Toronto's Interactive Snow Plow Tracker Finally Gets Put to Use
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Toronto’s Interactive Snow Plow Tracker Finally Gets Put to Use

Plow TO shows snow removal in real time.

You may have gone all winter without snow tires and a windshield scraper, but as demonstrated by Tuesday morning’s snowfall we aren’t in the clear yet.

The slick and sloppy conditions can make for a dicey commute, and worse, a sense of defeat against the elusive winter 2016. But for the City of Toronto Winter Maintenance crew, the icy mess provides a silver lining—it means they finally get to showcase their interactive snow plow map.

Plow TO lets the public track the progress of the city’s winter maintenance fleet on roads and sidewalks across the city. You can watch plows and salters, nearly 1,000 of them, working away directly on the map, while the legend on the left shows which streets have been plowed and/or salted, and how long ago. The map can be useful for planning your route, by showing which uncleared streets to avoid.

The app is something council and City staff have been pushing for a number of years now, says Stephen Buckley, General Manager of Transportation Services. “For any winter event, we get dozens of calls—folks saying ‘my road hasn’t been treated, the snow plow hasn’t come,’” he told Torontoist in an interview. “This [app] gives the public the sense of if or when they’ve been there. They can see the time frames, and they can monitor this themselves and have access to the information without having to contact the city.”

While snow removal may seem slow and chaotic to anyone skidding or trudging their way through the storm, there’s a regimented process involved in clearing the streets. As soon as the snow starts, salters are sent to main roads and expressways. Once the snow reaches five centimetres, the city deploys plows to the same roads, which work until the snow stops. Local streets don’t get plowed until after the snow stops, and only if snowfall reaches eight centimetres. You may have to wait 14 to 16 hours after the storm before your street is cleared.

There’s about $85 million earmarked for snow removal and winter maintenance in 2016. It may seem like overkill, given that there have only been two snowfalls this year that required plowing, but as Buckley points out, it’s still possible we’ll get hit with bad weather the end of this winter and the beginning of next.

It’s also important to note that only a quarter of that budget actually goes towards clearing the streets; the other 75 per cent pays for salaries and keeping vehicles on alert for when there is snow or ice.

Buckley stresses that it’s early days for Plow TO, and that the City is encouraging user feedback to factor into an updated version of the app in the near future.