Winter can be rough for bike commuters and recreational riders, especially in an area with unpredictable winter weather. We’ve already written our guide for winter cycling, and now, here is everything we think you might need to know about snow clearing of bike lanes and trails throughout Kitchener and Waterloo as of February 2019.
1. While many roads throughout KW are owned by the region, snow clearing is mostly done by the cities. So, unless your complaint is about a pothole, direct all concerns (or compliments) to the city of the road you are on. (If you’re not sure where you are, you’re certainly not alone. If you live on or near a border street, you may actually need to contact the opposite municipality. Check out the list of border streets).
2. Before you complain, you should know that snow clearing is typically done to a minimum standard set out by the province of Ontario.
In Waterloo, that means roads and bike lanes only need to be cleared when a certain amount of snow falls (usually 5cm or 8cm depending on the road), and only up to 24 hours after the snowfall ends. They also don’t need to be cleared down to the pavement (even though that’s the standard for sidewalks 🤔). Finally, they only need to be cleared 1 metre into the bike lane. So, this photo of Columbia street is actually cleared to the standards set out by the province, even though it wouldn’t be super fun to bike in.
3. If there are large piles of snow in the bike lane, or other snow clearing issues, feel free to tweet about it @citywaterloo, but the Waterloo Roads department would prefer an email to firstname.lastname@example.org with the exact location and time. In Kitchener, you can call the Corporate Contact Centre at 519-741-2345, or you can tweet @citykitchener or email email@example.com.
4. In general, roads are cleared based on a priority system, which impacts bike lanes as well as the rest of the road surface. In Kitchener you can find their priority map here. Waterloo has a bit of information about their snow clearing practices here.
5. Current snow clearing practices mean that snow is often left on the side of the road, which sometimes is within the bike lane – when possible it is loaded away later, but it’s cheaper if it can be stored on the boulevard throughout the winter. The latest budget from the city of Kitchener (Operating budget, O-124) stated that there were 126km of on-road bike lanes in the city, but 33km do not have boulevard storage for snow and therefore are not maintained throughout the winter. So, the city identified 11km of those to ensure proper clearing next winter, at a cost of $300,000. Which means that this year your complaints about Margaret Ave won’t really go anywhere, but next year hopefully it’ll be cleared in a timely manner!
6. If there is snow in the bike lane at a bus stop, you can fill out the GRT feedback form with the location and time of concern.
7. Items 1-4 were mainly about on-road bike facilities. While on-road bike lanes are cleared by the Roads departments, trails/separated bike lanes are cleared by the Parks departments. These departments have different types of equipment, with large plows only in the Roads department, and little ones in Parks. If you want to know which trails Waterloo clears, here’s a handy map. For separated bike lanes like in Uptown, the current practice is that Roads clears with the wing of their plow, and Parks cleans it up after with the small plows. This only works in theory, as there have been cars parked in the bike lanes all winter; once the bollards are installed along King St. we should see better bike lane clearance in Uptown.
Next winter might be interesting as both cities install protected bike lanes and figure out how to keep them clear of snow. Waterloo is looking into snow sweepers for future years, but we might need to be patient as other kinks are worked out in 2019-2020. For the most part, Parks is doing a great job of keeping key trails clear down to the pavement! We want to celebrate the trails staff in the future, so if you’re interested in contributing financially to that initiative, please email us.
8. If you disagree with the minimum standard, and would like to complain about the state of bike lanes even though they’re “technically” to code, send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or tweet @cycle_wr. We’ve started talking to Waterloo about the possibility for priority routes so that people who bike know that, for instance, University is cleared, while Columbia isn’t. Snow clearing is an expensive process, and in an ideal world we’d have fully cleared bike lanes everywhere… No wait, we’d not just have cleared on-road lanes, we’d have protected bike lanes everywhere. And drivers would always respect people on bikes. (And basically we’d all live in Copenhagen, and we’d happily be paying much higher taxes).
If you live outside of KW or regularly travel through Waterloo Region, check the websites for the townships and Cambridge for more information. And if you have any questions about winter biking in Waterloo Region, let us know and we’ll help find the answers! Or, let us know if you have any info you think should be added to this list.