Edmonton snow clearing & budget rant

edmonton-snow-clearing-end-of-seasonEdmonton had its first major dump of snow. Winter is upon us! And, of course, many are complaining about the state of the roads. You know what? They have good reason to complain.

Yes, I know, Edmonton is a big city and it’s a big job. Tell me something I didn’t know. What I do know is that I grew up in a place that got a hell of a lot more snow than Edmonton and it was dealt with just fine. Obviously when you get hit with a big dump of snow, the roads will suck for a while.

How the City of Prince George, B.C. deals with the roads now, I don’t know, but I know they actually did a pretty good job when I was growing up. They’d have graders and loaders out clearing main roads and residential streets and make pretty quick work of them. The graders even had drop gates to clear the front of your driveway so you didn’t have a three foot tall mountain of ice to clear.

Before I moved to Edmonton I had been here in the winter before, including during April 2005 when it snowed about a foot in one day. What a gong show! It seems better now, but marginally.

Now we have a house here and pay taxes here. So, we have a right to complain. Period. If the city isn’t doing a good job of spending the tax dollars of Edmonton residents and is proposing to raise taxes by eight to 10 per cent, we have a right to complain. Period. It would also help if we suggested ways of improving how they go about spending our money.

In that vein, I will throw a few suggestions out there and make a few observations.

In this sprawling city (whose fault is that?) there are a lot of streets to clear and the major routes should be the priority. I do find it puzzling that when I was sitting in a restaurant at 137 Ave and 97 St. on Friday night I saw nine snow plows in a row heading north on 97 Ave. Spread out a bit guys.

I was out driving the next day on 137 Ave and it was a mess, and that was down towards 66 St. They can’t even cut the snow back to the curb. I would think three plows should be able to clear the entire two lanes to the curb. Done.

And get the windrows as close to the curb as possible. I know it can be tough. God knows driving in Edmonton can be brutal when you’ve got people chit-chatting on the old cell phone, even in snow. I saw that yesterday too. Seriously.

I do wonder about how efficiently those resources are allocated out on the streets when this kind of dump of snow happens. I understand they won’t get to my street for a while, if ever, but at least do the major routes properly! They really aren’t.

I was also puzzled last year when I watched out my window after a snowfall, as at least three or four graders cleared snow on my street one day. I swear they must have made three or four passes each, and it’s a two lane street.

WTF? I’ve never driven a grader, but I’m convinced I could clear my damn street in fewer passes. I might even move a few neighbours’ cars off the street in the process. (Snow route anyone?)

End of season snow clearing

I have talked about the city’s end of season snow clearing a few times, perhaps even ranted. I’m prone to that, but I’m justified. (Usually)

Why, particularly on a residential street, do I need the snow cleared from the side of the roads at the end of the season? I took a bunch of pictures of the City of Edmonton snow clearing efforts in the early spring of 2009. There were:

  • Three graders
  • One large snow blower
  • One flag person
  • Someone in a City of Edmonton pickup following the snow blower
  • A fleet of semi-trailer trucks hauling away the snow

I understand the city likes to recycle the gravel it spreads on the roads. Recycling is a shrewd and lofty goal. Sand and gravel are expensive, and recycling it makes sense. Here’s an idea though: let the snow melt. Novel, I know, but you’re going to send the street sweepers around anyway.

One sweeper with a couple of trucks (smaller and cheaper ones, I might add) to haul the gravel away is far more efficient than a whole fleet of people hauling away snow that will melt.

I would love to see the accounting analysis on this. Considering all the machines processing and hauling away that snow, I just can’t see them hauling enough loads of gravel per hour to make the activity pay.

How much does the city pay per load of sand? What’s the total cost per hour to do this snow clearing to recover the sand?

So, why not let it melt and let the sweepers pick it up? Yes, there will be more loads of sand, but it will be concentrated. You’ll need fewer, smaller trucks and they’ll only be hauling sand, not larger, more expensive trucks hauling a fraction of the amount of sand. That should save some money in the budget.

Street sweeping obsession

I have also noticed that Edmonton seems to have a bit of a street sweeping obsession. It’s not a bad thing that we like clean streets here, but I think there are limits. I swear I saw a sweeper on my street at least three times this summer, well after the spring sand and gravel had been picked up and well before my street had been repaved.

I would watch as they drove by, sweeping up virtually nothing! I was a little puzzled at that. Why not only sweep areas that actually need it? Don’t just sweep for the sake of sweeping. More money saved in the city budget.

Police directing traffic

edmonton-city-police-directing-traffic-epsAs if the preceding cases weren’t insane enough, I have repeatedly seen Edmonton city police out directing traffic. At first, I thought there was an accident. Drug bust? Murder? Umm, parade? Nope.

Construction! Yes, our police, who apparently cost around $100,000 per officer, are out directing traffic through construction areas. Are you kidding me? I don’t care if they’re part of traffic services. They should be out stopping the speeders, red light runners, drunk drivers, texting drivers and others who make this city such a danger to drive in.

Instead the City of Edmonton installs green light cameras, like that’s going to solve the problem. It’s certainly going to chip away at the $20 million extra the Edmonton Police Service was hoping to get this year.

Why do they need $20 million more this year? I guess the City of Edmonton is going to be doing a hell of a lot more construction next year!

Why not get the EPS out stopping drivers causing problems and not directing traffic? Are we to believe there are no flagging companies who would like to bid on a city contract to control traffic in Edmonton construction zones? Are there not enough unemployed people in this city to fill the inevitable positions that would come out of this?

I know flag people don’t each cost $100,000 per year. More money saved in the budget and hopefully some dangerous drivers off the road.

Citizen auditor: Alain Saffel volunteers

Maybe our city needs to start ripping apart a few departments at a time and make sure they’re doing things properly. I have cited only a few examples here that just don’t make sense. Maybe an outsider perspective is needed? I’d be happy to help out. I’ll be a citizen auditor. I’m sure there are plenty of people in the city who would also like that opportunity.

For those who are telling people to leave the city if they can’t handle a bit of winter, you’re missing the point. It’s about efficient allocation of resources, and there are legitimate questions about how the City of Edmonton allocates its resources. I would prefer that the City does not waste a single tax dollar, especially when they want to raise taxes again. Every citizen in this city has the right to hold our city councillors and the accompanying bureaucracy accountable for its actions.

I’m sure we can find plenty of money to save in these tough times, with a sharp pencil, creativity and a critical eye. Can I just ask for one teensie weensie little favour please?  Could we spend some of those savings on taking care of the sewer smell that seems to be so pervasive in this city?

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Alain Saffel

If I were to picture my ideal life, I’d be sitting in some far off land, sipping a coffee in a café, my backpack at my side, camera around my neck, motorcycle at the curb, pondering my next stop or maybe madly typing away on my laptop about my latest adventure.

5 thoughts on “Edmonton snow clearing & budget rant”

  1. Perhaps I should add one thing: if you chose not to vote in the last city election, maybe you don’t have a right to complain. I’m lucky. I wasn’t here at the time of the last election, so I have a You’re Allowed to Complain card on that one. :) I will be voting in the upcoming city council elections.

    1. you have my point Alain. We should ask our councile to dig deep into the Transportation department to see how do they spend our tax dollar in a smart way, not simply give away to contractors and give everybody in the department a rise with no reasons.

      1. Thanks for the input Phil. Always appreciated! :)

        I think they ought to do that with every city department to ensure our tax dollars are being spent efficiently. I heard that city spending has been rather brisk in recent years, with tax increases to accompany it.

  2. That’s what you get for voting back in a Mayor who is much more concerned with photo-ops, PR, Municipal Airport closure and pillaging, photo radar cameras, and building a new 100 billion dollar arena in downtown Edmonton (including cost over runs) in a place where it’s already so congested it takes 1 minute to travel 1 block, which is slower than a bicycle! Snow Removal should be the highest priority on the City’s list of things to do, and repairing and sealing the roads should be the second highest priority! Last year I paid almost $4000 in property taxes, and hundreds more in $4.00 an hour parking meter fees! Not to mention a few hundred more in photo radar tickets, in trying to make up for lost time after being stuck in traffic! Tell me, where did all that money go?! The new elementary school my kids go to doesn’t even have a playground for Christ’s sake! It’s so obvious that our city is run by a bunch of organized criminals who distribute the wealth among themselves, while all the working-class tax-paying people like you and I get gouged at every turn, and get next to nothing in real value for our hard earned tax dollars!!! Here’s an idea, put a roof on the Stadium and spend the other 950 million dollars on things we actually need!!!

    1. Hi Shawn, thanks for stopping by and commenting.

      Perhaps you noticed the date on this post? This was from last winter and I can’t take the blame for voting Mandel in 2007 because I didn’t live here then.

      On the other hand, while I did vote for Mandel this time, it was mainly a lesser of multiple evils kind of thing. I have written about the airport closure, of which I am in favour, and not because Mandel was pushing it. Let’s not overstate the case about Mandel. He’s one of 13 people on council. 1 vote.

      Fortunately the new arena some want will not be $100 billion, but “only” $500 million. My thought on that is that Daryl Katz can build it himself or get stuffed. If the Oilers leave because the city won’t build him a new arena, he will have proven himself to be a liar.

      Not sure why taxpayers should foot the bill for his arena from which he expects all the revenue. And they accuse people on welfare of having an entitlement mentality. If that’s what Katz expects, he can go fuck himself all the way to Hamilton or Quebec City.

      I am a fan of public transit, and Edmonton can do a much better job of it. Unfortunately Mandel (and I am critical of him for this) is pushing above ground, in-street LRT that is going to make things worse for drivers in Edmonton. Bus service could be improved though. LRT should be above the street or below it, but should not interfere with existing traffic.

      I’m with you on the photo radar. The city doesn’t really care if people slow down. They care if you do because revenues will drop. Don’t expect parking rates to drop, but increase. I simply avoid downtown as much as possible, to the detriment of downtown business.

      I agree about snow clearing. I’ve gone on and on about transportation in Edmonton but nothing happens. I don’t know who runs the transportation department but they ought to be fired. It’s amazing that a city this size can’t seem to get its shit together on transportation issues.

      As for a roof on the stadium, that would be a waste of taxpayer money.

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