Man, Machines, Mother Nature & Icy Sidewalks

A mid- winter thaw, climate change, call it what you will – the temperatures are soaring for February!  While many are enjoying this incredibly mild weather, it brings many challenges that the City is working to overcome! There is much discussion about icy sidewalks and I’d like to provide a factual update – so people can have a better idea of the ‘facts & variables’ related to icy sidewalks. If you care about ice on the sidewalks, please take time to educate yourself on the situation.


  • Sidewalk snow ploughs push the snow to either side of the sidewalk, creating ‘windrows’ or small mountains of snow on either side of the sidewalk or pathway
  • Street snow ploughs push snow to ‘storage areas’ along streets – these storage areas are located in the ‘city right of way’  -which are often the patches of grass located between a road and a sidewalk.
  • The right of ways are designed to be snow storage areas on top & are where many pipes, and fibre optics, etc. are located underground
  • Snow removal on sidewalks and streets RESULTS in mountains of snow on either side of the sidewalks – creating a TROUGH


  • When a mid-winter thaw occurs, the mountains of snow on either side of the sidewalk – melt!
  • Where does the melted snow go? INTO the TROUGH – which happens to be the sidewalk.
  • The melted snow – water – is contained IN the trough – it has no where to go but to pool on the sidewalk.
  • At night, the pooled water freezes.  The City is out constantly sanding sidewalks – but – when the next day is nice, and more thawing and melting occurs, MORE water melts onto the sand and the sand sinks.
  • And each day the areas of pooled water can change – depending on what is shading a section of sidewalks!
  • Like everyone has seen this week – each & every day seems to bring more thawing, in different sections of a sidewalk,  so – the sand that has been spread, sinks, and the sander come back, and the cycle continues to repeat itself.


  • In high density pedestrian areas – the mountain of snow on the City’s property (the right of way) IS removed.
  • At night, loaders remove the snow stored in the right of way in these high density areas – and load it onto trucks and haul it away.
  • So, when snow from one side of the ‘trough’ is removed & melting occurs, the water will run onto the street. This is ideal.
  • You will notice in the downtown area, where the snow has been removed on the right of way – there is little to no ice buildup, as the melted snow (water) has a place to drain to.
  • Why don’t we remove ALL the snow being stored on the right of way to prevent the ‘trough effect’ of melting snow onto sidewalks?  Quite simply cost & negative impact to the environment.
  • Imagine the number of sidewalks beside every city street, imagine the mountains of snow being stored on right of way, imagine the cost & time required, to have hundreds of front end loaders & trucks load all the snow stored in the right of way & imagine the hundreds and hundreds of trips of trucks travelling to the snow storage areas, emitting GHG’s to dump.
  • The city simply could not afford to remove all the snow stored in the right of way – throughout the entire city.


  • Some may have seen an ‘icebreaker’ type of machine that Ottawa was experimenting with to improve sidewalks. It is a machine somewhat like a grass mulcher, travelling on a sidewalk breaking up the ice.
  • The broken pieces of ice may melt sooner than a slab of solid ice, but again, WHERE will the broken ice drain to ? it will remain in the trough if it has no where to drain to.
  • What about using sidewalk plough to break up and push ice off the sidewalk ? the sidewalk ploughs simply aren’t big enough, or have the mass/weight to break ice up.
  • The street snow plowing machines are large enough with enough mass/weight that often they can break up snow on the streets and move it away, but they can also plough through a house as they are so large and powerful. Sidewalk snow ploughs simply do not have the power to break up slabs of ice.
  • Some want snow removal done on all city sidewalks in the Priority 1 timeframe – but that won’t eliminate the trough effect at all that causes the ice build up on sidewalks.
  • People want to see sidewalks like city streets  – so do I – but let’s understand why city streets are clear of ice.
  • Salt is spread on city streets, as heavy vehicles drive on the street, they break up the salted ice, which then, due to the pressure of the weighted vehicles, pushes the ice to the sides of the streets where it collects and melts.
  • This does not happen on sidewalks – the city rarely uses salt on sidewalks as it will melt the slab of ice, but, as the melted slush has no where to drain to due to the trough effect, it just refreezes. And the weight of humans walking on a sidewalk does not have the same effect of vehicles pushing the ice aside.


  • For folks who walk during the mid-winter thaws, I’d highly recommend purchasing a pair of ice cleats which cost about $15-$20 as part of your ‘winter clothing needs. I use them all the time & according to my phone app, I walked 1022 km last year & never slipped once.
  • NOW – I fully recognize this will not work for folks in wheel chairs and with mobility devices.
  • When my triplets were small, strollers were the only way to get around. And it was more than challenging to be mobile in the mid-winter thaws with wheels. For sure there is no easy solution to mobility on sidewalks


  • Since 2003, I’ve been a strong advocate to see improved walking and cycling in Winnipeg. In my role as Winnipeg Trails Coordinator for 10 years (2004-2014) I worked with many to raise 10’s of millions in infrastructure improvements for walking and cycling in Winnipeg. I’ve travelled to & studied other cities, &  I raised money to send representation to a Winter conference in Oulu Finland.
  • In 2016 I moved a motion to have ALL sidewalks and pathways in Winnipeg cleaned – as there were many many that did not receive snow removal. Finally, in 2022 we started removing snow on the entire Active Transportation network.
  • To be frank, and just factual – there is no one on this current City Council that has dedicated more time to improving active transportation in Winnipeg. Why – because mobility is important to everyone.
  • At the recent public works committee, we had a robust conversation on snow removal on streets, sidewalks and pathways. I stated Winnipeggers are ‘spoiled’ with the snow removal on BOTH streets and sidewalks that we have in Winnipeg – and I stand by that. Perhaps people don’t like the term spoiled – I maybe should have used the term ‘privileged’.
  • When you consider what other cities do, and the huge social issues in the city that we have, we are privileged to invest $10’s of millions in snow removal.

Again – here are a few facts:

  • What city spends over $85 Million in snow removal, like Winnipeg did in 2022.  Maybe Montreal but I challenge anyone to find another city that invests this much in snow removal. We have no restricted budget for snow removal – we just do it.
  • Edmonton – does NOT clean residential sidewalks & most commercial area sidewalks. Residents are fined if they don’t clean their sidewalks.
  • Vancouver – does NOT clean residential sidewalks, residents are subject to fines up to $750
  • Regina – does NOT clean residential sidewalks, residents have 48 hours to clean their sidewalks, or are fined. City even encourages residents to help others with accessibility challenges.
  • Calgary  – does NOT clear residential sidewalks –  property owners must clear the sidewalks that border their properties within 48 hours
  • Winnipeg cleans over 4,000 km of sidewalks & 672 km of bike paths.
  • Winnipeg was recognized by the American Public Works Association with the Excellence in Snow and Ice Control Award. And for a fact cities across North America are always calling Winnipeg to learn how we remove snow and ice.


  • Every year public works staff present an update to the public works committee on the challenges, innovations & improvement occurring in the department.
  • For sure the mid-winter thaw is being looked at, and will be discussed. Types of snow removal equipment & strategies will be considered to harness Mother Nature –
  • I encourage all who are interested to listen or attend and present ideas at the meeting.
  • Can we do better – always – at a cost & ensuring a balance of what we invest city tax dollars into.

I want to thank ALL my Council colleagues for the support they have provided to improve snow removal on the Active Transportation network.