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Residents Angry That Sidewalks Not Cleared Soon Enough After Storm

You learn it as an infant and unless something serious happens, you never quite lose the ability to do it – the fine art of walking.

All that changes, though, when Old Man Winter makes his presence felt. Many GTA sidewalks remain a mess of slush, ice and puddles after Monday’s first storm of the season.

And a lot of pedestrians who have ended up trying to skirt those water traps are wondering why.

The city is supposed to plow all the sidewalks where width isn’t a problem and their machines can get in. But with about 6,000 kilometres of concrete to plow every time we get dumped on, there’s a good chance someone could be missed.

Councillor Rob Ford doesn’t think that’s good enough.

“I would say as soon as you get an inch out there, get it cleaned up. Either sweep it, plow it, get it going,” he demands. “People can’t drive like this, especially after the first snowfall.”

Some Toronto residents are infuriated with the service they received after the first storm, arguing the city didn’t get to them at all. And what had been snow has now turned into much-harder-to-remove ice.

“Its messy, it’s hard to walk,” complains Trudy Dunne. “It’s dangerous.”

But it may not be as simple as it seems.

Under city rules, there needs to be at least eight centimetres of snow on side streets, at least five on main streets, and 2 1/2 on freeways before the plows roll out.

Toronto engineers insist anything less than that is a waste of time and money. “We can start plowing snow when there’s three centimetres on a side street,” explains spokesman Gary Welsh. “But remember we can’t get down to the bare pavement. There’s still gonna be a film of  say, one to two centimetres of snow.”

And don’t forget to do your part – or you’ll pay for it. Under a bylaw in effect since 1999, home and building owners are both required to clear their sidewalks within 12 hours of a snowfall or you’ll find an extra $105 tacked on to your next property tax bill.

But some wonder why if they have to be ready within a set time, the city isn’t forced to play by the same rules.

“They should plow whenever there’s snow on the ground,” proposes Daniel Dworzak. “They should just go with their conscience.”

What else is hiding in that law you may not know about? Here’s a closer look.

The time limit

You’ve got 12 hours from the time it stops snowing to get out there with a shovel to do your part. The real difficulty comes during ice storms, when the substances stick to the surface like glue, making it almost impossible for you to get it off.

In that case, salt, sand or some other gripping grit can be applied to comply with the law.

But did you know that after you’re done you’re not necessarily finished? The rules state that if the sidewalk in front of your home or building becomes slippery again “for any cause”, you’ve got to return and do it all over again – even if there’s no new snow.

What if you don’t?

In most cases, you’re a small cog in a large wheel and chances are if no one complains, you’ll likely get away with it. But on the chance you do get hit, it will cost you. The city will send its own crews in to do the job and charge you $105 for their trouble. Not only that, but you’ll also have to pay all the costs for labour, equipment and anything else incurred while they were doing what you were supposed to.

What else is covered?

If you own a building that has an overhang where falling snow or ice could hit someone, you have to get rid of that, too, within a 12 hour period.

Where do I put it?

If you have a lawn, it’s probably going there. Pushing any of that snow onto the street can get you another fine. But it still doesn’t explain why it’s not illegal for snowplows to block the driveway you just cleared as they’re sweeping the streets clean of the white powder.

Are there any exceptions?

Yes. If you’re a senior or a disabled person in an area where Toronto doesn’t provide its own sidewalk clearing services because of a lack of clearance space, you can call the city and they’ll do it for you for free. Dial (416) 392-7768 to find out more. But remember the freebie only applies to your sidewalk. They won’t do your driveway or your laneway.

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