It may be the last thing you want to think about, but Toronto streets will, sooner than later, need to have snow removed from them and the addition of an unusual fleet of plows has caught many off-guard, while others sound the alarm.
As part of a new city maintenance arrangement which begins this November, contractors will be plowing, sanding and salting Toronto streets with about 1,100 vehicles. Among them, 33 will see plow blades mounted on cement trucks.
Toronto’s Transportation Service Director of Operations and Maintenance, Vincent Sferrazza, said aside from the odd appearance, the use of the trucks isn’t that outlandish. The tri-axle vehicles he said, are no different from what the city has used on roads during past winters.
“It’s the same chassis, same body as a dump truck, that’s used for winter maintenance,” he said. “Dump truck has a blade that is attached to the front, the cement truck now has a blade that is attached to the front.”
Sferrazza said the cement truck plows will only be used on arterial roads, like Kingston and Avenue roads, or Steeles Avenue which is typical for larger vehicles during city operations in previous winters.
The number of tri-axle trucks on Toronto roads will also be increasing this winter, to 73 from 13 last season.
The revelation that cement trucks will be used to make the streets safer has caught many off-guard, including city councillors, because staff didn’t specify that the trucks would be included when council debated the new maintenance contract.
Jessica Spieker, with Friends and Families for Safe Streets, said the change was especially troubling due to the city’s numerous pedestrian deaths involving cement trucks. “Victims have an awful way of being sucked under the rear wheels and crushed, which is not survivable,” she said. The low visibility on the large trucks combined with the lack of side guards, she said, makes them increasingly treacherous.
She said she hoped the city would consider additional safety measures to prevent needless deaths this winter.
“Putting side guards or coming up with a little bit of extra funding to have a spotter in the passenger seat – that’s easy, that’s completely do-able and it boils down to political will,” Spieker said.
Councillor Josh Matlow also expressed concern at the addition of the cement trucks, noting “the disproportionate number on our city’s streets over the last few years.”
Matlow voted against the winter maintenance contact, he said, over a lack of details, and said staff should have informed councillors the trucks would have been used. “To add more of them during snow storms when our roads are already dangerous is irresponsible,” he said in a statement to Global News.
But Mayor John Tory’s office said he doesn’t share the same concerns over safety. Spokesperson Lawvin Hadisi said in a statement that “city staff confirmed (cement trucks are) an accepted practice in other North American jurisdictions including New Jersey.”
“Mayor Tory expects City staff to take every safety precaution possible for all of the vehicles in the fleet. If there are any additional safety measures required beyond those already deployed on all large snow clearing vehicles, they will be implemented,” Hadisi said.
Sferrazza confirmed to Global News that additional safety measures, like mirrors to cut down on blind spots, will be added to the trucks, and the city will maintain an ongoing dialogue with its contractors to keep the vehicles safe.
The city also said the fleet will be required to meet signage and visibility requirements for winter maintenance vehicles. That will include flashing beacons, checkerboards mounted to the rear of the vehicle, and flags on the ends of the plows.