Council cool on snow tires
Administration pitches research on mandatory winter treads
As council prepares to debate the merits of mandatory snow tires, a majority of city politicians say the focus shouldn’t be on winter treads but better solutions to remove snow and ice from clogged city streets.
“How would we even begin to legislate tires?” wondered Ward 8 Coun. Evan Woolley. “We can support and make suggestions but I think that’s getting too far into people’s lives.”
A transportation report to be presented at a council meeting Monday will detail how the city responded to December’s record-breaking dump that left many Calgary streets impassable and thousands of residents fuming.
Officials will raise the issue of mandatory snow tires, which are required for winter driving in Quebec.
Recent studies have a shown a fiveper-cent reduction in road accidents and injuries since the legislation took effect in the province.
The city rejected the controversial idea in 2010 — and councillors overwhelmingly still believe it’s not the city’s job to force Calgarians to install winter tires as a means to cope with slippery streets.
“It’s very difficult to enforce and at this point I’m not prepared to go down that road,” said Coun. Jim Stevenson.
“A worn snow tire is not any better than a new all-weather tire.”
Ward 2 Coun. Joe Magliocca agreed, saying moneyearmarked toward winter tire enforcement would be better spent dealing with the bigger problem of icy roads. “There’s no way we can police it. We’ve just got to do a better job of snow removal.”
But Coun. Brian Pincott believes a mandatory snow tire law is at least worth considering.
“I think people are foolish if they don’t have snow tires. They are taking their lives in their hands and taking their children’s lives in their hands,” he said.
Of the 12 councillors reached by the Herald, Pincott was the only one who supported the idea of mandatory snow tires in Calgary. Eight councillors said no and three did not answer with a straight yes or no.
While all agree that a better response to winter storms is necessary, opinions differ on whether the city should allocate more funding to snow and ice control. The start of a new fiscal year means the city
I think people are foolish if they don’t have snow tires
has $31.4 million in the budget to spend on snow removal.
Coun. Richard Pootmans thinks it’s time to review the snow reserve system. “I’m not inclined to immediately react and say that because we’ve had a record snowfall, it means we have to increase the budget,” he said.
“I think there might be a solution in the way we use our snow reserve fund to accommodate those peaks and valleys.”
Ward 14 Coun. Peter Demong agreed, noting the city needs a mechanism to tap into funds to deal with extreme events.
“I think the flood showed us that. This was just another whack across the head to say, ‘hey, we really do have to make plans for freak occurrences,’” Demong said.
Coun. Shane Keating, meanwhile, thinks it’s worth exploring the idea of keeping equipment and contractors on standby throughout the year for summer, as well as winter work. “The most obvious answer is privatization with contractors on call and we can do that to some degree,” he said.
“I believe we have to rethink how we’re doing it, what the options are at this point. I’m open to looking at spending a little more in the budget but making sure we’re doing it as best as we can.”
Most council members agree that a dedicated reserve fund is a good solution to dealing with extreme winter weather — provided Mother Nature co-operates to allow the fund to grow in years of lighter snow.
But the city’s current snow removal woes have more to do with a lack of manpower than money, said Ward 9 Coun. Gian-Carlo Carra, as city crews and private contractors can’t keep up with demand to clear clogged streets.
“We could conceivably staff up to handle this kind of snow event, but it’s a huge expense and whether that’s an expense that is borne out most years is a good question,” Carra said. “Hopefully it is an anomaly.” The massive amount of snow — and a dose of unseasonably warm weather — has resulted in winterweary Calgarians logging a record number of complaints to the municipal 311 line.
The budget will never meet expectations for snow management given the current level of frustration, said Coun. Ward Sutherland. It’s up to Calgarians to decide if they are willing to spend more to pay for bare residential streets.
“If there’s a higher expectation of service, we have to ask residents if they are willing to pay for it,” he said. “Because obviously it’s going to come at an additional expense.”
The city expects to spend $12 million on plowing efforts in January — much higher than the norm of $5 million to $6 million.
Some 75 centimetres of snow has fallen on Calgary since December. The city typically records an average of 110 centimetres between September and April.