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Why the side streets aren’t being ploughed etc: the Louie report

January 3rd, 2009 · 24 Comments

Vision Councillor Raymond Louie seems to be the go-to guy on all things snow these days, along with Murray Wightman from city hall staff, so I called him up early this morning (just before he was going out to shovel snow!) to get the update.

I am not going to announce breathlessly that I have BREAKING NEWS about snow removal (sorry, guys, but that was too funny), but here’s what Raymond had to say on various points about the issue, which I’ll quote at length since we’re all trapped in our houses anyway and currently have a great interest in snow.

1. The city ended up spending $937,000 from its 2008 budget for snow clearing in the last few weeks of December. (Raymond didn’t say it, but I will: Good thing council didn’t vote to put more money from the contingency fund into the homelessness plan, as David Cadman had suggested! Vision proposed $750,000 and said the remaining $1.3 or so should stay in contingency. About $750,000 had been budgeted for snow at that point.)

2. Vancouver is going to buy snow ploughs and sanding/salting attachments for five more trucks in time for the Olympics, so that the city will have 52 vehicles capable of ploughing instead of the current 47. (If I’ve understood correctly, the city doesn’t have ploughs per se, but attachments that go onto regular trucks.)

3. The city did try ploughing side streets in 93, when there was a lot of snow, and it was “horrendously expensive.” That’s in part because each plough would have to be accompanied by a truck to dump snow in, since it can’t be just shoved to the side, like on main roads and freeways. As well, people complained (shocking! hard to believe!) because of the noise the trucks made ploughing at night, which was done because streets were typically too busy during the day.

4. It would cost $300,000 just to put up the signs for the whole city to get people to remove their cars from first one side of the street and then the other, in order to plough all the side streets.

5. The ploughing along the main streets has actually had more trucks dedicated to it than might normally be the case, because other city operations were shut down for the holidays so there were more trucks available to plough both day and night.

6. Raymond has had four emails complaining about the lack of snow-ploughing.

7. The Canadian spelling of plough is plough; American is plow. (Actually, Raymond didn’t say that. I did.)

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  • Great stuff Frances. By the way, what’s Raymond’s email so I can be number 5?

  • Bill Lee

    And what’s his shovelling technique? Is he a lifter or
    a pusher? Does he salt and sand? How many other walks in the
    block does he do? Has he flagged the street drains?

    And what’s the story on paying staff to stay home rather than
    pay expensive call-out and overtime wages?

  • Pingback: Open Letter To Vision Councillor Raymond Louie « Unambiguously Ambidextrous()

  • Wagamuffin

    I thought we had 1 or 2 real snow-ploughs.

    I do know that other cities put attachments/blades on their garbage trucks when they need extra assistance. Since garbage trucks normally traverse the lanes and alleyways of our great gotham, perhaps that might help a little with the side streets issue? Yes, snow might be pushed up against parked cars but owners can dig out (as long as they don’t block entrances).

    Or better yet, a city-wide advisory put out through our media friends, could tell the citizens to park in their garages, carports, or temporary parking sites at their condos, should they not have a space.

    To those who would complain about night maintenence,(or fireworks, or festivals etc. etc.)Shoppers Drug Mart sells a half dozen pair of foam ear plugs for about $5 that coordinate well with just about any flannel sleepwear. I highly recommend them.

    Sheesh, you guys. What if we had a REAL emergency? Me, I can make do with a tarpaulin, a pack of matches and a Bowie knife.

    I’m not exactly sure about what to do with them, but it sounds good…

  • LP

    Flipping past the weather channel the other day, I happen to catch some statistics they gave from Toronto’s big storm a few years back, when Mayor Mel, called out in the army.

    Toronto had in a two week period 118cm of snow, and spent $70 million on snow removal, that may or may not have included money to Canada’s DoD for their assistance.

    I read somewhere that at YVR from December 13-28, we had 88.5cm of snow.

    All the bitching and complaining aside, considering the closeness of the snow fall statistics I think this city should hold their heads high with how we’ve dealt with this compared to the whiners in the big smoke!

    With regards to point three, any decision to reduce services based on noise complaints sounds ridiculous considering the bitching that has and will arise from the tough ‘decisions’, council or city engineers have or will make on a variety of issues throughout the city.

    I think the readers and posters here could draft a (long) list of the terrible decisions that the city has made over the years, where they didn’t give a shit what the citizens wanted or complained about.

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  • DMJ

    Here we have an expensive only in Vancouver – “Engineering” solution – that in the snow, the roads must be plowed and snow removed. What is needed on Vancouver’s side streets is just large city trucks, with their dual tires, to compact and level the snow and sand hills (no need for salt) so that cars can drive, no need to plow or remove snow.

    What has happened is that Vancouver side streets see two ruts with a high ‘dike’ in the centre that will ‘ground’ a car.

    I was called News Years eve to help a friend, in Vancouver, get his car out with my 4 wheel drive Jeep and I got stuck! Just a large dump truck, traveling at night along the side streets, sanding on hills, would have been a far cheaper and useful solution.

    Lesson: Do not let city engineers design the snow clearing plans.

  • Poker Face


    I think you lack the knowledge and experience to deal with snow, and have wrongly criticized City Engineers and the City in general regarding the management of the snow situation. As a long time resident of the East Coast (which annually gets gets the type of snow Vancouver received the past month), I can say without a doubt that your idea is absolutely ridiculous and pointless. How do you deal with the black ice? Or the compacted sheets of ice from having the dualies compacting the snow? Salt is used to MELT snow, not necessarily for the sole purpose of traction. Salt plus sand is a good combination so that when the salt has melted the snow and there is sheets of black ice, you still have sand as some sort of traction. There is a reason that most cities that get large amounts of snow have been using this method for decades and that is because it works. If it was as easy as you describe, I think the City of Vancouver would have done that already.

  • As someone originally from Edmonton, where there is snow year-round, I can tell you side streets don’t often get ploughed.

    You just get used side streets that you slide down and alleys that have ruts that you can never get out of.

    You just deal with it. You don’t get the city to waste money to clear something that melts on its own – and it will melt here (sooner rather than later).

    Put on your rubber boots, put down your umbrella, and shovel your walks with the biggest spatula you can find.

    The only thing I’d suggest is that the city invest in some sand. But then when that makes a mess of roads, people will complain as well.

  • Snowed again last night. No response from Louie to my email. Side streets still in chaos. Spring a long time away.

    That is all.

  • Uh, if it’s for the Olympics will the IOC just end up claiming on those words that they own them? After all he didn’t say it was for Vancouver.

  • Did, indeed, snow again last night, Saturday…had to go out….All major streets (both East and Westside) were clear…..Passed four plows in 30 minutes of driving….Today, Sunday, just came in from checking side-street storm drains….Were cleared by city workers twice last week….Residents (both ratepayers and renters) have been keeping them clear ever since, in preparation for spring thaw reportedly on way tonight….Hopefully all sycophantic snowmageddon solipcists for Sammy will be washed away by tomorrow….Tuesday at latest….

    (and just who, exactly, was the Mayor’s chief-of-staff when the last order for snow clearing equipment was put out to tender anyway?….)


  • It’s all a matter of good will and economics.

    Montreal spends 128M$ annually to plough its streets (and does a crappy job at it!)

    Is it worth it? For a city like Vancouver?
    I don’t know.

    If people don’t want higher taxes, then they should just live with it, or plough it themselves. OR…

    buy a snowmobile 🙂

    brem who was in Vancouver this xmas.

  • Ross,

    Yes, all major streets. Key word.

    Here’s some interesting information. Raymond is gonna buy some more snow plows but why? We aren’t even using all of ours:

    To add insult to injury, Councillor Raymond Louie, the Mayor’s point person on Snowmageddon during his absence, told reporter Frances Bula that citizens should remain calm. He explains that the City is planning to purchase another 5 snow ploughs (thanks, Frances, for confirming the Canadian spelling) to put on the streets by 2010. asks, how will five more snow ploughs make any difference when you didn’t even use all the ones you currently have in your fleet? Won’t these shiny new vehicles simply sit idle alongside the rest of the fleet that wasn’t used to clear the streets and sidewalks?

    Once again, the Mayor needs to show the kind of leadership exhibited by Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels, and request an immediate review regarding how the City handled the recent snowfall. It’s the least he can do to make it up to all those folks who’ve been shut in for so long.”

    What say you Raymond? Will you answer my email tomorrow when you get to work? Will you explain to residents what went wrong with the city’s unpreparedness to deal with contingency planning and why we aren’t using all available ploughs?

    Lastly, when will Gregor show up to nod and wave and utter his deep sympathies for residents? Hein?

  • Raph–

    As usual, your ‘concern’ is overwhelming.

    You do, of course, know that you have also just done a very nice bit of cut-and-paste wurlitzering for the former mayor’s chief-of-staff…..

    Which means that you too are now part of the propagammon….

    Nice job.


  • Wagamuffin

    Really, Ross,

    Because people might disagree with you, or your defence of the current regime, you immediatley accuse them of supporting blogs with which you don’t happen to agree.

    Frankly, we need an ‘unofficial’ opposition to keep the current crop on their toes. While there may be no love lost between many and the editors and contibutors to citycaucus, it’s the nature of the game.

    You’re telling me that many bloggers who poked, unmercifully at times, at the NPA council, weren’t supportive of Vision? Puh-leeze.

    Why, I believe one of them has even gone on to work as a communications poohbah (syncophantic solipcist?) in the Mayor’s office. ;-)…Fancy that!

  • You do, of course, know that you have also just done a very nice bit of cut-and-paste wurlitzering for the former mayor’s chief-of-staff…..

    No, I didn’t know that. And why put quotes around my concern? You doubt the veracity of my claims?

    Forgive my ignorance, I only discovered the blog I quoted yesterday.

    By the way, many thanks to Frances for this page being a focal point for the current snow crisis. It is snowing again outside and I hear rumours that the buses and skytrains have been diverted, delayed, or shut down altogether. Any news on this from ears closer to the ground?

    More to the point:

    Am I going to be able to get to work tomorrow?

  • Burnaby does plough side streets when the clearing of major roads is sufficient and time permits. One of the streets on our corner was ploughed several times in December; the less-used street out front, once. But neither has been done in some time since the snow kept coming up here on the north brow of the hill near Metrotown.

    We now have more snow accumulated here than I have ever seen in 37 years of living in this neighbourhood. We have good snow tires on our little car, but this evening even those weren’t sufficient to get around safely:

    But the main roads, parking lots, gas stations, and such have remained passable if you know what you’re doing (which many people don’t). Kingsway remains a good way to get across the area, since it follows the least drastic slope of the old horse trail between Vancouver and New West. And walking works just fine.

    It would be nice if the rain did come. I never thought I’d say that in winter in this city.

  • I find this whole thing rather strange. It’s not like this is the first time it snows in Vancouver and it’s not like Vancouver is the only town where they get snow. Where I come from (Oslo, Norway) they don’t have any problems clearing the roads. Why? Because they run two or three ploughs in tandem one right behind the other so they can clear an entire road in one sweep. And people are responsible for clearing the plough-piles in front of their driveways and digging out their cars themselves.

    The main problem here is that there is way too much focus on salt and way too little focus on actually dealing with the snow. Salting the snow just leads to slush and insanely slippery conditions (not to mention destroyed cars). If they were removing the snow from the get go the situation wouldn’t be as bad. It’s been snowing for a good 5 hours here in Metrotown and I have yet to see a single plough on Kingsway. Had they started clearing the roads when the snow started, there wouldn’t be total chaos the next morning. But since they didn’t, it’s now going to be hellish to get out.

    The people responsible for clearing the snow in the Lower Mainland should take a trip to cities that have a lot of snow and see how they do it rather than try to reinvent the wheel – cuz right now the wheel they are working on is square.

  • Pingback: Snowmageddon continues to hit Vancouver, again « East of Main()

  • Wagamuffin

    Hi Raphael;

    Here is tonight’s YouTube TransLink Overnight Report (2009-01-04)

    Best thing to do is check around 6 or 6am tomorrow on You Tube at TransLinkInfo.

    May need to take a snow day…

  • Wagamuffin,

    Many thanks for this link.

  • Well, it’s almost all gone now. But it’ll probably be back. You all expect that the city should have learned some lessons and will probably do a better job, right?

    The question is, what about you? What will you do differently? What spots around your home will you make an extra effort to keep clear? Who will you make sure isn’t stranded, without food or meds, in their homes? Do you know EXACTLY where that catch basin is now?

    Time to take responsibility instead of giving blame. That’s how you make a better community.

  • donna

    All this belly-aching about cars getting stuck on side streets.

    Admittedly, many were in bad condition – mine included. However, putting snow tires on your car is a huge help, folks. I did not get stuck once and I live at the top of a hellish hill. I learned to drive in a Montreal winter and that helped enormously as well.

    I have no time for any Vancouver resident who whines about snow if they have lived in any other place in Canada (including an hour north or east of Vancouver) where snow is the norm in winter.

    It’s winter. There’s snow. If you can’t drive in it due to lack of preparation or skill… take transit.