Monday, January 23, 2006

Snow Removal in Montreal

This post and the next will regard the different ways that Montreal and Chicago deal with snow respectively. They are primarily to explain to those in the opposite city how things are done in each city.

One of the fascinating aspects about winters here in Montreal and many parts of Quebec is that the local governments actually cart away the snow instead of just plowing it to the side. It makes sense since the snow piles lining the streets would easily be ten feet high or more. Plus available parking would be greatly reduced along with the width of the streets. This is evident after each major snowfall. So here is a play by play of the snow removal process. Ed of Blork fame also wrote about it more eloquently for BootsnAll Travel a few years back. The difference is that I have pictures to show people back in Chitown. I've been wanting to do this since my first winter here. Anyhow, here's the drill.

Signs like the orange ones below are posted along the street to advise residents that they will be clearing the street during the specified 12 hour period and that parking is not allowed. They usually give 12 hours notice. At the beginning of the time period, tow trucks make their way down the street and blare a distinctive horn when they come upon a car. If no one comes out to move the car, it is towed away.

Once the street is cleared of cars, these mini-bulldozers push the snow from the sidewalks out to the street. These are the same mini-bulldozers that clear the sidewalks. Yes, those of you in Chicago, the city clears the sidewalks. No walking on shoe width icy snow packed footpaths.

Then construction graders and front-end loaders are used to pile the snow up into a nice ridge going down the street.

Then the queen mother of all snowblowers comes out. It is usually attached to the front of a truck or another piece of construction equipment. Following behind are an army of dump trucks all waiting to be filled with snow, dirt, pebbles, leaves, small deceased animals, or whatever else is buried in the snow.

So then the snowblower moves slowly down the street filling a dumptruck moving alongside until it is full and replaced. I've seen a few times now where 2 or 3 trucks are needed per block.

The snow is then carted away to dumping sites. I had seen them around town, but it took me a while to realize that these 3-story mountains were actually where the snow went. The one in our suburb is on average 20 feet deep and about the size of a football field by the end of the season. I would love to say that they don't melt until late July or that they become year-round resident glaciers. But in actuality, they melt away usually by the first of May.

So there you have it. That's the impressive (and expensive) method of snow removal here in Montreal. I'm really glad to have gotten this post written. It has been one that I really wanted to write from the beginning.


Paolo said...

I remember seeing some archival photos of early Montreal --- before cars --- and horse-drawn sleighs travelled on hard packed snow roads 12 to 15 feet high. All the shops on either side of the road were in trenches and people had to climb up and down to gain access.

Time have changed.

mrne said...

Two of my children went to boarding school in Ottawa. They brought home newly honed hockey skills and a vertiable fever for the game. But more interesting to their mother were the fairy tales about huge snowfalls being carted away in trucks. One could not fairly imagine that what they were reporting had any connection to reality. Granted they were more interested in regaling us with every minute detail of their hockey exploits and were not in the least focused on providing the details of how trucks came by and hauled the snow away lickety-split.

Blork said...

Until a few years ago, the dump trucks used to drive to the Concorde Bridge (that's the one that goes to the Casino on Isle St. Helene), and from there they would dump the snow in the river. However, this isn't exactly pristine snow -- it's full of salt, oil, grease, and all sorts of other junk, so they stopped doing that because it was polluting the river.

Frank said...

Wow! That's the most hits I've had in a day.

Paolo, I'd really like to see one of those photos and maybe find out what year they started doing it. I'll do some research and maybe post about it.

mrne, Yes, it is quite surprising for those of us from the midwest. I'll find out the difference in snowfall before the next post.

blork, Didn't know that about the Concorde bridge snow removal technique. The south shore suburb of St-Lambert gets fined every year by Environment Canada (or maybe Quebec) because their snow pile is directly across the 132 from the seaway. They claim the runoff goes into the seaway. Wonder why they don't just find another place for the pile.

the elder said...

I recall the big storm of 1967 here in the city of big shoulders where it was big news to cart off the snow in trucks. We had 23 inches in a short amount of time on a Thursday morning, we were released from school early and upon arrival home we already had over a foot of snow. I was a high school student and had a yen for the sciences including the weather. I developed a correspondence with the local TV weatherman and he gave my city snowfall and temperature reading on the air. I was the LBO, Lincoln Belmont Observer. During that storm my sister and her new groom drove in from San Diego non-stop trying to stay ahead of the storm. A milk truck became stuck in the snow and just openned his doors and gave away the milk , cheese and eggs.
It is interesting how the compassionate and concern for others side of people rise up during an emergency. I'm sure the folks in Montreal have similar stories from ice storms etc.
All in all, I have faith in people to do the right things to help others in time of need.

Frank said...

Yes, I hope to pass on that interest in science to my kids as you have with myself. Along with an appreciation for charity work like we did with Little Brothers of the Poor.

It is funny how I have already gotten so used to how much snow there is here. Shovelling the driveway every other day is not a big deal. Great for the biceps and shoulders.

Anonymous said...

This message brought back some nice memories of my 3 years in Montreal.

On one occasion, I wasn't home when the tow trucks came to clear the street ahead of the plow, and my car got taken away.

The best part was, though, that they just towed it around the corner and left it there, not at some municipal pound halfway across town.

I thought that was great.

Alex Epstein said...

12 hours notice on the signs? Hah! They have given me as little as 15 minutes notice. You just have to guess when they might post the damn signs.

Fortunately, they just tow the car around the corner, unlike in New York, where they tow the car to somewhere in Queens.

Jack Vinson said...

I have seen some snow removal in Chicago, but not on the scale you suggest for Montreal. After major snow, you will see parking lots in parks with piles of snow. I am pretty sure the side streets are left to fend for themselves.

Nancy said...

So in Montreal you get snow removal and street cleaning at the same time? Wow, that's cool. In Chicago when the snow melts (and you don't live in the high-tax, pro-active Alderman district of Lincoln Park) it has to really work its way to the sewers because of all the leaves left on the streets from fall.

What about salt and/or sand? In Chicago the Streets and San love to coat the streets with a nice layer of the salty stuff. If it was less snow than they expected, the snow melts from the center of the steet and the asphalt is white or light gray because of all the salt left. Sometimes if you're crossing the street after a car goes by you can actually taste the salt on your lips that is kicked up by the car (truly gross!).

Booth said...

Wow, they actually remove the snow during the day. I live right downtown and I suppose they never want to get in anyone's way so they wait until 4 am to start the removal. Somehow they have their own noise by-laws!

Michael said...

I recall reading somewhere that Montreal had the largest snow removal budget in the world.. and I'd believe it to. It is particularly nice that they just tow people's cars across the street, though.. and if you're lucky they are too lazy to even give you a ticket.

As far as salt goes, I've never seen anyone laying that down in Montreal, nor sand either. They just let it snow, let it snow, let it snow.. as the song goes.

Anonymous said...

I find it intriguing that arguably richer American cities haven't mastered or surpassed Montreal's snow removal techniques. Snow doesn't shut Montreal down, even though it's a much more relaxed and fungoing place than big American cities. One would think that big business would dictate, in the interest of not missing a moment for commerce, that the American cities facing cold weather would have snow removed in a just as efficient manner. Interesting...thoughts?

Anonymous said...

In theory, this is how Montreal clears its roads...ideally, this is how Montreal clears its isn't the reality though.
downtown, this is what they do. I live in the suburbs. I live on a major road, and all they have done is pushed the snow to the side. which means that there are snow banks 1m high and at least 1m wide all along the street. and the sidewalk haven't been cleared, the closest comes to the 6 inches of packed snow at the bus stop. which then requires hiking over the snowbank to get to the bus. its amusing watching senior citizens try to get on the bus.
Montreal snow clearing actually is controlled by the borough it's in (kind of like New York boroughs, but not as separate from each other. it's complicated)some boroughs, like the wealthy Westmount, and downtown, clear streets before the storm is over and all the snow is trucked away. other parts of the city, not so good at the snow clearing. and don't even get me started on snow in Montreal and the ways it effects public transport.

Anonymous said...

"What about salt and/or sand? In Chicago the Streets and San love to coat the streets with a nice layer of the salty stuff. If it was less snow than they expected, the snow melts from the center of the steet and the asphalt is white or light gray because of all the salt left."

Montreal uses a similar sort of sand/salt mixture that leaves the streets dry and white, like you described. It is in fact the final step in the above process.

The last comment is correct. They clear snow like gangbusters in some Burroughs, while others have to wait a few days. A new law limits drivers to a 72-hour work week, so if the crew reaches their cap before the end of the week, the rest of the snow has to wait.

They put this law in place after a girl was hit and killed by a snow plow two years ago. Driver fatigue was a factor in the accident.

Anonymous said...

We moved from New England to Trois Rivieres, Quebec, in 1964. Until some time in the 1950s they used horse drawn rollers to pack the snow. The streets could be six feet deep in packed snow. In our era, there was a complete snow removal system like you described. And during my four years at McGill (1967-1971) the snow removal was just as you described. In the downtown, it was too far to go to the river to dump, so the dumptrucks would go to various places on side streets where large doors opened into a heating unit so the snow was melted into the sewer.

peter martin said...

I lived in La Belle Province de Quebec... forty years ago, and I well remember the snow in Montreal then. Never seen anything like it! I went to a party with a friend of mine, and we left our old battered Volkswagen camper van parked outside.{as you do] Meanwhile we were having a ball, and forgot about the blizzard outside. Stumbling out on to Peel St later we couldn't find the van. It had been covered up by a snow plough; or maybe not. It might have been towed away. Can't rememeber. Its been forty years after all. It never snows in Ireland. The Gulf Stream keeps us warm, even though we are at a higher latitude than Montreal. The only solution therefore is to redirect the Gulf Stream!Are Canadian women still as beautiful as ever?

Anonymous said...

I live in Laprairie Quebec, city on the south shore of montreal. The snow removal process in the city of montreal is far better then the removal in smaller cities.

They have a budget for this snow removal each year.
Last year (2007-2008) we had record snowfalls which has not happened in years because we get colder temperatures instead. When it 's snowing temperatures that means that it's not that cold. Snow cannot form if temperatures are below -20C so that is not bad.

We normally get -40 -45 with wind for 2 months and that is a lot worse then snowfall IMO

We carry mini snow shovels that fit in the trunk, rock sand and tire traction aids as well ... but in certain places in the US, like Michigan and surronding states, they have 250 inches of snow !!!! That is a lot more then what we get, but that is because it does not drop in temperatures like here. -40C is -40F. Think about it. Not even the Windshield Wash works ...

next time you think it's bad in your area, temperature wise, click on this link and compare.

Jeannette Holman-Price said...

Congratulations and salutations many pedestrians have been killed in snow clearing operations in Chigaco this winter. In Montreal - so far - there have been FOUR. Four pedestrians killed at or near intersections. I am curious to find an actual figure for a state as diverse as Chicago - as I doubt the stats are as high as Montreal's. There are, of course, other factors at play. Although Chicago has a large population and similar winter conditions - Chicago also have laws in place to ensure that pedestrians are protected - unlike Montreal (Quebec) as a whole. Do you know that regardless of the causes of these incidents - the families will never be able to receive answers or accountability - In Quebec - the statement "I didn't see him(her)" is all that is necessary to negate blame and the circumstances will never be examined in a court of law due to Quebec's archaic traffic laws. You can learn more on Regards, Jessica's Mom

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Nice post with good photo. Looking heavy snow here. So we need snöslunga for this situation.

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