Friday, February 24, 2012

Snow Removal on Kent

One night back in January, I happened upon a snow removal crew on Kent Street. I had a few minutes to spare, so I stuck around to watch and take photos. It's quite a feat of choreography, which happens several times each winter on Centretown's main roads, and at least once or twice per winter on our narrow side streets, too. With a decent snowstorm forecast, today seems like a good time to post these photos.

A day or so prior to the snow removal, temporary signs are stuck into the snowbanks prohibiting parking between 7pm and 7am (or 7am and 7pm). Right before the crews come by, a truck will collect most of these signs for re-use.

The process documented here, which spans about 20 minutes, starts with a loader, which moves much the snow away from the larger surfaces along the curb. All of this happens while traffic continues to flow, although since it's generally done in the middle of the night, the traffic is light.

A smaller plow goes around after the loader to get snow out of the smaller corners on the sidewalks. In the foreground, a coating of ice on the hydro pole cast a neat reflection of the light.

Once the snow has been moved into the roadway, a grader comes by to push the snow into the middle of the road. It takes a few passes to get at all of the snow.

Behind it, a second grader pushes the snow into a straight line in the middle of the road for the blower truck. A few inattentive motorists have snuck in behind it from a cross street, not realizing that they would be boxed in by the snowbanks and various large vehicles.

The blower fills up the dump trucks pretty quickly. This one was just pushing off after it filled up. You can see the puffs of smoke that blasted up out of its exhaust pipes. All the while, cars continue to go by (at least on this side of the snowbank)

This one was a double dump truck, as were the two after it. At the intersection, where the windrow was shorter, the truck crossed over it to speed off to the snow dump.

Two and a half minutes after the last one filled up, the next double dump truck was full. Between trucks, the blower operator points the stream of snow forward.

And then the third truck comes through. A few others linger around to watch the action; the truck is close enough now that to start to get a good look at it. The snow is thrown straight up with so much force that the chute doesn't need a bottom.

The truck that pushes the blower mechanism is an interesting one. I'd never taken a close look at it, though there are other varieties. It isn't moving too fast, but fast enough that I couldn't get a clear exposure of it.

The operation only works when there's a constant supply of empty dump trucks lined up to move into position when the one ahead of it is filled. Sometimes there are multiple crews working in the neighbourhood, and there are dump trucks everywhere on streets that normally wouldn't see them. In addition to the double dump trucks seen previously, there are a variety of other shapes and sizes. Anything to keep the show going! They often turn off their headlights, which can be annoying when they forget to turn them back on once they're full.

Once the trucks have passed, the street isn't squeaky clean, but the remaining snow tends to be worn away by the passing vehicles over the subsequent few days.

The amount of snow cleared in this run wasn't too much. In fact, we've had a pretty light winter as far as snowfall is concerned. For contrast, here's a video I took during the snow removal after that big one we had in March 2008, the year we nearly had a record snowfall in Ottawa. The giant loader has a plow blade attached to the front of it that's the size of a car:

Crews have been removing snow from Centretown's streets for over a hundred years, originally with shovel crews and horse-drawn sleighs. In addition to that post, URBSite has more vintage photos of snow plowing and removal in Centretown. The task is much more advanced in the 21st century.

Thanks to the hard work of these night crews, Centretown's streets and sidewalks are passable in the winter, and there's room at the edges of the road to store the next dumping of snow, which might not come for another month or might come the next day!


  1. I always enjoy this spectacle. They've only done it once this year so I guess that's the proof we've had an easy winter (raging snow as I type though). Nice post.

  2. Yet another great post. It was very different in the past. The automobile lobby pushed for TOTAL snow removal - maybe they should pay for it?