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City to review snow-emergency bylaw after streetcars blocked by cars during storm

An eastbound streetcar on Dundas Street West passes a pile of snow shovelled near the street on Feb. 11 2013.

Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail

The chair of Toronto's public works committee has ordered a review after more than 100 "selfish" drivers delayed streetcars by parking in their paths after last week's snowfall.

Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong on Tuesday announced the review of the city's snow-emergency bylaw to find ways to more effectively deal with motorists who block streetcars. Mr. Minnan-Wong said the city, in retrospect, could have declared a snow emergency when approximately 30 centimetres fell last Friday. Large piles of snow on some roads meant that motorists who parked there were so far from the curb that streetcars could not get by.

Mr. Minnan-Wong said the review will examine how the city can prevent such incidents, how to stop the 311 phone system from being overloaded, and whether snow "emergency" is the proper way to describe the response to such storms.

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"Service shouldn't break down right at the time we need it most," Mr. Minnan-Wong told reporters at City Hall.

The city can declare a snow emergency for at least 72 hours when a significant amount of snow is expected over a period of eight hours. The bylaw makes it illegal to park or stop on a snow route. Vehicles will be ticketed and towed away.

The Ward 34 Don Valley East councillor said he hopes to see a report in a couple of months.

Mr. Minnan-Wong described the 102 motorists who delayed streetcar service by a total of more than 40 hours as "selfish people." He said the city could devise a system to warn drivers their cars will be towed away if they park on a snow route after a major snowfall.

When asked if the city should have declared a snow emergency last week, Mr. Minnan-Wong said, in hindsight, "I think we all would have acted differently."

He said one of the reasons no emergency was declared was that a second snowfall was not forecast. He also noted the general manager of transportation services did not recommend the mayor declare a snow emergency.

Myles Currie, director of transportation services, said the city must also consider the effect on businesses.

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"When you declare a snow emergency, you have to be mindful, also, that the businesses will be affected," he said. "When you remove three days worth of parking, that comes at a cost to the businesses of the city."

Mr. Currie said the review will consider is whether it's necessary for a snow emergency to span multiple days.

Mr. Minnan-Wong noted a snow emergency hasn't been declared since 1999, when mayor Mel Lastman famously called in the military to help clear the city streets.

He said the review will examine whether the bylaw should drop "emergency."

"Emergency is a pretty strong word," he said. "If we can find language that conveys the importance of keeping the streets clear without necessarily thinking we're going to have tanks rolling through the city, I think there's a middle ground to be reached there."

The response to last week's snowfall has been testy, at times, among councillors.

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Mike Del Grande demanded to know over the weekend why crews did not clear piles of snow left by plows, known as windrows, from the driveways of some of his constituents.

Mr. Minnan-Wong sent a memo to councillors on Monday asking for feedback on the city's response to the storm.

About five minutes before Mr. Minnan-Wong's news conference on Tuesday, councillor Karen Stintz issued a statement asking who decided not to declare a snow emergency.

As the news conference was being held, councillor Josh Matlow tweeted, "Councillor Minnan-Wong speaks for no one but himself. He's not in charge and shouldn't pretend to be."

Mr. Matlow later deleted the tweet, but before he could, Mr. Minnan-Wong replied, "I think we need to hug it out."

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