When Greens Do Snow Removal

Chris Field
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Posted: Dec 23, 2008 8:56 AM
As Seattle residents begin their listing of grievances on this happy Festivus day, surely topping their lists must be the city's road conditions -- or, more appropriately (if the residents are paying attention), the people running the city's Department of Transportation.

Turns out that the Seattle roads that are treacherously packed with snow and far from clear are in that condition on purpose. From the Seattle Times:
To hear the city's spin, Seattle's road crews are making "great progress" in clearing the ice-caked streets.

But it turns out "plowed streets" in Seattle actually means "snow-packed," as in there's snow and ice left on major arterials by design.

"We're trying to create a hard-packed surface," said Alex Wiggins, chief of staff for the Seattle Department of Transportation. "It doesn't look like anything you'd find in Chicago or New York."

The city's approach means crews clear the roads enough for all-wheel and four-wheel-drive vehicles, or those with front-wheel drive cars as long as they are using chains, Wiggins said.
Guess who is behind this brilliant strategy.
The icy streets are the result of Seattle's refusal to use salt, an effective ice-buster used by the state Department of Transportation and cities accustomed to dealing with heavy winter snows.

"If we were using salt, you'd see patches of bare road because salt is very effective," Wiggins said. "We decided not to utilize salt because it's not a healthy addition to Puget Sound."
Of course, like many environmentalist policies (e.g. ban on DDT, forcing the use of mercury- and lead-laden fluorescent light bulbs, etc.), this decision is having a negative impact on human beings. Aside from increasingly dangerous roads that make pedestrian and driver injuries more likely, now the city's police are having difficulty responding to emergency calls.
Seattle also equips its plows with rubber blades. That minimizes the damage to roads and manhole covers, but it doesn't scrape off the ice, Wiggins said.

That leaves many drivers, including Seattle police, pretty much on their own until nature does to the snow what the sand can't: melt it.

The city's patrol cars are rear-wheel drive. And even with tire chains, officers are avoiding hills and responding on foot, according to a West Precinct officer.
Of course, these are the people and policies the citizens of Seattle decided they wanted to have in charge. Maybe they need to put themselves on their own grievance lists.