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Snow response plan summary 2016-2017

January 25 2017

City of Vancouver crews sanding roads

Despite the 2016-2017 winter season being one of the coldest and snowiest in recent memory, we have a comprehensive snow response plan in place. 

To prepare for potential extreme weather events such as snow, ice, windstorms, and flooding, we prepare our crews, equipment, and residents.

The annual budget to prepare for winter response is $750,000. The actual response budget for the year depends on the weather with additional costs charged to a contingency fund. 

Be ready for anything this winter

Main roadways priority

When there is snowfall, the priority for our Engineering crews is to make consistent, coordinated efforts to keep main roadways clear. This includes bus routes, bridges, arterials, and especially access routes to emergency and critical health facilities.

Our response to extreme weather is scalable, meaning that the number of equipment and crews on the road can be increased or decreased depending on road conditions.

When significant snowfall occurs, our full fleet of more than 40 trucks can be deployed, minus any equipment that is being serviced. 

Additional measures 

In addition to our regular planned response, the Engineering department put a number of additional measures in place to help address particular issues created by the year’s unusual cold and snowy weather which saw a rain-freeze-thaw cycle, including: 

  • Activating the Engineering Department Operational Centre (DOC), which is used to respond quickly and seamlessly to specific weather-related events
  • Additional staffing over the holiday season 
  • Re-deploying staff from other areas to assist with street clearing and garbage pickup 
  • Diversifying road salt supply sources 
  • Distributing free road salt to residents 
  • Adding two new brining units 
  • Increased monitoring of resident feedback via 3-1-1 and VanConnect 
  • Increased sidewalk clearing enforcement

Salt supply

At no time did we run out of sand and salt. For context, during a typical winter, we use about 1,000 tonnes of salt. This winter, we used more than 10,000 tonnes. More than 4,500 tonnes is in stock with the potential to acquire more if needed.

Due to a shortage of road salt and other melting agents in retail outlets, we provided residents with free sand and salt mix at 10 sites.

In total, we provided about 260 tonnes, plus another two tonnes in response to a request from the Strathcona Residents Association at a central location for pick up.  

Sanitation pick up 

Due to icy conditions, steep and narrow streets and laneways in select areas of Vancouver prevented trucks from driving safely to collect garbage and green bin containers.

This resulted in approximately 2,000 out of 110,000 single-family and duplex households – just under 2% – being without garbage collection for 4 weeks.

Another 10,000 to 12,000 households missed one garbage collection. 

How we cleared the backlog

More than 110 staff were assigned to clear this backlog. This included, in some cases, manually wheeling and emptying bins into backhoe buckets for transfer into a dump truck. Free garbage drop-off was made available to all residents at our transfer station.

We were fully caught up on garbage and green bins on January 6 and 13 respectively.  

MMBC’s contractor for curbside recycling services, Smithrite, faced similar challenges. 

Enforcement and Snow Angel program 

This winter, we issued more than 9,000 warnings with between 200 and 300 tickets and prosecutions combined. Inspectors reported high compliance at locations where warnings were previously issued. 

For those unable to remove snow and ice from their sidewalks, we activated the Snow Angel program through print advertising and social media, both to recruit volunteers and encourage residents to request assistance.

The program now has over 120 volunteers and saw more than 450 service requests to help clean sidewalks and driveways for those in need.

Annual review of snow response

Each year, we conduct a routine review of our snow response and make recommendations for the following year.

Following the major storms in 2008 and 2012, we implemented a number of recommendations and a number of them improved this year’s response. 

For a full summary of the City’s snow response plan to this year’s winter weather, view the Memo to Council.

Memo to Council  (72 KB)