Ready and Resilient: Preparing for a sustainable future in public works

Published on
May 20, 2022
Parking, roads, traffic and transit

 

A banner with animated Public Works staff that reads “Ready and Resilient. National Public Works Week”.

New technologies and challenges are constantly shaping how public works operations are done. Over the next few years, residents will see changes in an effort to improve City services and prepare us for a greener future. As National Public Works Week wraps up, we’re recognizing all the hard work being done to manage and maintain our traffic and transportation infrastructure, parks and natural assets, waste, water and so much more – and we’re offering a sneak-peek at how Public Works is readying for the future.

Keeping our parks and forests green

Electrification of equipment brings an exciting opportunity to explore an array of small equipment to help keep our parks green in more ways than one. This summer, Public Works will be piloting the use of small electric equipment for parks and roads maintenance. The goal is to explore sustainable technologies that may help reduce impacts on air quality and noise caused by gas-powered equipment. Public Works will be reporting back to Council in 2023 with the results of this pilot project and potential options for consideration. The “Green Plan” will include the results of this pilot – stay tuned!

 

Three people in yellow reflective clothing using electric equipment to maintain a park.

Small changes matter, too – even caterpillar-sized change. Work to tackle the Spongy moth infestation that has been underway since the winter. Spongy moths can consume all a tree’s leaves, making it susceptible to disease and vulnerable to other insects, so Public Works staff and local volunteers have been working hard to scrape eggs off trees, benches, fences and anywhere else adult moths may have lain them. Soon, residents will notice stretches of burlap being wrapped around tree trunks. The burlap traps caterpillars for disposal as they descend from the trees.

Both egg-scraping and the use of burlap helps reduce the spongy moth population without the use of pesticides, preserving the health of our trees and protecting beneficial insect species.

Changing how we manage waste

As our landfill grows nearer to capacity and our population continues to climb, Public Works is exploring new and innovative ways of managing solid waste over the next 30 years. With input from the public through workshops, surveys and information sessions, the Solid Waste Master Plan will help anticipate future waste-management needs, while also ensuring the most sustainable methods possible.

Public Work is especially excited by the successful public engagement approach – one that embedded a strong diversity, equity and inclusion lens in order to target and seek diverse feedback, ideas and solutions. Opportunities to participate in English, French, Farsi, Chinese, Arabic, Spanish and Inuktitut, for example, will help ensure the plan reflects the unique needs and desires of our ever-evolving city.

The plan is expected to be completed in 2023. Residents can learn more and get updates by visiting ottawa.ca/wasteplan.

Reporting, Responding, Ready! Leveraging technology to streamline operations

Public Works and their partners in Fleet Services have been hard at work on a new GPS / telematics solution for its fleet of operational vehicles and its winter contractors. Prior to 2021, approximately 25 percent of the department’s fleet was already equipped with GPS technology. The team recognized its value and began researching telematic solutions that would greatly improve reporting and streamline operations – leading to their adoption of GeoTab.

This new technology allows for improved report management, response to incidents and complaints, tracking of winter material use and monitoring for level of service. It also allows staff to identify opportunities for preventative maintenance and improvement. Installation is now almost 50 per cent complete, and the team is on track to have all Public Works’ fleet GeoTab-ready by this fall.

Getting there efficiently

Ottawa’s traffic lights are programmed to balance moving all road users efficiently, at all times of day. Hundreds of monitoring cameras allow staff to mitigate congestion, where possible, by manually adjusting signal timing in real-time from the Traffic Control Centre. But Public Works staff are always looking for better ways – so they’re expanding the use of adaptive traffic control, which was first piloted on Innes Road a few years ago. Adaptive Control uses a computer system and algorithms to automatically detect and adjust signal timing to clear congestion during an unexpected closure or influx of traffic going through a corridor. This removes the need for staff intervention, providing even faster mitigation. We are in the final stages of implementing the system on Hunt Club Road in the Prince of Wales/Riverside area and expect it to be operational later this year.

 

Multiple computer screens monitoring traffic conditions across Ottawa.

The City is also supporting research and development of autonomous vehicles. Looking to the future, Public Works aims to test signal systems that send and receive messages with autonomous vehicles. Imagine a system that provides proactive instructions to vehicles and could adjust signal timing in anticipation of their approach! These efforts contribute to shorter travel times, reduced emissions per trip and a safer transportation network.

Python help hard-working crews put the squeeze on potholes

Potholes are synonymous with the arrival of spring. And every year, our public works employees work hard in the difficult task of repairing them across Ottawa’s wide network of roadways. But this year, you might have seen a spiffy new machine out fixing City streets. Four Python 5000 machines arrived in Ottawa early last month; these machines can fill in a pothole in less than two minutes.

The Python 5000 is like the Swiss army knife of pothole repair equipment. The operator sits in the cabin of the multi-tool machine, safe from oncoming traffic, and uses the controls to air-blast the debris, places and spreads asphalt in the hole, and compresses down the new patch.

 

A white Python 5000 machine filling in a pothole.

The Python 5000 provided some welcomed support to the committed public work crews – armed with shovels, hot asphalt and compressors, who filled over 141,307 potholes between January and May 12 2022, eclipsing the three-year average of 102,087.

Hiring solid teams for the future

Being ready for the future means ensuring that we’re building on the foundations of an already solid team. The City is proud to offer opportunities for adults looking to grow their careers in public works, and for youth who are looking to build their resumés for the future.

Several student jobs are open for youth looking to explore a future working with the City of Ottawa. Students can check out current job opportunities by visiting ottawa.ca/jobs.

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For more information on City programs and services, visit ottawa.ca, call 3-1-1 (TTY: 613-580-2401) or 613-580-2400 to contact the City using Canada Video Relay Service. You can also connect with us through Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.