CBC: City looking to break the ice with new sidewalk machines

It's not the kind of icebreaker you can use on a date, but the City of Ottawa is hoping it will help smooth things over with residents who are fed up with treacherously slippery sidewalks.

The city has been testing a new machine — five of them, actually — to break up the ice that builds up underfoot and makes the walkways dangerous for pedestrians.

Coun. Catherine McKenney told CBC Radio's All In A Day the city needed to try something new because its current equipment is failing to make a dent in the thick layer of ice left by continuous freeze-thaw conditions.

"What we are doing now doesn't work. We have got to do something that allows people to get out," said McKenney, who represents the downtown Somerset ward, where she says some residents have been virtually trapped in their homes this winter because of the icy conditions.

The city plans to lease the machines from Quebec company GRYB for the next three winters. According to the city, the terms of the contract, which totals 18 months, are "commercially confidential."

Kevin Wylie, the city's general manager of public works, said so far the pilot project looks promising.

"It seems to be the only piece of equipment that can start to attack a five- or six-inch slab of ice," Wylie said.

The new machines resemble small steamrollers with spike-studded drums. The icebreaker attaches to the front of a regular city plow or tractor, perforating the ice as it rolls along.

In the case of extremely thick ice, however, the machines can only do so much.

"They're not able to break up that ice past a certain thickness," McKenney said.

She said if the city starts using the machines early enough next winter, there's hope crews can keep sidewalks completely clear of ice buildup.

"You get to start over from scratch after every ice storm," she said.

Catherine McKenney