — including the use of anti-icers — in June and August. We hope Edmontonians are interested in learning more about the results at that time.