Sidewalk snow clearing - who is responsible for what?

The City clears some but not all snow from sidewalks, a situation Walk Toronto would like to see improved. For sidewalk snow removal that the city does not do, property owners are required to do it themselves, and this is backed up by by-law and enforcement. It is critical that everyone does their bit, since a single uncleared section of sidewalk becomes a barrier to many, preventing safe passage or creating risks of falling or collision with vehicles. So here are the details for the winter of 2014-15:

The City clears snow:

  • On all non-obstructed sidewalks (see below), within 15 hours for high volume (see below) sidewalks and 48 hours for low volume (see below) sidewalks, when snow accumulation reaches specified thresholds (see below). 
  • The City never clears snow on obstructed sidewalks (see below)     
  • City use small tractors with a plow blade on front and a salter on the rear. The plow usually leaves an inch of compacted snow, which is salted in the same plowing operation.

Property owners, residential and commercial, are required to clear snow:

  • On all sidewalks if snowfall accumulation threshold (see below) for City to do it is not met, within 12 hours of end of snowfall.
  • On sidewalks the City considers obstructed, (which the City will not clear), within 12 hours of the end of any snowfall.
  • Clear to a minimum width 1.2m (wider is better, if possible), depth to bare pavement, repeat as necessary.
  • Do not place snow on street.
  • Apply salt after shoveling to prevent icing.
  • Maintain sidewalk in a cleared and safe state. 
  • Seniors and others who are unable to clear their own sidewalks may apply for assistance from the City of Toronto.

 Obstructed sidewalks are:

  • Some sidewalks in the old cities of Toronto and East York are considered obstructed by the City.
  • Obstructed sidewalks are those that the City claims are too narrow to accommodate the plows, have poles, trees, hydrants, other obstructions in the way, and have parked cars in close proximity that might get damaged etc.
  • The City of Toronto provides a rough map (PDF), but it is not very exact.
  • To determine if your sidewalk in old Toronto or East York is cleared by the city, call 311 or email 311@toronto.ca 
  • All sidewalks in the rest of the City are not considered obstructed.

Thresholds

  • December 2014 and March 2015 - 8cm.
  • January and February 2015 -5cm

High and Low Volume sidewalks

  • High Volume sidewalks are those on arterial roads, some collector roads, bus routes, schools etc
  • Low Volume sidewalks are those on local roads and some collector roads.

Complaints

Walk Toronto encourages all pedestrians to lodge complaints about sidewalk snow clearing not meeting requirements, whether it’s the City at fault, or property owners. Remember, to make a complaint requires a date, time, location (preferably and address) and nature of complaint. Feel free to send pictures. Contact:

  • by phone – 311
  • by phone from outside city limits - 416-392-2489
  • by email – 311@toronto.ca
  • by Twitter, - @311Toronto or, directly, @TO_WinterOps

Fines

  • Property owners not complying with the respective by-laws will generally receive a warning. If they continue to not comply, they are liable to being fined, or have the work done by the city and charged back in their property taxes.

Updates

  • @TO_WinterOps provides some updates on Twitter about the progress of sidewalk snow plowing. Feel free to ask them for additional information. If you are not on Twitter, the account can be viewed at https://twitter.com/TO_WinterOps. The account @ISpyToronto provides status reports on sidewalk snow plowing. The Walk Toronto account @Walk_TO, which can be viewed on the home page of this website, will retweet these reports.
The future
  • For next winter, starting Dec. 1, 2015, the City intends to improve its clearing of high pedestrian volume sidewalks (2 cm threshold, within 6 hours). No changes are planned for low-volume sidewalks.
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