Snow Removal on Toronto Roads

Snowplows, Snow Routes and Winter Parking in Toronto

Getty Images/ Katrin Ray Shumakov

When winter comes to Toronto, getting around can become a real challenge. Both the city and the province work to combat the snow that accumulates on Toronto's roads and sidewalks, and there are things you can do to help speed the process and keep yourself and your loved ones safer when the snow starts to pile up in the city.

Snowplows in the City of Toronto

The city has its own snow removal team that includes anti-icing trucks, snowplows and a snow melter. When they will be sent out depends on how much snow has fallen:

  • As soon as snow starts to fall, Transportation Services sends out a fleet of salt trucks to the expressways and the main roads. After this, the salt trucks will then move on to local roads.  
  • After 2cm of snow falls, plows are sent out onto the expressways managed by the city such as the Don Valley Parkway and the Gardiner Expressway.
  • After 5cm of snow, plows hit the main roads.
  • Only after at least 8cm has fallen and the snow has stopped will plows appear on side streets.

The province handles the plowing and other snow removal work on 400 series highways.

Echelon (Staggered) Plowing

On multi-lane roads you will often see a small fleet of snowplows traveling in each lane, slightly behind each other. Called echelon plowing, this method may slow traffic but it is also a very effective way to clear the roads, so the best thing you can do as a driver is just be patient.

Driving Near Snowplows

Snow removal vehicles have flashing blue lights to help alert you to their presence. If you find yourself driving near a snowplow, the Ontario Ministry of Transportation advises that you keep your distance and do not try to pass. It is extremely dangerous due to reduced visibility and those big blades that allow the plow to do its job. Besides, if you try to get ahead of it, you'll only be hurrying onto the unplowed part of the road. Even if you're traveling in the opposite direction, the Ministry recommends moving as far away from the center line as possible.

Winter Parking

Keeping the streets clear of parked cars can help plows move faster and do a better job. When a storm is expected, park or move your car to your driveway or underground parking whenever possible. This will also prevent your car from being blocked in by piles of snow left by the plows.

The City Can and Will Move Your Car in Winter

Even if a car is legally parked, the city will sometimes tow it to a different location to allow snow plows to do their jobs. If you discover that your car isn't where you left it and the street has been cleared of snow, look on nearby streets. For cars that were parked on major roadways you can call Toronto Police Services at 416-808-2222 to ask about the location of your car.

Use Snow Routes During Snow Emergencies

When snowfalls are particularly heavy the city may declare a Snow Emergency (this is different from an Extreme Cold Alert). You may hear about a Snow Emergency in the media, or if you suspect one is in effect call 311 to confirm. During this time you're encouraged to leave your car at home, but for those who must drive the city will be working extra hard to keep designated Snow Routes clear. Snow Routes are major arteries and are marked by white and red signs similar to parking signs. You can also view the Winter Road Maintenance Map to get a better idea of where snow is plowed and when.

Don't Park on Snow Routes During Snow Emergencies

When a Snow Emergency has been declared it becomes illegal to park or even stop on a Snow Route. If you do leave your car there, you're highly likely to be fined and towed.

Patience is Paramount

When it comes to driving on snowy roads or waiting for those roads to be cleared, the most important thing is to be patient. When you hear that a large snowfall is on the way try to prepare so you don't have to drive at all. When you are heading out, leave yourself plenty of extra time to navigate in slippery conditions and to leave room for snow removal teams to do their job. In addition, beginning each November, you can use the PlotTO Map to find out when roads have been plowed and salted in your neighbourhood.

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