Here comes the snow! Here’s how to deal with it

Snow.  It’s a fact of life in Canada.  And when the snow starts to fly, it can affect how we get around.

Drivers and cyclists want to have roads cleared quickly and efficiently to allow for the movement of traffic.  Pedestrians require sidewalks to be cleared in order that they be able to move around the city safely. Snow means challenges for everyone.

While we can’t stop it from snowing, we can take steps to prepare for the worst Mother Nature can throw at us.  As winter arrives, the city’s Transportation Services Division is getting ready for another year of keeping our streets and sidewalks safe and the traffic moving.

Keeping Toronto’s streets clear of snow is a major challenge.  Toronto Council has established a level of service for plowing the snow from city streets following a storm.  Here’s what you can expect.

Prior to the onset of a storm, Transportation Services will be applying a layer of salt brine to hills and bridges throughout the city.  The application of salt brine is intended to prevent the snow from bonding to the pavement and to make it easier to plow the snow to the side of the road.

As soon as the snow begins, Transportation Services sends out its fleet of salt trucks to the expressways and main roads.  Local roads and laneways are salted soon after this.  When two centimetres of snow has accumulated then plowing will begin on the expressways and, when five centimetres has accumulated, plowing will begin on the main roads. Plowing on the expressways and main roads will continue until the operation is complete.

When the snow stops and if the snow accumulation reaches eight centimeters,  local road plowing will begin.  Plowing on the local roads is usually completed between 14-16 hours after the snow stops falling. During this time, snow service requests will not be taken by 311.  Residents are also asked not to call 311 during the storm to ask when their street will be plowed.  Residents should call 311 to report urgent winter related calls only.

After clearing ice and snow from some bike lanes as part of a pilot project for the past three years, the City has identified a priority network of bike lanes and cycle tracks in the downtown core that will receive enhanced winter maintenance this winter, including snow plowing and salting to improve safety for cyclists.

The City will only open driveway windrows wherever it is mechanically possible to do so after eight centimetres of snow has fallen. Typically, driveway windrows are opened between one and two hours of the road being plowed.  The service is meant to only open up a width of about three metres – not the full width of the driveway.

The City will also open driveway windrows wherever it is mechanically possible to do so. Typically, driveway windrows are opened between one and two hours of the road being plowed.  The service is meant to open up an area about the size of a single car width in order to make it more convenient to enter or exit the driveway.

The City will clear snow from sidewalks on roads with high pedestrian traffic and on bus routes where it is mechanically possible to do so after two centimetres of snow has fallen and the remaining roads after eight centimetres have fallen. In the central core of the city, property owners are required to clear their sidewalks of snow 12 hours after a storm has taken place. To learn more about sidewalk snow clearing in Toronto and to view a map of the areas where the service is provided, click on

Residents who have questions about snow clearing efforts in their area can call the City at 311.  If you need more information about the city’s plans for snow clearing, visit

And, the City of Toronto has created a webpage that enables residents to see the location of city plows, sidewalk plows and salt trucks and when their street was serviced by the city’s winter operations crews.

The new webpage uses Global Positioning Systems (GPS) installed on plows and salt trucks to determine when a road was serviced by crews, by using a colour coded system. If a road was serviced within the last four hours, then the road is shown with a green line. If a road was serviced within the last four to 12 hours, the road will be shown with a blue line and if serviced between 12 -24 hours, then the colour would be red.

The webpage can be accessed at http:www/

What can you expect from the city?

  • Every effort will be made to keep the expressways and main roads open during a snowstorm.
  • Plowing on side streets will usually be completed within 14-16 hours after the snow stops falling. An additional 24 hours is spent plowing difficult areas where snow has not been completely cleared.
  • Sidewalks, where the city provides the service, will generally be ploughed with 24-48 hours of a snowstorm.
  • Bus stops and transit shelters will generally be ploughed within 48 hours after a snowstorm.
  • Where feasible, residential driveway windrows will be opened after a side street is plowed. Please note that our intent is to only plough a sufficient amount of snow from the windrow to permit a vehicle to easily drive across.  Windrow clearing is not provided on narrow streets with no boulevards or where on-street parking is permitted.

What can you do leading up to and following a snow storm?

  • Do not push snow from your property back onto the street. It is illegal and it obstructs the work that our operators are doing.
  • Use salt on sidewalks and stairs only when necessary.
  • If possible, keep parked cars off the street so that plows can move through the streets more effectively.
  • Please avoid parking vehicles over sidewalks. This hampers sidewalk snow plowing efforts.
  • Use public transit whenever possible. Fewer cars on the street can help us plough the snow.
  • Wait until the plows have gone by before completely shoveling your driveway. This also applies if you have a sidewalk in front of your property.
  • When a snow storm is forecast, you should ensure that you purchase any food, medication and household supplies that you might need for the next 48 hours. Try to stay off the streets.

— Steve Johnston