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February 2009
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Please Stop Clearing Our Rural Highways

This weekend I headed back up again to Southern Ontario ski country, Collingwood, Ontario. And typical for when I drive I got to go through some nasty weather and what I saw out there scared me; between the drivers and the snow plows.

Ontario snowplowing – Does it Work?

Back in December I wrote an article comparing the snow maintenance methods of Quebec and Ontario. I stated then that I thought Quebec was far superior to Ontario for their snow clearing methods and stand by what I wrote. This weekend reminded me why Ontario does not ‘get it.’

Sunday was a beautiful ski day; warm weather (the temperature hovered around 0 deg), blue bird skies and not a drop of precipitation to be seen. This did mean that some of those snow banks were melting, which in turn created some very thick and treacherous ice on the roads. As my friend, Laurissa, and I ventured home we watched a snow-plow go by on the opposite side of the road and actually make the driving conditions worse.

The plow went by and exposed all the ice below the snow surface.

Quebec mandates that all cars are equipped with snow tires, in Ontario we have not even considered such legislation. But when the plow went by it exposed thick ice on the road and placed no sand or salt where it had just cleared. Instead of leaving a snow covered road it left and ice covered road. Laurissa commented that in Manitoba they leave the snow and add sand, which seems like a much more logical, safe, and environmentally safe thing to do.

The drivers made things worse.

As our drive continued we encountered areas that had just been snow plowed, which meant there was thick, shiny, slippery ice in front of us. Leaving a safe distance I watched the reaction of the cars around us. And I’m glad I did. The driver in front of us slammed on the brakes as they approached the ice. Slamming on your brakes is about the worst thing you can do in slippery conditions; the tires lock up, you lose control of the vehicle and typically spins and slides result. The car in front of us almost did a full spin into on coming traffic. I elected to drive on the snowy shoulder and use my transmission to slow me down.

We made it home safely; it just took a lot longer. But it was again a reminder that not only do our snow-plows make the road worse but some of the drivers out there make for very dangerous driving conditions.

Comments

Comment from Ed Ratz
Time February 6, 2009 at 2:10 pm

Sasha:

There are many reasons why Manitoba can leave their snow on the roads and dish out a small amount of sand for traction. The daily average temp in Winnipeg is -13C vs. Toronto’s -1C. Toronto (not this year) has an average of 5 days of rain in January vs. Winnipeg’s 1 day. Winnipeg has 18 cm of ground cover snow compared to Toronto’s January average of 7 cm. The wet snow in Toronto is warmer than the powder in Winnipeg.

The arguments against not salting can be seen in Seattle who has introduced a so-salt policy. There challenge lies with getting emergency vehicles, including ambulances and the police who get out of their vehicles and walk because they are unable to negotiate icy hills.

Sand-gravel mixtures, like what’s used in Manitoba, work as long as the temperatures don’t fluctuate anywhere near freezing as they do in Southern Ontario. Chains and studded tires are reserved for zones of Canada with far greater snowfall.

I too would support a mandatory requirement for snow tires in Ontario. Snow tires don’t get you through snow, unless studded; they improve your traction on ice, the very conditions that Southern Ontario constantly battles. I’m not sure why the Ministry of Transportation has yet to consider also reducing the speed on our road-ways by 10 km on major roads and 15 on all secondary roads during the winter months-thus giving drivers more time to react to sudden changes in road conditions. Drivers should pay more attention to areas of shade and bridges during winter driving.

Comment from sasha
Time February 11, 2009 at 2:23 pm

I guess with this post I was thinking more rural than urban. My most dangerous driving is up in toward the Collingwood area, which is usually significantly colder than the Toronto area.
Although completely unrealistic I wish there were winter and summer licenses and only those that qualified and could prove they could drive in the various conditions could have a winter license.
I think your idea of lowering the speed limits in the winter is fantastic! Thanks for the great thinking