snow removal toronto

Toronto says it won't be clearing snow from downtown sidewalks this winter

If ever there were a winter in need of safe, accessible outdoor walking spaces, this would be the one — you know, because of the pandemic and the fact that we're not supposed to gather indoors.

Even before COVID-19 hit, Toronto has recognized the importance of clearing snow from sidewalks, and how inadequate the city's current standards are in that regard.

"Last winter, City Council called for improved standards for sidewalk snow maintenance due to valid concerns raised by residents that Toronto's current standards are completely insufficient in the downtown and centre of the City," reads a (failed) motion that went before the city's infrastructure and environment committee on Thursday.

"With the COVID-19 pandemic forcing us all to be outdoors, the City of Toronto must prepare this winter season for an increase in the use of our cycling infrastructure and pedestrian traffic on our City's streets, sidewalks, and park amenities."

Councillor Josh Matlow called upon city staff to develop a "comprehensive snow clearing plan for all paved pedestrian and cycling pathways" immediately — something most people could agree upon as a good use of municipal funds.

The committee shot him down, voting against a proposal that would have seen some 1,000 kilometres of sidewalk cleared of snow and ice this winter in areas where this doesn't currently happen.

You see, sidewalk snow clearing is only provided to people in the burbs. Those living in Old Toronto, York and parts of East York must clear the snow themselves.

"Sidewalk plows clear about 6,400 km of Toronto's 7,900 km of sidewalk," explains the city's website. "In older parts of Toronto, narrow sidewalks, obstructions and obstacles prevent plows from working safely."

Advocates have long argued that the system is unfair and have been working for years to see snow-clearing become a true, city-wide service.

"It is inequitable that residents in the former cities of North York, Scarborough, Etobicoke, and York receive sidewalk snow clearing while the majority of neighbourhoods in Old Toronto and East York do not."

"This is especially concerning given that the levels of pedestrian traffic are much higher in these areas," continued the motion, written by Matlow and seconded by councillor Mike Layton.

"Residents of our City's inner suburban areas also frequently walk through downtown and midtown, and rightfully expect safe and accessible sidewalks too."

It's not like the city can keep using the same "our plows are too big" excuse anymore, either: Smaller sidewalk plows do exist, and Matlow's motion asks that staff investigate and budget for these items.

No dice, as far as the infrastructure and environment committee is concerned, but City Council could overrule them when the matter is debated later this month. Matlow certainly isn't going down quietly, nor should he as far as many Toronto residents on Twitter are concerned.

"City council can, and should, reject the committee refusal recommendation and approve sidewalk clearing," wrote one

"Omg, what a bad call. With 2020 so far, you just know it is going to be the shittiest winter on record," wrote another. "Torontonians, apparently you're on your own this winter."

Lead photo by

Jeremy Gilbert


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