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The cutting edge of winter bike lane clearing

A brush plow is being used to clear a seperated bike path in Montreal

If you live in Montreal you may have spotted a new snow plow on the roads. Since the beginning of the winter, a snow plow that uses a brush and applies salt brine has been clearing the bike path on Rue Boyer in the borough of Villeray–Saint-Michel–Parc-Extension. The results will come as a great joy to cyclists who use the path and provide hope that better bike path clearing methods during winter may be on the way to other municipalities and cities.

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Traditional snow clearing leaves a bit to be desired when used on bike paths and mixed use trails. Though any clearing on bikes paths is welcomed, traditional clearing often leaves uneven and sometimes slippery snow on paths. Gravel and salt also make the surface rough and uneven. Bikes do not generate the heat and friction that cars do. When granular salt is applied to roads, cars passing over crush it and generate heat that accelerates the process of melting ice and snow. This is not the case with bikes and granular salt can damage delicate parts.

In order to obtain a smooth easily ridable surface and to avoid the formation of ice sheets, different clearing methods on bike paths are being developed. With the use of a rotating brush that can clear snow right down to the pavement and a salt solution applied as a liquid to the road, the snow clearing machine that has been trialed on Doyer produces results that will excite any cyclist who rides during the winter.

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The rotating brush and tank are already used in some municipalities to clear bike paths of debris come springtime. By equipping trucks with equipment the city already owns, Bartek Komorowski of Vélo Québec explained to  the city doesn’t have to make big new investments, just put to use what they already have sitting in storage.

“It is a more effective clearing method,” Komorowski said. “Mixed brine is applied with other products, such as beetroot juice, to ensure that snow does not stick to the surface and the rotating brush is capable of removing everything. It’s an effective cycle, the broom passes, removes everything, and there is no need to add salt or crushed stone.”

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The brush is only effective at clearing snow 2 cm deep. Advocates of applying this method more widely say a first step when there is a big snowfall would be clearing paths with a regular plow before passing with the truck equipped with the brush.