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. Mike, I’ve been agreeing with this for years, before you even raise the issue. The bottom mine is that that Calgary is an immature city that is STILL to affected by conservative morons that suffer from anal glaucoma (ie, “remove your head from your ass”. It could also be called “Klein-ism”. After twenty plus years I’ve realized that this city will NEVER grow up, will NEVER be first class, so long as it remains in the ass-backwards province of Alberta. Your only solution my friend, is to move.

  2. Having spent the past 4 years trying futility to have a pedestrian underpass cleared before it melts and turns into a ski slope of death, only to have a machine show up and push things around without actually REMOVING any snow or preventing the problem, THIS. SO HARD THIS.

  3. I agree. Snow removal in Calgary is abysmal! I have lived in a number of cities, big and small, and they all do a far better job with removing large amounts of snow. The ice that builds on the streets and sidewalks is so dangerous. The length of time it takes for snow removal is unacceptable. Anyone that visits me during the winter from outside the province is shocked at how horrible it is. And, a little salt on our roads would go a long way to preventing hundreds of accidents and injuries.
    If it is this bad for able bodied, I have incredible sympathy for those with disabilities. Calgary, you can and should do better.

  4. It’s *us*, Mike; people. Even within the organization of the “City” there is such a vast difference between ‘who’ is driving the snow-removal equipment, and sadly the Low Bars outnumber the High Bars.
    And it’s not just snow, either. ‘People’ who work construction do the exact same thing – between Enmax and a nearby construction site, the signage and equipment has been an additional barrier in my community, and it’s the workers themselves who are being so negligent, the actual citizens who are employees working their shifts.
    It’s the very same thing with businesses and apartments/condos downtown – there is a condo across the street from me that has 2 guys who do the snow, and it is those guys who put the snow in the intersection part of the sidewalk, clear only a narrow pathway on the sidewalk so pedestrians have to step aside to pass each other; they have proactively put/created the barriers. Same with the business across the alley – the staff at the business have to climb over the same barriers we do and that store pays for snow removal services, yet their reaction is about the same as described about The City…
    This will continue as long as WE are okay with it :'(

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