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Calgary’s snow clock has started. What does that mean?

The city launched its snow clock when precipitation officially ended. That was at noon on Thursday.

At the time this article was started, Calgary’s snow clock had been ticking for 3 hours and 22 minutes.

That’s the time since the snow officially stopped falling and Calgary’s seven-day snow plan was activated.  Calgary was hit with between 15 to 40 centimetres of the white stuff over the Alberta Family Day weekend, causing all sorts of mobility mayhem.

Last October, the City promised faster snow clearing, particularly on major routes.

Before this latest snowfall, as the forecasts were coming in, equipment was being prepped and there was pre-work done on some routes (sand and sand/salt mixture called pickle).  As the snow falls, the City’s Priority 1 routes are the main focus, though there is some overlap with Priority 2 routes.

(The City uses a route planning software that shows the most efficient routes, according to Chris McGeachy spokesperson with Mobility at the City of Calgary. That’s how some P2 routes get early clearing, he said.)

“While it’s snowing, we’re focused on the high-priority infrastructure,” McGeachy told LiveWire Calgary on Thursday morning.

The snow clock hadn’t yet started.

As a part of the snow response, they did two passes on pedestrian routes as well, including 1,250 bus pads, plus overpasses and sidewalks.

Still, some Calgarians were left frustrated by a lack of accessibility in some locations – mostly due to windrows that impeded mobility for Calgarians. Gerry Marcine posted one particular area where a sidewalk pass had created a windrow that made a Somerset bus stop inaccessible for many.

Gerri Marcine’s tweet.
Former CEMA Chief Tom Sampson’s tweet.

She later told LiveWire Calgary that stop was cleared within a couple days during the last snowfall.

“The problem is that the wall of snow between the stop and the sidewalk was not removed,” she said.

“I’m able to step over the snow that was left, but anyone with mobility issues or a stroller would not be able to access that stop.”

High volume of snow

McGeachy said that given the amount of snow, they’d called in additional crews to ensure that the Priority 1 areas were cleared.

He said it’s been snowing consistently since Sunday, with heavy accumulations. As of Thursday morning, he said the City was still in a snow event. They’ve already done two cycles of clearing in terms of pedestrian infrastructure across Calgary.

Since the snow clock is now activated, McGeachy said that the city begins its seven-day plan.

At four hours and 28 minutes into the snow clock, they had 12 per cent of the major routes complete (the goal is a 36-hour window).   From 0 to 18 hours, they do the major roadways (20,000 vehicle trips per day), plus downtown roads and cycle tracks. Then within 36 hours, they hit Priority 2 routes (more than 5,000 vehicles per day), which includes many bus routes.

“After that 36 hours, crews then move on to other duties,” he said.

McGeachy said that can include levelling ruts, removing drifts that people have to navigate, clearing of bus stops, and removing windrows at busy crosswalks and curb ramps. There’s more on the seven-day plan here.

In situations like the one described by Marcine, McGeachy said during a major snowfall, the priority is in doing the pedestrian sidewalk pass. That’s usually done by machine.  Hand crews come in after with backpack blowers and shovels to clear the bus pads.

“While it would be preferable to have all the work done together, it’s not feasible for contractors to work in this manner, to complete service within our priority plan timeframes,” he said.

In the past 13 minutes, they’d completed another one per cent of major routes.

This tweet generated some response.

Some citizens aren’t thrilled

Ward 5 Coun. Raj Dhaliwal said Calgary’s a winter city. We get snow – sometimes lots of it. He thinks it’s a matter of educating Calgarians on how the seven-day snow plan rolls out. For the most part, Dhaliwal said the mobility crews have executed things according to plan, and in Ward 5 they’ve done well.

“The City’s got to wait until the snow ends,” he said. Dhaliwal said that even with a plan, not everyone will be happy.

“If people can’t get out of their homes, it doesn’t matter what kind of snow plan there is. They are going to be upset.”

Dhaliwal said that the City’s mobility team has been responsive when there are problem areas. Given the amount of snow, “they’re doing a wonderful job,” he said.

While the amount of flakes and the dedicated plan in place is influencing Calgary’s snow and ice control, how it’s deployed doesn’t always fly with citizens.

Much of the frustration is around accessibility to transit, or for those folks that may be mobility challenged. Not so much the major roads. Plus, some have also questioned the city’s oversight of contractors in the delivery of clearing.

Noel Keough tweet.

Dhaliwal said the city has an accessibility mandate – it’s a council policy. The City does have to ensure that people can access other mobility infrastructure.

“Definitely, we have to do a better job at taking care of those transit stops,” he said.

McGeachy said that they do monitor the work of their service contracts. He said they’re always looking for efficiencies.

“Our contractors are doing the work we’ve asked them to do,” McGeachy said.

“I think we can agree that it was a lot of snow. Some of these issues are likely due to the accumulation.”

Still, it’s not Calgary’s first big snowfall, nor will it be the last. Some of the same problems keep popping up. Windrow barriers, incomplete or odd missed connections, ruts, inaccessible transit stops, and more.

McGeachy said there have been improvements since 2018 when Calgary prioritized sidewalk clearing. The roads get a lot of attention, but more headway has been made on other modes of travel during the snow.

“That was really where we started making more solidified commitments to meet targets within our policy.

McGeachy said that they’re currently reviewing Calgary’s snow and ice control (SNIC) policy. That process began back in March 2022.

“What the goal of that policy is to do is just help solidify the framework of the work we do and ensure that we’re providing equitable service across the board for all of the users of our transportation, no matter what mode they choose to travel,” he said.

The engagement page shows they’ll report back to Calgary city council in Q2 of 2023.

A more few hours have passed and we’re sitting at seven hours and 59 minutes and 22 per cent of major routes have been cleared.