Winter Maintenance Quality Standards Review

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Plow clearing a snowy sidewalk

What is the Winter Maintenance Quality Standards review?

The City is reviewing the Standards, with a focus on sidewalks and pathways, reducing rutting on residential roads, roads next to schools with no sidewalks and roads with bus stops. Residents will have the opportunity to provide feedback on their priorities as we update the Standards.

Why do we need to review our Winter Maintenance Quality Standards?

Since we implemented the current standards in 2003, the needs of transportation network users have changed. Residents have moved from one occupant per vehicle to group transportation options like OC Transpo and LRT, and active transportation like walking, cycling and rollerblading. They have also come to rely on year-round access to these options and face challenges when mobility is obstructed for prolonged periods.

Issues like climate change, accessibility, equity, gender, sustainability, injury prevention, healthy living and livability were not considered in the original standards, so a review is underway. This review was accelerated by a particularly harsh winter in 2018/2019, after which City Council directed staff to review the standards and make recommendations in September 2021.

What can we expect from the review?

Public Works and Environmental Services will review the Winter Maintenance Quality Standards and propose changes to improve winter maintenance of:

  • Residential roads
  • Sidewalks
  • Cycling pathways
  • Multi-use pathways for walking, cycling and rollerblading

Based on an analysis of current operations, research into best practices and interviews with similar municipalities in Ontario, North America and Europe, options are being developed for potential changes. These options will be presented at public engagement sessions to gather feedback and identify priorities in early 2021. Council will consider this information when deciding on proposed changes to the Standards next fall.

What is the Winter Maintenance Quality Standards review?

The City is reviewing the Standards, with a focus on sidewalks and pathways, reducing rutting on residential roads, roads next to schools with no sidewalks and roads with bus stops. Residents will have the opportunity to provide feedback on their priorities as we update the Standards.

Why do we need to review our Winter Maintenance Quality Standards?

Since we implemented the current standards in 2003, the needs of transportation network users have changed. Residents have moved from one occupant per vehicle to group transportation options like OC Transpo and LRT, and active transportation like walking, cycling and rollerblading. They have also come to rely on year-round access to these options and face challenges when mobility is obstructed for prolonged periods.

Issues like climate change, accessibility, equity, gender, sustainability, injury prevention, healthy living and livability were not considered in the original standards, so a review is underway. This review was accelerated by a particularly harsh winter in 2018/2019, after which City Council directed staff to review the standards and make recommendations in September 2021.

What can we expect from the review?

Public Works and Environmental Services will review the Winter Maintenance Quality Standards and propose changes to improve winter maintenance of:

  • Residential roads
  • Sidewalks
  • Cycling pathways
  • Multi-use pathways for walking, cycling and rollerblading

Based on an analysis of current operations, research into best practices and interviews with similar municipalities in Ontario, North America and Europe, options are being developed for potential changes. These options will be presented at public engagement sessions to gather feedback and identify priorities in early 2021. Council will consider this information when deciding on proposed changes to the Standards next fall.

  • Final Report Update

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    Final Report Update

    In order to present a fulsome report with options, recommendations, an implementation plan, and a clear financial picture, we have made the decision to defer the WMQS legislative report to 2023.

    Between now and the tabling of the report, staff will finalize the recommended changes to the WMQS and an implementation plan to initiate changes, starting with the 2023/2024 winter season, will be included in the report to Council in 2023.


    Update on Improvements for 2021/2022 Winter Season

    As introduced in our last update, staff worked to implement several improvements for the 2021/2022 winter season based on a continued review of service delivery, recent technologies, and feedback from stakeholders through the public engagement survey, public engagement sessions, and conversations with Councillors.

    Some highlights include:

    • Responding more proactively and aggressively to all types of winter events, specifically smaller events earlier in the winter season to prevent significant snowpack on sidewalks and residential streets, which leads to ice buildup and rutting
    • Analyzing winter weather events and deploying resources earlier and as required based on forecasts and local conditions
    • Phasing out the use of sand and replacing it with grit on sidewalks and most roads to treat ice and slippery conditions more effectively
    • Phasing out steel blades on plows, by replacing with rubber blades, resulting in quieter operation, clearing closer to the roads, which could help reduce salt use.
    • Developed and implemented a policy to declare significant weather events when winter operations will take longer than expected, to inform the public and manage expectations
    • Calling winter parking bans at set times and for a consistent length of time to manage public expectations and providing additional off-street parking during parking bans at City recreation facilities, OC Transpo park-and-rides, and City parking garages
    • In collaboration with Corporate Accessibility Office, a training video was created and shared with all staff in RPS on accessibility awareness, highlighting specific challenges and barriers on the active transportation network for people with disabilities


    Expectations for 2022/2023 Winter Season

    Staff will provide a fulsome update on the improvements from the 2021/2022 winter season as part of the update to Council in 2023 and continue to expand upon some of these improvements for the 2022/2023 winter season.

    As was noted in our last update, our community partners have played a significant role in developing our recommendations to-date and we are hopeful that with some additional time to finalize these recommendations, we can further reflect these contributions and considerations in the final report.

    We remain grateful for your continued dedication, patience, and support on this initiative. Updating the Winter Maintenance Quality Standards has proven to be a significant undertaking and our focus continues to be on taking the time to consider the changing community, environmental, and financial picture.

    It continues to be a significant undertaking to update our Winter Maintenance Quality Standards and we want to make sure we take the time to do it right, considering changing community and environmental needs. We are grateful for your continued dedication and support on this initiative. Stay tuned for further updates.


  • Engagement Update

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    Thank you, Ottawa, for your involvement and feedback on our City’s Winter Maintenance Quality Standards Review.


    Summary of public engagement activities:

    • Occurred between December 2020 and February 2021
    • Dec 2020: Public Opinion Research Survey – 999 respondents
    • Jan-Feb 2021: Engage Ottawa Online Survey – 745 respondents
    • Jan 2021: Four virtual workshops – 125 registered participants


    A Stakeholder and Diverse Community Group Engagement Team, composed of stakeholders and residents from across the City, provided input on the engagement process. All engagement opportunities were made available in bilingual and accessible formats/alternatives.


    The findings of the public engagement process have been incorporated into a final WMQS Public Engagement Report, which continues to be invaluable in informing the development of the Winter Maintenance Quality Standards recommendations.


    Public feedback has played a significant role in helping define the expected level of maintenance the City should achieve during the winter months. We are also considering input from internal stakeholders and Councillors to ensure the recommendations align with operational and financial priorities, as well as ongoing initiatives.

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

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    by Cathryne Lillian Milburn (City of Ottawa),
    supporting image

    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.

    Subscribe to our Project page for automatic alerts for engagement opportunities and future updates!

Page last updated: 22 Jul 2022, 09:33 AM