Snow removal expectations

January 17, 2018
Council Column

I spent some time in Kelowna during the Christmas holidays, as my children are taking their post-secondary education at UBCO and OK College. There was a snow event during our time there and it was interesting to experience directly how the City of Kelowna responded to this event and residents’ reaction to this response.

My kids rent a place in Upper Mission, in one of the new subdivisions built in the area that was burnt over during the 2003 wildfires. When the snow came people went out and cleared their driveways and the area of road in front of their driveway (they don’t have a sidewalk in this relatively new community). No snow plows came, but people didn’t really expect them to, as Kelowna has a large number of feeder and collector roads that require immediate attention and continuous maintenance. As long as these main roads are plowed and maintained residents are generally happy.

Over time the side streets in my kids’ neighbourhood started to get compacted and quite slick, especially on one downhill corner that leads into the subdivision. For the most part, people simply adapted their driving patterns to the road conditions and either avoided that corner or took it really slowly and carefully.

When the plows eventually came to do the side streets they put the blades down hard and deposited pretty chunky and heavily compacted snow/ice in front of everyone’s driveway. Up and down the street people simply grabbed their shovels (snow blowers were not an option for that stuff) and cleared their driveways. Individuals coming home from work to blocked driveways simply parked their vehicle on the street and grabbed a shovel. No one had the expectation that the City would clear their driveways as it is not a service the City of Kelowna offers.

Based on my experience in Kelowna (and elsewhere) I have to say that Quesnel has very high standards for snow removal. Not just for our priority roads (the main feeder and collector roads) but also for clearing and sanding our side streets and sidewalks. We also have a policy that if there is a snowfall of four or more inches, public works will clear the driveways after the plows have finished clearing the road. In order to maintain these high standards, the current Council has consistently increased the annual snow removal budget and has created a snow removal reserve to buffer any incremental costs associated with a heavy snowfall year.
Council believes that maintaining high standards for snow removal is necessary because we have an ageing population and because we want to ensure the safety of our residents as they drive and walk in our community during the winter months.

However, these high standards have led to high expectations among our residents which often leads to complaints when those standards are not or cannot be met in a timely manner. Our “new normal” for winters seems to be continuous freeze/thaw, as the temperatures swing from above to below zero on a daily basis. We now often experience freezing rain, mixed snow and rain events, and our snow tends to come in big dumps. All of this makes for very difficult conditions to sometimes meet our standards and the expectations people have of our public works crews.

I have full confidence that our public works employees and management make every effort to adhere to our snow removal standards. However, it is always up to us to drive (and walk) to the conditions and to manage our expectations of what our City crews can do in certain weather conditions. Our crews always do their best, and I hope residents will continue to respect their efforts and work with them to make sure our City is a safe place to move about in the winter.

View the City's Snow Removal Guide.

Mayor Bob Simpson

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