For the past couple of months, or basically since it’s started snowing I’ve been posting on Twitter and Facebook about Calgary’s snow removal…or lack there of. If you’re not from Calgary, it’s hard to not be in disbelief in just how bad it is.  That’s because, for some reason, Calgary has never made it a priority, despite it snowing here sometimes six months a year.

I moved to Calgary 12 years ago and I’ve honestly can’t believe just how bad it is.
But it’s not just that it’s bad. It’s incredibly mean-spirited.

Calgary’s snow removal strategy is based on the idea that everyone is in perfect health, have no children, have no pre-existing injuries, is young and fully able to move without the assitance of a walker or wheelchair.

So congrats, some people in high school!  The City has based their entire snow-strategy around you!

Snow removal is not just about snow removing, it’s about giving people the access to the sidewalks and road that we pay for.  For me, this issue is all about accessibility.   I’m not in a wheelchair, but I know people who are. I’m not a new parent, but I know people who are. I’m not a senior, but guess what, we’re all going to be someday, if we’re lucky.   

And Calgary’s snow-removal plan or lack there of, leaves thousands of our most vulnerable citizens at risk of injury or feeling trapped in their homes for months on end. Making things like work and even just getting fresh air, practically impossible.

Whenever the topic of snow removal comes up, one of the first things that comes up is not wanting to spend more money. I mean, sure. No one wants to spend more money on anything, but isn’t allowing our fellow citizens to be able to get to transit or leave their homes, kinda important and maybe worth spending some money on? We can’t just paint blue squares on parking spots and think we’ve taken care of accessibility. It’s much more than that, and Calgary is falling dreadfully behind.  Just because we’ve barely spent money on accessibility in the winter before, does that mean we never can?

And that idea of Calgary not willing to invest in accessibility, is no doubt being passed on to private businesses.

And I can’t help but think that anyone that thinks we shouldn’t spend money on snow removal will instantly change their minds when it affects them. When they become a new parent who wants to walk their baby in a stroller. Or when they injure themselves and have to try and get around on crutches or a wheelchair. Just because it’s not an issue for you, doesn’t mean it’s not an issue for your fellow Calgarian.  No one falls on an icy sidewalk, injures themselves and thinks “That’s okay, I’d rather a broken leg than pay more taxes.”

And staying on the topic of money, fine, maybe we don’t spend an extra penny on snow removal, even though it’s the snowiest February on record.  Why can’t we at least look at where we are wasting money?

The City of Calgary has a seven-day snow removal program, which I don’t have to tell you, is pretty much a disaster. The snow-route ban is about as effective as when my mom tried to ground me as a kid. Which is to say, not effective at all.  The routes don’t make much sense, and then the clock completely resets if it snows another 2cms.  So even if you’re lucky enough to be on the snow removal route, but you’re Day 7, you might now see a plow for weeks or months. And what about all the streets and sidewalks that will never get serviced? Well, they just have to wait for chinooks.

Ah chinooks. Is Calgary the only city whose main strategy to deal with weather is to wait for weather?

The chinooks are fine if you want to sit on a patio and have a pint in January, but for removing weeks worth of snowfall? Not so much. One, because all they do is melt just enough snow for it to turn into ice when it dips below zero and again.

And two: What if a chinook isn’t in the forecast?

On a semi-related note, I find it funny that many who thought we shouldn’t have bike lanes because it snows in Calgary six months a year, who also don’t want to invest in snow removal because it only snows in Calgary six months a year.

For me, the problem becomes extremely apparent when it comes to using the Calgary 311 system, which City Hall would like us to use to report snow-clearing issues. Ask anyone who’s reported something on the app and the problems become hard to ignore.  The app will close files, even though the work is not complete. Or they simply don’t even acknowledge the complaint in the first place.

I was shocked a few weeks ago when I made a complaint about a crosswalk that had been filled with snow and someone responded saying that Crosswalks are the lowest priority. I’m sorry, is that an official City of Calgary policy? So having us report time and time again things that should just be done in the first place, continues to waste money that maybe just be put towards snow removal to being with.

Then there’s the actual snow removal. For one, when a plow does come, it doesn’t seem to have any regard for crosswalks or sidewalks, so then people like me end up reporting them. But thousands of Calgarians depend on sidewalks and crosswalks to live. Again, to live.

So you report a crosswalk (wasted money), then they send out a crew (wasted money), the crew clears only the part of the crosswalk that was reported without looking around at the three other crosswalks in the intersection (wasted money), so then I have to report each crosswalk individually and even if the crews come back (wasted money), they have to do it all over again when it inevitably snows (wasted money.)  It also doesn’t allow you to talk to anyone that actually closed the file, meaning that when the work isn’t done, there’s even more wasted money.

So where does the money to improve snow clearing come from? We’re already wasting it.

If you’d like to read some interesting numbers about the actual cost of snow removal in Calgary, CBC’s Robson Fletcher excellent story which breaks in all down. But the story doesn’t address my biggest concern about our snow removal, and that’s how it limits the accessibility of some of Calgary’s most vulnerable.  The City’s administration likes to scare us with big scary numbers but it doesn’t take into very important things:  We aren’t all able bodied and why does it have to be all or nothing?  What if we paid $10 million more?  Or $15 million more? What does spending more get us?  Because waiting for chinooks or being asked to just be patient, isn’t working.


The crews that do work on Calgary’s snow-removal team do not have an enviable job. They work their butts off in the cold and at all hours of the night, but they are doing the best they can, with what little they have.  Departments are not talking to each other, and in many cases, causing more work than what’s necessary. But, hardly anyone at city hall wants to talk about it.

All we can do is keep asking questions, because winter isn’t going anywhere.  As much we wish it were.


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Mike Morrison


  1. I’m not in a wheelchair and don’t use a walker, and I’m having a terrible time with snow piled up on curbs and walkways. I lived in Manitoba where they know what to do with snow, they remove it, from everywhere. In Calgary they push it aside. My garage floods from the incleared lane and when I park my car I can’t get up the curb leaving me to have to walk in the street until I can find the corner and climb up over that. It’s bad alright.i really feel for those with any disabilities.

  2. I am in a wheelchair (power) and was denied the use of handi bus service as I have ability to get on and off city buses without assistance. However in winter one can not get through the streets to get to a city bus because of sidewalks not shovelled, access to sidewalks are not cleared and accessible. But even more than that because I live on a street that is a cul de sac and a dead end means my street has not even been plowed or cleared even once all winter. Calling 311 is useless. A week ago I was tired of being shut up in my house so called for a wheelchair cab to go to church. It was there within minutes but when I called to go home nothing. I called to check on its where abouts 3 times and 3 hours later was still sitting waiting and when I complained was told they did not have any wheelchair accessible cabs available and it could be much much longer before they could get to me. I tried to tell them they were locking the church and I would have to wait outside in the cold and the response was we will get someone there when we can and you will just have to sit outside freezing while you wait. I finally sound some young people who loaded me into a car, then my chair into someones truck and took me home. On the way home with in 5 blocks we passed 3 wheelchair accessible cabs all with poeple not in wheelchairs and I tried to complain and was told they can not force the drivers to take someone in a wheelchair if there was someone else in the area they were and I would just have to learn some patience. Come on people 3 hours and telling you to sit outside and wait in the feezing cold for who knows how long in not realistic. The city simply does not care. I did not ask to be hit by a car while in a crosswalk with a walk light because a driver was in a hurry and did not want to wait for me to be out of the way. I did nothing and never asked to be in a wheelchair and the way we are treated being handicapped is just wrong. We are people to and deserve the same as anyone else

  3. It’s easy to jump to the ”spend more” conclusion. That usually works. But is that prudent? Ramping up our workforce readiness for the worst case snowfall scenario may not be affordable. Understanding that we should have different priorities when an unusual snow occurs is key. Let’s learn from this challenging season. Let’s where we can improve and increase spending only where absolutely needed.

  4. LOL !!!!

    If he thinks it is bad he obviously wasn’t here before Nenshi fixed it.

    Under Bronconnier there was no snow removal at all.

  5. Why does nobody want to talk about this? The true answer to this most Calgarians can’t handle. Something I won’t mention here.

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