As City of Whitehorse crews prepare for another winter season of snow clearing, city council members are being asked to consider changes in how snow and ice are dealt with.
Tracy Allen, the city’s director of operations, brought forward several proposed changes to the city’s snow and ice policy, trail maintenance policy and maintenance bylaw at council’s Oct. 17 meeting to deal with clearing over the coming season.
As she outlined in her report, changes in Whitehorse in recent years have taken its toll on snow clearing.
“Population growth, demographic change and climate change have all affected the city’s snow and ice control operations,” she said, going on to point out that since the 2018/2019 winter season, snowfall accumulation has risen from 143 centimetres to 268.5 centimetres and there’s been no major increase to the city’s fleet or resources to address that.
Allen highlighted the proposed changes to the city’s policies and bylaw that would help address the challenges the city is facing along with the possibility of budget changes and a communications plan going forward.
The proposed changes to the snow and ice policy would allow the city more flexibility in dealing with priority roads; outline differences between normal winter situations and extreme winter events; and outline priorities for active transportation trails.
Under the trail maintenance policy, snow and ice control responsibilities would be removed and instead incorporated into the snow and ice policy.
At least one change to the maintenance bylaw is already approved after council’s Oct. 11 meeting where members voted in favour of increasing the fees for private haulers to haul snow to the city’s Robert Service Way snow dump.
Other maintenance bylaw changes would clarify the responsibilities of property owners on snow clearing and set out fines of $100 for failing to remove snow as directed and/or placing it on public property and $250 for failing to remove snow and/or placing it in an accessible parking space. It would also allow for the towing and/or ticketing of vehicles that are not moved prior to the city clearing a street.
A public education campaign would be undertaken to communicate with residents about snow clearing schedules for city streets, expected levels of service and about property owners’ responsibilities for clearing snow from sidewalks and the like.
Other initiatives, depending on budget approval, could see new pieces of equipment piloted such as GPS technology and snow blower attachments for loaders and increased service to active transportation routes and lower priority roads.
“Both of these proposed changes will be coming forward as part of the 2023 operating and capital budget submissions,” Allen said.
The call for increased clearing to active transportation routes was emphasized ahead of Allen’s presentation by Lee Hawkings, who argued the city needs to change its approach to the Hamilton Boulevard and Elijah Smith trails he and his roommates use to cycle between Ingram and downtown.
He noted that while the trails are snow packed for snowmobiles in the winter, it is a softer pack making it difficult to bike or walk the trail. He suggested the city look at a method used in other regions that would see a portion of the snow removed, with a two-inch base left so that snowmobiles can continue to use the routes as well as those biking or walking.
“Everyone should have a safe route off of the main roadways,” he said.
Mayor Laura Cabott suggested during council discussion on the proposed changes that even if the city were to move forward with the concept of a harder packed surface, the Hamilton Boulevard trail should be wider to accommodate all users safely. She questioned whether there would be enough space or whether widening the trail could be possible.
City manager Jeff O’Farrell said that while the possibility has been looked at in the past, the topography is challenging due to the steep side slope along the trail.
Other questions came up around where residents living in high density areas with little space on private property for excess snow are expected to put the snow they’ve shoveled, with Coun. Ted Laking pointing out to Whistle Bend as a prime example. Allen noted the city does allow residents to take extra snow to its Robert Service Way snow dump once per year, though Laking argued the city will have to come up with a better solution to that issue “sooner rather than later”, arguing Whistle Bend was not planned in a way to deal with snow as the city is proposing.
Concerns were also expressed around snow clearing near schools, with Allen stating the city continues to work with the territory’s department of Education to ensure students can be dropped off in areas that are clear and where they can be seen by other drivers.
Council will vote on whether to move forward with the policy and bylaw changes at its Oct. 24 meeting.
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