Blowing the snow budget

Does summer hold the answer for winter woes?

While temperatures were low tempers were high over the past several weeks as snow accumulated on residential streets across Calgary. A simple tweet or post on the topic of snow removal was enough to cover social media in the white stuff.

It’s clear that snow and ice control is a challenge for the city as this winter is demonstrating. The city is throwing more money from the snow bank in an attempt to get the problem under control (correctly anticipating there’s more snow on the way) however there aren’t enough workers to operate the available machinery. The likely result is a somewhat improved snow and ice control response accompanied by a budget that’s a few feet deep.

The reality is that the problem is largely out of our control. Weather prediction is hard enough seven days out never mind over a season. When it snows some communities are absolutely smothered while others receive little. Yet our response to the snow is uniform — priority one routes are cleared first priority two cleared second and so on.

I’m an advocate of making good use of what we already have. I’m also a realist. If we want better snow and ice control in Calgary we can and should squeeze more out of what we already have but that can only take us so far. At some point we will need to ask whether or not we sufficiently fund snow and ice control — whether it’s publicly or privately delivered.

So unless the city of Calgary is sitting on a pile of Bitcoins we’ve got a funding question to look at and I think part of the answer is found during the warm summer months.

Calgary offers communities a program called the Landscape Enhancement and Appreciation Fund (LEAF) which allows communities to voluntarily contribute an additional annual levy that goes towards enhanced landscaping maintenance services from the city of Calgary and contractors. The levy comes with the requirement for renewal every few years giving communities the option to end their participation in the program.

Imagine a similar program for snow and ice control where each community decides whether they would contribute funding for enhanced services from the city and/or contractors. Investments could be made not just in the area of weather response but also in prevention. For some of the hardest hit streets preventative measures like a snow fence would reduce the impact of blowing snow and make the whole situation easier to clean up and less frustrating for residents.

People who live in communities know those communities best. They don’t require a consultant to come out and count snow flakes to know where problem spots continually arise. What they need is action and the ability to apply their own corrective measures.

A LEAF-like program for the winter months would give communities the ability to direct funding to their own specific needs based on the expertise they have of their own neighbourhoods. No more “one size fits all” from the city. Instead a more surgical effort could be made to mitigate and respond to what is a recurring theme in Calgary: winter.