Better snow removal

If it weren’t for the private building owners of Constitution Square, Minto Place, and others, the downtown sidewalks would have been worse — totally impassable — during the recent snowfall.

Many larger buildings have small tractors and dispatched their maintenance crews to clear the sidewalks. Some of that is their self interest, but like Adam Smith noted, their self interest benefits the public too.

I have noticed numerous online stories in the past few years about the proliferation of heated sidewalks and plazas in Chicago and other cities. Initially installed for labour saving reasons, and as a convenient feature for tenants who somehow fail to dress for winter, they proved a hit. Here is one in Ottawa:


Claridge’s condos downtown have nice, usable entry sidewalks during snowfalls. This is especially convenient in front of the Sobey’s Urban Fresh outlet (which if you haven’t been in, has an amazingly large selection of food without boutique prices). My biggest regret is that most of the heated area is on the private property and only a tich of it is on the curbside sidewalk.


Montreal is in the process of installing some heated sidewalks. Regrettably, they are simply burying wires in the concrete, a system prone to failure due to salt water seepage (viz, electrically heated stair treads at Carling OTrain Station). Electric resistance heating is just under 100% efficient, which is bad.

Much more efficient is heat pump technology, which is about 400% efficient. It is much more efficient to move existing heat around than to create heat from scratch. For larger buildings, it is possible to move the heat from the downtown air or from waste air exhaust ports and use it to heat a brine solution in plastic tubes in the sidewalk.

Lets go back and linger on those heated sidewalks by Claridge, at the end of the snowstorm:


No huge snow banks to climb over. Dry. Ice free, for good footing. When the sun shone, the space was actually warm and pleasant. I saw people eyeing the outdoor picnic tables.

For keeners, you can buy heated stair tread pads today for your front porch. Low voltage, can be connected to a small solar panel too. I vaguely recall seeing these on someone’s house in Ottawa South (Barry Hobin’s maybe?).

In the US, you can buy coco matt runners for porches and stairs that have electric wires woven in, to keep your entry footing safe.

If these grow in popularity, and if eventually solar powered mats for downtown driveways come into popularity, the city could save a bundle in not trucking away snow banks.

Well, we can dream.

12 thoughts on “Better snow removal

  1. I agree that heated terraces are great, but the problem with the one pictured here is that the snow melts, and the only place for the water to go is onto the sidewalk (or no where at all in extreme snowfalls), where it then freezes, making the sidewalk a skating rink and completely unsafe. With the large snowbank blocking the water from draining away, this is not a great design. There needs to be a method added to allow for water drainage at this site. Living a block away from this site (and observing this site along during the past week), it turned into a lake, then an ice rink. Unfortunate oversight, is all. Hoping for a design upgrade to allow for snow-melt drainage.

      1. The sidewalk is not heated nearly enough to evaporate the snow – it simply melts it. Then the large snowbank between the sidewalk and the road acted as a dam to keep the water in. The entrance to the Sobey’s grocery store was a slush-lake, and the sidewalk is still (Feb 19th) covered in ice and very perilous to walk on (still has not been salted or cared for by the condo owners). It is great that small amounts of snow will melt, but large amounts of snow just create water that freezes on the public sidewalk. It just lacks proper drainage.

        1. I lived in a basement apt on Preston with heated stairs leading to my door. There was no drain and no water accumulation so I always assumed the snow was evaporating.

      2. I’m not sure whether the owners of the condo have made a note of this problem, or it is someone else, but about half of the ice has been chipped off the public sidewalk in recent days. Thank you to whoever this is. It has been looking better since I made my comments. I walk on this public sidewalk twice every day. Please continue to chip off more ice, whoever it is!

  2. “Montreal is in the process of installing some heated sidewalks. Regrettably, they are simply burying wires in the concrete.”

    I think Montreal is still evaluating which technology to use.

    Also, an excerpt from a discussion of the 2.2 km of heated sidewalks to be installed along Ste-Catherine:

    “This isn’t to melt a foot of snow, it’s to make sure the snow doesn’t pile up.

    Snow often falls lightly, but then accumulates over time. If the light snow can be melted as it falls (and assuming the water flows off the sidewalk), then relatively little power is needed. So this will handle much of the snow. No waiting for it to accumulate to bring out the plows. It’s a major pedestrian artery, yet we suffer because it’s not cleared immediately.

    Don’t forget, the sidewalk plow generally just pushes to the side, leaving only a small portion of the sidewalk useable during the winter. Outside Alexis Nihon Plaza this winter, the sidewalk on Atwater was fine, but if crossing at the mid-block light, there was an ice field to cross. Dangerous, and I assume that won’t build up with heated sidewalks.

    The most treacherous is when it rains in winter, but turns to ice on the ground. So you get a thin and often invisible coating of ice, you don’t notice and suddenly you’re falling. Visible ice patches at least give warning.

    Heating the sidewalks means the rain won’t turn to ice on the ground. And no waiting for salt or sand to be spread.

    This doesn’t have to eliminate all plowing. It can still be useful if it means plows don’t have to come out for small amounts of snow, or to spread salt.

    If they don’t have to lay salt or sand, they don’t have to deal with the aftermath, though that’s limited since the roads will still get salt or sand.”

    1. ottawaowl: thank you for more info on Montreal. I picked up my info from news sources whilst in Montreal this past summer when it was announced, no doubt making a hash of the french texts.

  3. As I went home on Tuesday along Wellington and then Preston, my normal 25 minute walk took an hour. I took note of which businesses along the route shovelled in front of their storefronts (and I will shop there in the future) and which didn’t. A friend from Calgary can’t believe people in Ottawa are so lazy that they don’t clear the sidewalks themselves. It’s required there, so never buy a corner lot. But seriously, it wouldn’t have been difficult to keep the sidewalks mostly clear if every business had done their part.

    1. Jane – totally agree. For decades, I had a storefront in downtown Ottawa, and we had a snow shovel, to push snow off the sidewalk between plow runs, or when it got sloppy. Then I moved to another landlord, and discovered his janitorial staff would do anything for crown royale, and never shovelled again.

    2. I think people in Ottawa live in a bubble when we had the 51 cm people were saying plows should be on the roads when the first snow flake hits the ground.

  4. I lived in Toronto for years and residents are required by law to shovel the sidewalks in front of their home. Even if rent a house it’s still your obligation. (I never had a landlord materialize and do it for me. But Toronto usually gets far less snow than we do and isn’t equipped for snow removal like we are. Remember last winter when it never stopped snowing? There’s no way I could have kept up with the shovelling.
    Now Eric- I think Sobey’s on Metcalfe is probably the most expensive major grocery store in the city. Handsome and stylish it’s priced for the chic upscale condo owners.
    I used to think Hartman’s was expensive. A dollar here, fifty cents there it adds up quickly to a large bill. The new owners have even stopped selling ballonie at the deli! They sell only more sophisticated cuts now. Where do people in Centretown on budgets shop? Not in their own neighbourhood.

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