Blurt: Seven Days Staff Blog

NOTE: Blurt has been retired and is no longer updated regularly. For new content, follow these links:

OFF MESSAGE: Vermont News and Politics
BITE CLUB: Food and Drink Blog

« Alice Eats: The Shed Restaurant and Brewery | Main | James Beard Foundation Is Sweet on VT »

March 22, 2011

Operation Snow Removal: Montréal Edition

Snowremoval On a recent trip to Montréal, I was reminded of some of the many reasons our neighbors to the north are far supérieur to our sorry selves here in Canada Minor. For one, they know their way around a pastry like nobody's biz. I could eat my way through the city's many boulangeries and die happy, not to mention 800 pounds overweight. 

For two, they know how to get rid of snow. And not the way we get rid of snow here — by pushing it into some guy's driveway. They literally pick up the snow using special Québecois snow fairies and take it to some secret lair where little hobbits filter out the dog pee and cigarette butts and brew it into delicious alcoholic beverages.

But really, the Montréal snow-removal machine is a thing of beauty, and something to see if you ever get the chance. The city is world famous for this winter ritual. About five times a year, depending on the snowfall, each of the city's 19 boroughs conduct massive, days-long snow-removal operations involving 2200 vehicles and 3000 city personnel. The snow doesn't just get plowed there — it gets picked up and carted away so that it looks as if it never snows there at all.

To see photos of this spectacle, check out the "Montréal Snow Removal" Flickr results here.

According to the Ville de Montréal website, the highly orchestrated snow removal requires snow blowers, graders, sidewalk tractors, front-end loaders, pickup trucks and snow-dump trucks, which are basically 18-wheelers with open trailers. Yes, that's a lot of fossil fuel devoted to clearing the way for cars, but it's also making way for bus traffic and those insane year-round cyclists. So, it's only partially objectionable for carbon crusaders.

Here's roughly how it works: After a large snowfall, say, around 20 centimeters, or 7 to 8 inches, the city brings out the big guns. Large riding snow blowers with monster, snorkle-like attachments are deployed to the streets and sidewalks. An armada of semis drives next to the blowers, which shoot snow into the trucks' trailers. They're all moving at a snail's place to get every last flake of snow off the ground. Then the snow is hauled to one of 29 disposal sites around the city. Those dumping grounds include 12 snow dumps, 16 sewer chutes and one quarry. From there, the snow is treated and put into the river. 

On average, the city removes between 13 and 13.5 cubic meters of snow, or 17 to 17.6 million cubic yards, for you not on the metric system. That's 375,000 truckloads, or, as that measures out in U.S. terms, a fucking shit-ton. If you lined up 375,000 trucks full of snow (and trash and dog poop), they would stretch more than 4000 miles, or roughly the distance between Vermont and Anchorage, AK.

Here in Burlington, we definitely don't do anything close to such epic snow removal. First off, we're tiny. Montréal is nine times the size, by area, of our little burg. Secondly, our city's population is roughly equivalent to Anjou, one of Montréal's smallest boroughs. Are all these facts and figures blowing your mind? Just sit tight, because there's more where they came from.

Just for fun, here's a little side-by-side comparison of our deux villes:   

  Montreal Burlington
Population 1.6 mil. 42,417
Area (in square miles) 141 15.5
Miles of road 2547 90
Miles of sidewalk 4069 150
Snow disposal sites 29 1
Employees needed per storm 200-3000~ 14-50+
Vehicles including sidewalk
plows and plow trucks
2200 28
Tons of salt used 137,000 3604
Cars towed during parking bans 25,000 959
Average annual snowfall 86 inches 80 inches
Total annual snowfighting budget $146 mil. $789,000


The point of this comparison is only to show how much awesomer the Canadians are than us. It's completely unfair to hold our snow-removal system up to theirs — like comparing apples to beef Wellington. But it's nice to dream about a day when 8-foot walls of snow don't prevent me from leaving my house for a week. And it's nice to dream about a day when all of Burlington's neighborhoods are cleared of snow with the same frequency and sense of urgency. (Yes, Burlington DPW, I'm talking about the Old North End. The sidewalks in my neighborhood were never once cleared after the last snowstorm, which was only the biggest March snow event on record.)

So, until enough cash drops in Burlington's lap to fund a multimillion-dollar snow-eradication program, I guess we'll just have to be happy with our current system for dealing with the white (now gray) stuff: spring.

Put the pastry down and buy a shovel.

The snow removal is awesome, but what I really want to know is how come every corner store even in Toronto is able to make a croissant only a hair less good than they do in France, and in the U.S. even good bakeries put out crescent-shaped yech they falsely call "croissant." How hard can it be to do it right?

Also to note is that the streets, at least the new ones, in most Canadian cities are built so that poles and fire hydrants and other obstructions are not in the road or sidewalk but further away from the street. Hence the plows have a clear run at the snow without having to go around anything. You might also notice that most parking is off the street, so no cars either.

By the way, the water they use from the snow removal is only used in brewing exported beer.

Sorry, Lauren. Snow removal in Montreal sucks mightily. I live there half-time, not particularly far from downtown in the very trendy Plateau borough. Typically, snow is removed from my street 5-6 days after it falls.

The fire hydrants are recessed from the streets, but not for the reason you mention. The farther they are recessed from the street, the more difficult they are for motorists to see. At 52$ a pop, the parking tickets generate much of Montreal's operating revenue.

I don't know where you get the notion that most parking is off the street. That simply isn't true.

But does Montreal have a kick ass Telecom Utility?

This is entirely false. Cities all over vermont do the same thing, albiet on on select streets. Its not unique to Montreal or Canada. The tiny little City of Newport picks snow off of Main St. Lauren you need to get out of BTV and realize there is much more to VT, and that BTV, especially regarding DPW is not the norm. GoodeKinde has his so far up his butt he isn't sure when it's snowing or sunny. Makes it difficult knowing when to send out the plows. Moreover, cash is also an issue, since Montreal isn't over an entire years revenue in debt due to a failing telecom system they have funds to spend on actual services.

Interesting (but kind of depressing) article.

Montpelier has one of those giant snow blowers as well. Same machine, same process.

In this comparison, it looks to me like Burlington is clearly superior.

Montreal is 9 times larger by area, 38 times larger by population, has 28 times more roads, spends 185! times more money, uses 38 times more salt, tows 26 times more cars, for about the same amount of snow. Their system seems amazingly resource intensive, in money and salt, and probably in fossil fuels and traffic interference, which we can assume correlate with the other figures.

Doing less makes Burlington superior? I guess we're superior at a lot of things, then.

Sorry but this is entirely false. Did you base it on research or interviews with either Montreal snow-removal experts or Montreal residents?

The fact is, snow removal is a ridiculously slow process here in Montreal. Often, it (finally) happens up to a week (!) after a major storm. This results in a nightmare of parking spots lost to piles of ice and snow, late arrivals to work/school and a general feeling of municipal mayhem. Seriously, it totally messes up daily life. And, on a personal note, it makes me miss Vermont.

Please research next time.

Anecdotal but first-hand: I was stuck in Montréal by an unexpected mid-day snowstorm, and by stuck I mean it was impossible to move. Hours passed as snow built up on deserted streets and boulevards. With a hotel room downtown I had no anxiety for myself but wondered about all the people lacking that luxury. I couldn't believe there wasn't a sign of a plow anywhere. So I asked what the delay in response meant and received astonished looks as if I'd imagined something novel and ludicrous: it's still snowing! Plowing starts after snowfall stops. Otherwise you have to do it more than once.

All that equipment and all those employees might owe to a philosophy of scheduled massive removal campaigns rather than keeping the roads passable by staying ahead of accumulation. I'm not saying one attitude is inherently superior to the other, but they are dramatically different. We think it inefficient to use our resources at less than maximum capacity and we like to travel whenever we please. We'd rather ask other people to work overtime than change our own plans. In Montréal I think they think it inefficient to waste effort by working whenever possible rather than when most effective (and safest). They'd rather be temporarily stymied by weather than stress out battling it. (I'm guessing based on not much but that's how it sounded.)

OBread in Shelburne has INCREDIBLE croissants. They are located at the Farm Barn on Shelburne Farms.

I completely agree with ITA! I made a special trip out to Shelburne Farms with my whole family from NH on my birthday just to share the wonder that is their croissants with them. Can't speak to how they compare to the best croissants in France, but they're certainly the best I've had in North America (yeah, I'm looking at you, too, Quebec!).

Montpelier has the same operation as Montreal. You're making a big deal about nothing.

The comments to this entry are closed.

Stuck in VT (VIDEOS)

Solid State (Music)

Mistress Maeve (Sex)

All Rights Reserved © Da Capo Publishing Inc. 1995-2012 | PO Box 1164, Burlington, VT 05402-1164 | 802-864-5684