City of Toronto crews’ winter protocols

The City of Toronto is ready to tackle winter – both on city streets and beneath them – by managing snow and ice on city streets, and by responding to the effects of cold weather on the city’s watermains and water service pipes.

“Weather is always hard to predict, but the City is ready for whatever winter has to throw at us,” said Councillor Jaye Robinson (Ward 25 Don Valley West), Chair of the City’s Public Works and Infrastructure Committee. “We have a multi-pronged plan for clearing snow and ice from our streets, including an arsenal of equipment ready to tackle this winter head-on.”

Cold weather and rapid swings between thaw and freezing temperatures can cause an increase in watermain breaks. Toronto Water staff are ready to respond to service calls 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Toronto allocates over $90 million annually to ensure that our roads and sidewalks are clear and safe. The City has more than 1,500 personnel on standby, 24/7 (contracted and City staff), 600 snowplows, 300 sidewalk plows and 200 salt trucks in its winter operations fleet. In addition, there are about 200 smaller pickups and dumptrucks to help keep the roads and sidewalks safe and passable during the winter season.

The City’s first priority during a snowfall is to keep the main roads clear for emergency and TTC vehicles. After that, crews move on to the local roads and usually complete clearing those roads between 14 and 16 hours after the storm ends.

As soon as the snow begins to fall, salt trucks are deployed to the expressways and main roads. Local roads and laneways are salted soon after the main roads. When two centimetres of snow have accumulated, plowing begins on the expressways and, when five centimetres have accumulated, plowing begins on the main roads. Plowing on the expressways and main roads continues until the operation is complete.

The City has also identified a priority network of bike lanes and cycle tracks in the downtown core that will continue to receive enhanced winter maintenance, including snow plowing and salting to improve safety for cyclists.

Local road plowing begins when the snow stops falling and if the snow accumulation reaches at least eight centimetres. Residents are reminded that 311 only takes service requests for specific snow clearing after the crews have had a chance to go out and clear the snow. Please don’t call when the storm is taking place to ask when a street with be plowed. Residents can track where plows and salt trucks are and which roads have been serviced using the online tracking map.

Residents can help assist with the City’s snow-clearing efforts by not pushing snow back onto the road, by avoiding parking on city streets to help the plows do their work and by taking public transit instead of driving.

The City will only open/clear driveway windrows where it is mechanically possible to do so after eight centimetres of snow have fallen. Typically, driveway windrows are opened between one and two hours after the road has been plowed. The service is meant to only open up a width of about three metres – not the full width of the driveway. This program does not take place in the central core of the city due to narrow road widths and on-street parking.

The City will clear snow from sidewalks on roads with high pedestrian traffic and on bus routes after two centimetres of snow have fallen, and sidewalks on the remaining roads after eight centimetres have fallen where it is mechanically possible to do so. In the central core of the city, property owners are required to clear their sidewalks of snow within 12 hours of a snowfall.

You can learn more about sidewalk snow-clearing in Toronto and view a map of the areas where the service is provided at

More information about the City of Toronto’s snow-clearing operations is available at

Cold weather is a major cause of watermain breaks but it is not the only one. The City is dealing with aging infrastructure, with the average watermain 50 years of age. To address this issue, the City of Toronto has committed $2.1 billion over the next 10 years to upgrade its watermain distribution system. More information can be found at

Cold weather can also cause pipes inside the home and on private property to freeze. Residents are reminded to prepare their pipes for winter by wrapping foam pipe insulation around pipes most prone to freezing, especially near outside walls and in crawl spaces, attics and garages. It is also important to seal air leaks around windows and doors, and to disconnect hoses and drain the outdoor water supply. More tips can be found at

Residents can learn more about how to prepare for extreme weather and weatherproof their homes at