What are the current WMQS? How do they impact my ability to get around?

by Cathryne Lillian Milburn (City of Ottawa), 11 Dec 2020

Once winter weather sets in, the City’s road maintenance team monitors road conditions constantly for snow and ice accumulation. It’s a big job! We have 12,900 lane kilometres of roads and 2,300 kilometres of sidewalks and pathways. It’s even bigger when you consider:

  • Sometimes it snows in one part of town and rains in another.
  • Sometimes it snows and then rains before we get a chance to clear all the snow.
  • Sometimes it goes back and forth between snow and rain for hours, or days.

Our number one priority is to keep Ottawa’s roads, sidewalks, winter cycling network and pathways safe and clear for drivers, pedestrians and cyclists. That might mean plowing, spreading sand, spreading salt, spreading grit or some combination of all four.

It all needs to be done, but it can’t all be done at once. The City has a set of Council approved winter Maintenance Quality Standards, which set standards based on the class of roadway or sidewalk. Work is underway, as part of this project, to develop options for potential changes as they relate to residential roads, pedestrian walkways, cycling pathways and multi-use pathways. In early 2021, there will be opportunities to participate in virtual workshops and a survey to identify your priorities.

You might be wondering what the current Standards are and how you are impacted based on where you live and where you go. Keep on reading to learn about how we prioritize.

First level

Our first step is to keep the City’s major roads clear. At the first sign of any accumulation, we respond to Highway 174 and the Transitway, and we keep responding until accumulation stops. This helps ensure the morning and afternoon commutes go as safely and efficiently as possible.

Second level – 2.5 centimetres

Once we determine that 2.5 centimetres of snow has fallen, we start work on high volume roads, such as the downtown core, busy sidewalks and the cycling network. These avenues typically have the highest volume of traffic. Keeping them clear helps ensure the morning and afternoon commutes go as safely and efficiently as possible.

Maintaining sidewalks and pathways is part of the City’s commitment to supporting viable active transportation options year-round. Only a portion of the cycling network is winter-maintained, though, and you can visit the Winter Cycling Network for details.

Our goal is to clear the downtown roads and cycling network within four hours of the last snowflake having fallen.

Third level – 5 centimetres

Once we determine that 5 centimetres of snow has fallen, we respond to Class 4 and Class 5 roads – the major and minor collector roads that link neighbourhoods. In the days before amalgamation, many of these were known as regional roads. Major collectors are roads like Carling Avenue, Carp Road and Innes Road. Minor collectors are roads like Sherway Drive, Duford Drive or Castlefrank Road.

We also begin clearing more sidewalks, roads with OC Transpo service and roads that lead to schools and long-term care homes. This helps families, students and emergency responders get where they need to go.

Our goal is to clear the roads within six hours of the last snowflake having fallen, and to clear sidewalks within 16 hours.

Fourth level – 7 centimetres or more

If 7 centimetres or more of snow has fallen, we expand service to include roads in areas that are primarily residential, where you or someone you know probably live. Roads in residential areas are typically the last roads we plow, after the first three levels have been addressed.

Our goal is to clear all these roads within 10 hours of the last snowflake having fallen.

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