Photo: Public Works Department

Frequently asked questions about snow removal

1. When will my home street be plowed?

Many residential streets often have to wait for the snowplow, because snow is removed according to the streets’ maintenance category.

The classification of streets into maintenance categories means that the main streets and streets used by public transport are prioritized, and residential streets are plowed only after them.

During heavy and extended snowfall, the main streets and streets used by public transport need to be plowed constantly, which delays the plowing of residential streets.

Residential streets are normally plowed no later than three days after the end of snowfall.

Street maintenance categories

Stara snowplows on the map

2. What is the basis of street maintenance categories, and can the classification be changed?

Street maintenance categories divide streets into main streets, local streets and local collector streets, and residential streets. The main streets are in Maintenance Category 1. Collector streets are in Maintenance Category 2. Streets used by buses and other forms of public transport are in Maintenance Categories 1 and 2. Residential streets are in Maintenance Category 3.

Street maintenance categories are defined in detailed city plans, so changes to maintenance categories are made rarely. The most common reason to change a street’s maintenance category is changes in public transport routes. Otherwise street maintenance categories are usually not changed.

3. Who is responsible for snow removal?

Responsibilities for snow removal are divided between the City and property managers. The City is responsible for clearing roadways, but property managers are responsible for the removal of snow to snow dumping sites and for the plowing and gritting of sidewalks at their properties.

The responsibilities have been changed in suburbs, Etu-Töölö, Pasila, Toukola, Kumpula and Vanhakaupunki: here the City is responsible for all winter street maintenance, with the exception of clearing the entries to driveways after snow plowing, which remains the responsibility of property managers.

Nevertheless, property managers do not have to clear the entries to driveways after the removal of packed snow and ice, and this done by the City.

Responsibilities on a map (areas where the City handles all winter maintenance marked in blue)

Snow dumping sites

Read more about property managers’ responsibilities

Street maintenance in Helsinki is organized by the City of Helsinki Public Works Department, which plans, commissions and supervises most snow removal in the City’s responsibility. Stara is an in-house City service provider, which also handles snow removal in addition to private contractors.

4. Why is snow taken away and not allowed to melt in place?

There are many reasons to remove snow:

  • The next snowfall is expected within the next two weeks and the fresh snow needs space.
  • Water from a melting snow pile freezes at night.
  • Snow blocks storm drains, which collect rainwater and melting snow, so streets cannot be drained and retain pools of water from melting snow.
  • A snow pile in a street junction area blocks visibility and views across the junction, to a pedestrian crossings, etc.
  • For reasons or accessibility.
  • Snow holds large amounts of dirt, soot and dust (fine particles), so snow should be removed for air quality purposes, as the particles worsen air quality in the spring or during cold weather when the air is dry.
  • As snow freezes, it can complicate parking, and packed snow and ice is very expensive and slow to remove.

5. Why is snow taken away at night?

Snow trucks cause the least disruption to traffic at night, and the snow removal equipment does not block, for example, trams at night. Unnecessary noise will naturally be avoided.

6. When will snow piles on my street me removed?

Mounds of snow left behind by snowplows will be removed or lowered at the latest when they narrow passages on streets so much that they hamper the use of roadways and compromise safety, or the height of the mounds prevents adequate visibility at junctions or near pedestrian crossings.

If necessary, parking spaces can be used to store snow, provided that not all parking spaces on one street are so used.

7. Why is there a mound of snow plowed to the entrance to my home? Who will remove it?

As roadways are plowed, snow is packed on sidewalks and unavoidably also on entrances to properties. Snowplow drivers can turn their plows to some extent at entrances to properties to minimize the piling of snow, but mounds cannot be avoided altogether.

The law requires that property managers handle the winter maintenance of their passages, which also concerns mounds of snow plowed onto entrances to properties.

An exception to the rule is removal of packed snow and ice from roadways. The removal of the resulting heavy mounds of ice is the responsibility of the City. Such mounds of ice are removed as quickly as possible but can take a few hours.

8. Where can I take leaves from my yard in the autumn? How about snow?

Leaves and other gardening waste can be composted or taken to Sortti waste stations. Larger amounts (dumpsters and truck loads) can be delivered to the Ämmänsuo waste processing centre.

Waste from properties shall not be placed in street areas for removal by the City. The removal of leaves and other waste from street areas is the responsibility of property managers in areas covered by the inner-city maintenance law.

Snow from yards and passages to properties can only be taken to the official City snow dumping sites. Snow shall not be placed in street areas for removal by the City.

However, snow can be placed in a street area for a short while if the property manager has ordered removal.

More information about Sortti Stations

Snow dumping sites

Read more about property managers’ responsibilities

9. Where can I park when streets are full of snow or parking is restricted?

Parking must be restricted during the winter for street maintenance and in order to keep traffic flowing. There are different kinds of arrangements. On some streets, parking is moved from next to the sidewalk to the other side of the street in order that the sidewalk can be plowed more easily. In alternate side parking, parking is allowed only on one side of the street, and parking is moved to the other side on a certain day. Parking restrictions are also used, some of which only apply during the daytime to allow for street cleaning.

All wintertime traffic arrangements are announced with traffic signs or with signs to move cars.

A sign to move cars is posted in order that a contractor can remove snow from the street. A sign to move cars can be posted on any street. If a car has been parked on a street after a sign to move cars was posted, the cost to move the car is charged to the car owner. The charge is at least 85 euros.

Advance information about car moving is available on the internet and with free-of-charge text messages:

Streets where cars are to be moved for street maintenance

There may be delays to the scheduled street maintenance announced in the service because of, for example, difficult weather conditions.

It should be noted that a resident parking permit does not guarantee a free parking space near your residence either in summer or winter. Naturally the number of parking spaces is reduced during periods of snow.

As a response to shortages in parking, the City may convert squares and other areas into temporary parking lots. Such arrangements are announced with traffic signs and on this webpage.

If residents do not use their cars in winter, they can take the cars to the City-maintained car hotel in Tattarisuo for the winter season. A car can be placed in the Tattarisuo car hotel free of charge if the owner holds a resident parking permit for the car. The car hotel area is fenced and has security.

Car hotel

10. How do requests to move cars work?

Snow cannot be removed from streets if parked cars are not moved to allow for plowing. Streets to be plowed are announced with signs posted on the streets no later than two days (48 hours) before the beginning of the work.

If a car owner fails to move the car for plowing, the car will be moved by the City, which charges the cost to the car owner. There is no charge for the move if the car was parked on the street before the request to move cars was announced.

Streets where cars are to be moved for street maintenance

Street maintenance plans sent as text messages to mobile phones

The text message service is free of charge, except for the subscription for the service and termination of service, which both cost 16 cents. There may be delays to the scheduled street maintenance announced in the service because of, for example, difficult weather conditions.

11. When are pedestrian and cycling paths maintained?

Pedestrian and cycling paths are classified into three categories – A, B and C. Category A paths are the busiest pedestrian and cycling paths on the main roads. Category B paths are those on public transport routes, and category C paths are those on residential streets. The goal is to maintain category A paths by 7 a.m. on the following morning, category B paths by 10 a.m. and category C paths by 12 noon. However, snow fallen in the night or on the morning causes delays to the target deadlines.

12. How are cycling paths maintained in winter?

Slipperiness is prevented on all cycling paths mainly by gritting. If necessary, de-icing salts can also be used, but de-icing is far more expensive than gritting. Cycling lanes on roadways are maintained in the same manner as the other lanes. The method for cycling path maintenance is chosen by the contractor based on City-defined quality requirements.

Other methods than gritting are tested between Ruoholahti and Oulunkylä.

Main cycling paths serving commuters, prioritized for maintenance

13. Could cycling paths be brushed instead of gritted?

Brushing is tested during the winter of 2016. Brushing is common in Central Europe, and it can be used especially when there is little snow. Helsinki often receives larger amounts of snow, so brushing is not possible. For brushing, the cycling path should first be plowed and the snow taken away. For brushing to be successful, the snow cover should be less than 5 cm. According to the current City quality requirements, maintenance operations are only started after the snow cover reaches 5 cm.

14. Could cycling path surfaces be made rougher to replace gritting?

The snow cover of cycling path surfaces can be made rougher with a plow or a plate to turn it less slippery. This requires sufficient snow; otherwise the operation could break the asphalt.

Often the roughing operation is not enough to prevent slipperiness, and gritting is also used. If there is a need to prevent slipperiness but there is no need to plow, gritting is faster than turning the surface rougher, so gritting is more efficient for fast slipperiness prevention.

15. What gritting material is used in Helsinki?

Some Finnish cities use natural sand with round grains rather than crushed stone for gritting. Helsinki uses crushed stone (1/5.6 mm) because it prevents slipperiness for pedestrians better than sand owing to its better friction properties than those of round grains of sand.

16. What is the winter cycling test route (2015-2016)?

Two new winter maintenance methods are tested in Helsinki during the winter of 2015-2016. A new type of slipperiness prevention material named Granlux is tested on the route Baana – the western side of the Töölö Bay – Helsinginkatu. Brushing and de-icing are tested on the route that runs along the main rail line from Helsinginkatu through Pasila and Käpylä to Oulunkylä. The tests are used to gather information on the costs and quality of the methods.

The quality assessment will be based on feedback from cyclists, which will be gathered in cooperation with the Helsinki Cyclists association (Helsingin polkupyöräilijät ry).

17. How can I give feedback?

Much of our time is spent on responding to feedback from customers. Because we often receive feedback on the same things, we have compiled some of the most frequently asked questions and answers to be available to all customers.

Before sending your feedback, please read the questions and answers.

We request that all feedback should be well-grounded in order that excessive feedback does not bury the most urgent matters such as questions concerning hospitals, daycare centres and elderly centres as well as snow piles blocking views at pedestrian crossings.

Feedback and customer service