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By the numbers: Snow in Toronto

Posted by Chris Bateman / February 7, 2014

toronto snow plowThe great white winter of 2013/2014 has so far provided plenty of wild weather to keep city's transportation division busy - and there's likely plenty more work on the way. For comparison, the typical winter (based on a 30-year average) drops 133 cms of snow on Toronto, requiring 40 to 50 "de-icing events," as ploughing and salting runs are officially known.

So far this winter 77 cms of snow has been recorded at Pearson airport, well above the 64 cms expected for this time of year. There have been a total of five extreme cold alerts, covering 19 days. The record all-time record was established in the winter of 2008/2009.

Simply moving snow off Toronto's streets is a major undertaking. This year, 5,604 kms of roads - that's 133 kms of expressways, 1,096 kms of arterials, 889 kms of collectors, 322 kms of laneways, and 3,165 kms of local roads - were cleared by city-owned or contracted vehicles. 262,000 people had their driveways opened.

In December, the city set aside more than $80 million for ploughing, salting, and sidewalk clearing, which works out to a little over $30 per person.

Here's what this winter looks like in numbers.


toronto snow budgetThe biggest chunk of the city's winter operations budget goes on snow removal, specifically ploughing and driveway clearing. Salt purchasing and distribution are also a massive chunk of the overall budget. Toronto dropped $10.5 million on its road salt stockpile before the cost of spreading it was factored in. Clearing sidewalks and transit stops cost $17.1 million.


toronto snow ploughsThat salt doesn't spread itself, so the city also employs a fleet of winter vehicles and a crew of more than 1,000 people to keep them working. The sidewalk ploughs - scaled-down versions of the street vehicles - pull double-duty, clearing transit shelters and the public walkway of snow when more than 8 cms is on the ground. Main roads get cleared when there is more than 5 cms of snow.

Snow ploughs and driveway clearing machines: 571
Sidewalk ploughs and transit stop clearing machines: 322
Salt trucks: 203
Crew: 1,100


toronto winter saltRoad salt is crushed granules of sodium chloride - the same substance that adds that all-important pep to food - sometimes in the form of a dry brine mixed with other agents to stop bouncing and reduce the impact on the environment.

A five-year study carried out by Environment Canada found road salt in significant concentrations can have a damaging effect on plants, animals and the aquatic environment, so the city has been committed to reducing its salt usage by 10 to 15 per cent this year. Still, de-icing is a massive undertaking.

Salt used in an average storm: 10,220 tonnes
Salt used in an average year: 130,571 tonnes
2014 salt budget: $10.5 million

Source: City of Toronto

Chris Bateman is a staff writer at blogTO. Follow him on Twitter at @chrisbateman.

Image: Scott Rogers, Benson Kua/blogTO Flickr pool.



strongarm / February 7, 2014 at 01:14 pm
By "driveways open" don't you mean "driveways sealed in" by idiot operators who are too careless or tired. I have helped 3 sets of seniors including my parents unseal themselves after these morons sealed them in with mounds of hard packed snow.

Of course my email to 311 expressing concern has gone unanswered.
CW replying to a comment from strongarm / February 7, 2014 at 01:38 pm
Try the number below, its for sidewalks and maybe they can give you an answer. The reality is that it is part of property ownership.
If you are a senior or if you are disabled and live in an area where sidewalk snow clearing is not automatically done, you can obtain information on how to register by calling 416-392-7768.
hamish / February 7, 2014 at 01:46 pm
There's a lot of good data and background here. But it'd be nice to find out by overall District (of 4) how the monies get spent, as one point. I suspect - with the extra attention paid to the clearing of driveways and the higher volume of asphalt and the extra sidewalk plowing - the more suburban areas have the bulk of the resource. And the core will be outvoted to keep that.

It'd also be helpful instead of the mere listing of all the kms of types of roads, to also get an area covered by roads ie. lane kilometers. The City fudges the data.

Also in the core, the bike lanes are really NOT done that well overall - and it is inequitable as well as dangerous. We need to have some core routes as a priority.
W. K. Lis / February 7, 2014 at 04:38 pm
That snowstorm on Wednesday must have been "minor". If it was a "Major Snow Storm Condition" as defined at;vgnextchannel=cd3d4074781e1410VgnVCM10000071d60f89RCRD&vgnextfmt=default it would have declared by the Mayor and the General Manager of Transportation Services. I have not heard it declared. If it was, it would have included prohibited "parking on a designated snow route during a major snow event is subject to a fine of up to $200."

So it was not, because it would have meant no parking, and our Mayor would not wanted that. Even the ice storm was "minor". To have done so would have been "gravy" and cost the city money.
Steven / February 7, 2014 at 10:57 pm
Hope warmer weather comes sooner than later.
d / February 8, 2014 at 12:13 am
What's this "driveway clearing" they're talking about ... can someone do mine?
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Dave / February 12, 2016 at 02:05 am
Like everything else in Toronto, city inefficiencies reign supreme. There is no question that the same degree of snow clearing and removal could be accomplished through fundamental courses to do the job more smartly and with better use of resources. In far too many instances, the city relies on a sledgehammer response to swatting flies. Citizens are being ripped off and in typical Canadian style they grumble but do nothing about it.
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