Ottawa Citizen: Four new ice breakers taking to Ottawa sidewalks

Megan Gillis

It looks frankly terrifying, but could the Blue Gryb liberate pedestrians from scarily-slick sidewalks?

When Somerset ward Coun. Catherine McKenney tweeted about the city’s newly-acquired rotating ice breaker and “cutting edge” sidewalk plow blades during a meeting this week with city staff on tackling icy conditions for pedestrians, she got dozens of comments and more than 250 likes.

She wasn’t surprised.

“If you don’t walk a lot, if you’re not a regular pedestrian, you don’t really get how difficult it is to navigate the sidewalks after a snowstorm, when it’s icy,” McKenney said, adding that she hears daily from elderly and mobility-challenged constituents.

Almost three-quarters of people who live and work downtown commute on foot, she said.

“It’s such a struggle for people,” McKenney said. “Any time you offer residents hope we’re going to make things better they’re really excited.”

The city has leased four Blue Gryb Rotating Icebreakers as a pilot project, reports Donald Dinelle, the city’s director of fleet services.

“The GRYB icebreaker attachment hooks onto the front of the sidewalk tractor and can be used to break up ice on the sidewalks when needed,” he said.

The lease is part of a larger contract for six months each year over the next three years. The cost is under wraps – it’s considered commercially confidential.

The Victoriaville, Quebec-based Gryb touts its icebreaker as using less chemical ice melt and salt while crushing ice up to five centimetres thick on sidewalks three times as fast as standard equipment even in very low temperatures.

Brian Scott of the public works department was out with the new equipment in Blackburn Hamlet Tuesday afternoon and explained that the 1,000-kilo attachment and its nearly 800 steel spikes perforate the ice so that salt can penetrate and workers can clear sidewalks to bare pavement. Crews were able to clear about 10 cm of ice in a few passes, he said, instead of just putting spreading sand and grit on the ice for traction.

Urban councillors and their staff met with city staff this week to brainstorm solutions to icy sidewalks. They heard that freeze-thaw cycles have made for extra icy sidewalks this year because the thick layer of ice is hard to remove once it accumulates, unlike on roads where ice is melted away by the friction of hot tires.

In the 2020 budget, McKenney would like to see money for city staff to reassess sidewalk clearing standards and come back with recommendations.

She suggests they include uncoupling sidewalk standards from the road the sidewalk runs along. Right now, the sidewalks on a busy road get cleared first even if the sidewalks on quieter streets attract just as many pedestrians. So, sidewalks on Bank Street or Preston Street are clearly relatively quickly, for example, but sidewalks on Lisgar Street, which isn’t a busy street for motorists but is a pedestrian thoroughfare, isn’t cleared as fast.

New technology to clear accumulated ice could be a big boon for pedestrians, McKenney said.

“This would allow crews to go in and start fresh a few times every winter,” she said. “What we’re seeing on our sidewalks right now is even if the crew is out 24/7 (and) they’re plowing the sidewalk, is once you get that ice accumulation you can’t get rid of it.

“I have seniors calling me daily who are afraid to leave their homes. If you have any kind of mobility issue, it’s impossible to walk on that sidewalk.”


Catherine McKenney✔@cmckenney

Meeting now with staff re sidewalk maintenance & changes we need for pedestrian safety everywhere. Cutting Edge blades & Icebreaker coming soon to downtown sidewalks.

Tim Tierney✔@TimTierney

With one of the craziest winters in memory, I got the opportunity Friday to see some of the new technology the #OTTcity surface operations department is using to combat ice on sidewalks. HINT:Meat cleaver or Soccer cleat? #ottnews

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