Information and the struggle on snow: How Ottawa might share plow info — however chooses to not

It snowed lots in Ottawa this winter.

By mid-March, Ottawa had endured greater than 281 centimetres of snow. That, and intermittent thaw/freeze cycles that coated town in ice, earned it a gold medal for distress from a senior climatologist at Atmosphere Canada.

Metropolis officers, together with the mayor, expressed shock and overwhelm, and pleaded for the general public’s understanding of its sluggish snow-clearing and salting operations (Mayor Jim Watson was unavailable for touch upon this text). In the meantime, movies acquired posted to social media exhibiting Ottawans skating down icy streets, weeks after the final snow storm.

One commenter wrote, “As enjoyable as this appears to be like, it’s form of ridiculous that almost all Ottawa streets seem like this … It’s ruining plenty of vehicles and making every day commute for pedestrians and drivers harmful and time-consuming.”

Based on a KPMG report commissioned by town in 2016, the 30-year common for snow sits at 223 centimetres — about 60 centimetres, or a pair mid-sized storms, over this yr’s measurement. In these 30 years, seasonal snowfall has ranged from 111–374 centimetres, that means Ottawa has undoubtedly seen worse in latest historical past.

So what explains this winter’s sorry street situations?

It’s not concerning the sources at Ottawa’s disposal; it’s the way it makes use of them.

The place is ‘The place Is My Plow’?

Does anybody bear in mind The place Is My Plow?

You might have a faint recollection of the app town rolled out — then rapidly killed — 4 winters in the past. The GPS-powered The place Is My Plow app was meant to provide Ottawa residents perception into when their streets can be plowed.

The app was taken offline after town struggled to clarify to confused residents that the app was completely geared toward Class 5 residential streets solely, and never any road with residences. (The town classifies roads from one to 5, in reducing order of snow-plowing precedence. Most residential streets are in Class 5, the lowest-priority group.)

“We’re transforming (the app) proper now,” town advised the Citizen again in 2016.

Three years later, and never a peep.

Orléans Coun. Matthew Luloff says he requested about The place Is My Plow shortly after taking workplace in December. On March 5 — coincidentally, only a few weeks after the Citizen began asking town concerning the app for this text — he attended a gathering the place he realized town was contemplating making a simplified type of the app public as soon as extra, or not less than viewable to councillors and probably third-party contractors.

The instrument continues to be used internally to rebalance snow-plowing sources, in keeping with Director of Street Companies Luc Gagné and Kevin Monette, from town’s division of operational analysis and tasks.

Giving the general public an app to trace snow-plowing operations is nice for transparency, says Sam Edelstein, the chief information officer for town of Syracuse, N.Y.

Syracuse will get about the identical quantity of snow as Ottawa, however has a fraction of its inhabitants, funds and tax base. Even so, just a few years in the past, it deployed an clever snow-removal system that makes use of GPS information and a fleet-monitoring platform to trace the place plows and graders have been throughout a plow operation. The general public-facing part refreshes each hour throughout snow occasions.

“The purpose of all that is to be extra clear about what’s taking place on the roads, whether or not that’s transparency on our finish so the commissioner is aware of what the truck drivers are doing, but additionally for the general public who’s paying for the vans to be on the market by tax ,” says Edelstein. “Understanding the place and the way we’re plowing is simply such a crucial part to how we keep town.”

Montreal has climate patterns and snowfall totals just like Ottawa’s, and its three-pronged clever snow-removal system surpasses Syracuse’s.

Montreal’s SIT-NEIGE and Planif-Neige are inside instruments used to plan snow plowing and elimination.

SIT-NEIGE makes use of onboard GPS items to trace the places of apparatus and measure snow-removal progress. The system additionally automates funds to snow-removal contractors. Planif-Neige, in the meantime, allows boroughs to plan snow-removal beats. These instruments feed information to Information Neige MTL, a free cellular utility for the general public to know when the road they’re parked on is about to get plowed, in order that they will transfer their vehicles and keep away from getting ticketed or towed.

Gregory Cerallo is a co-founder at Sidekick Interactive, the Montreal-based app-development firm that originally made Information Neige MTL at a hackathon contest in 2014. He says greater than 200,000 folks have downloaded the app.

His firm made the open-data app with the intention of commercializing it. However he says each metropolis he referred to as, together with Ottawa, shut the door in his face.

A snowplow clears Beatrice Drive following a storm this winter.

Errol McGihon /


“All people thinks they’re doing their factor effectively. Everybody thinks their snow elimination is far completely different than each different metropolis and that every one their companies are very distinctive,” he says. The corporate solely not too long ago launched with a second accomplice: Laval, Que., a big, principally suburban space north of Montreal.

It’s a disgrace extra cities don’t reap the benefits of present know-how, says Cerallo; snow insurance policies could differ from metropolis to metropolis, however the act of plowing and eradicating snow doesn’t. What actually stands in cities’ methods, he says, is an absence of information — and maybe an absence of willingness to acknowledge the issues they’re creating by not preserving folks knowledgeable.

“That is about customer support. A number of time, effort and satisfaction might be obtained by warning folks forward of time,” he says, providing an analogy: If Hydro warns you of a short lived energy minimize forward of time — as a substitute of springing it on you as a shock — you’re much less prone to care, and even be impacted. “They’d save a lot time by avoiding folks calling in. The identical factor applies to this: Simply give out the knowledge, let folks know.”

Relating to snow operations, Ottawa is nice with letting folks learn about city-wide in a single day parking bans, however not a lot else.

Based on Gagné and Monette with the Metropolis Of Ottawa, most city-owned items of heavy gear have GPS, however salt vans have a separate GPS system. Neither of those GPS programs serve public-facing features, and the info they accumulate is just not accessible by civic open-data initiatives.

Gagné additionally notes that as a result of the GPS sensors are positioned on the skin of vans, they typically break or have to be recalibrated. A scarcity of dependable GPS information suggests the know-how isn’t getting used to its fullest potential.

Snow contractors report main inefficiencies

Collaboration with town is important to non-public plow operators’ capability to get work finished, in keeping with Kent Peddie, president of the Ottawa Snow Contractors Affiliation (OSCA). He says town has an extended monitor file for being opaque on winter operations, and the sudden disappearance of The place Is My Plow was one other signal of an absence of willingness to work with personal operators.

For instance, in keeping with town’s winter upkeep high quality requirements (which have been final reviewed in 2003) Class 5 residential plowing ought to begin after it’s snowed seven centimetres. However typically metropolis plows exit for lower than seven centimetres, and typically they exit hours after the seventh centimetre falls, Peddie says. Based on the winter upkeep requirements, metropolis operators have 16 hours to do that preliminary plowing after it has stopped snowing.

“The town refuses to reveal once they’re going to be plowing the residential aspect streets,” he says. “If we’ve got a small snow occasion of, say (5 to eight centimetres), we don’t know if town’s going to be plowing the aspect streets, and in that case once they’ll try this. There’s no cause for them to not be giving that info out.”

He says contractors have been pleading for this info for years. In an try to avoid the deadlock, Peddie says he requested — then filed an Entry to Info request — to get town’s beatmaps, which present how operators plow every neighbourhood. He says town despatched them on a DVD. Peddie observed the next yr that the maps had modified; he says the newer maps didn’t present the route through which graders have been alleged to drive.

Peddie says OSCA members need plow scheduling and routing info as a result of it helps them plan their very own snow-removal operations for residential, industrial and metropolis clients. Ideally, contractors wish to plow after town has handed to allow them to dig up the piles on the ends of individuals’s driveways (referred to as windrows) left by metropolis plows. This is able to additionally assist clear the best of approach.

The The place Is My Plow utility would have been a very good instrument to speak all this info on an ongoing, dynamic foundation. Director of Street Companies Gagné says town is “at the moment exploring strategies of creating any such info accessible to the general public, together with contractors.” Peddie says he hasn’t heard of this intention but.

It’s already been an extended wait. Peddie says many OSCA members way back resorted to following metropolis plows round whereas ready to plow their very own clients’ driveways. Between wages (together with substantial additional time), gas and time, it’s an costly endeavour. He says contractors sat down at some point to determine how a lot they have been spending by doing this.

“It might be extra environment friendly for us to plow the streets at no cost than to have town do it, due to all of the inefficiencies,” he says.

“With us chasing across the graders, it might be cheaper for us to purchase a grader, after which plow a given space, then have our tractors are available behind and take away the windrows that’ve been created. As a result of that’s how costly it’s for us.”

Individuals stroll within the ruts left by vehicles on a sidestreet within the Glebe final month.

Justin Tang /



How a lot does good snow elimination price?

The spending on the Metropolis of Montreal’s clever snow-removal system is unfold out over a number of paperwork, however by scouring public contracts databases in Montreal and Quebec, the Citizen pieced collectively the next:

One-time funding in putting in GPS on snow gear: $7.7 million.

SIT-NEIGE improvement and acquisition: $three million.

Technical companies on Planif-Neige: $275,000.

Miscellaneous: approx. $175,000

Discounted annual licensing price for Information Neige MTL app: $26,000 (Sidekick Interactive costs Laval almost $20,000 extra)

Recurring bills: In-house workers and gear upkeep.

In 2015 — the yr most of those bills have been first made — Montreal spent over $150 million on snow elimination.

A matter of requirements

As per its upkeep requirements, the Metropolis of Ottawa doesn’t usually plow any Class 5 streets to reveal pavement throughout the whole winter, which explains the frequent flooding and subsequent ice build-ups skilled this yr.

The town stated in 2014 it might price $four million to scrape down to reveal pavement. No point out, nevertheless, was made about how a lot town would save in salt, abrasives and pothole restore.

Potholes are created when water seeps into cracks within the pavement, then expands and contracts with the climate. Clearing the snow off streets and eradicating snow banks extra often would cut back the quantity of water seepage, and would additionally cut back the necessity for scraping ice off streets utilizing pavement-damaging blades.

As for snow-bank elimination, town provides itself “roughly” 14 days to take away them on Class four and 5 streets.

By comparability, Montreal has a four- to five-day customary for residential streets relying on accumulation, with 5 days for 30-plus centimetres.

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